Almost everyone reading this blog works with reporters in one way or another. We take their calls. Pass along information. Set up interviews. At times, we reach out to them directly. We do this so frequently that it becomes almost automatic.
Thus, it strikes me that it might be useful to take a step back and ask one of those 40,000-foot questions: “Just what do reporters want?”
It’s far too easy — and glib — to respond: “They want whatever they called about.” While true, that misses the key element of the PR/news media relationship. Reporters, and the editors they work for, want one thing above all else: good stories. That’s it. They want good stories, defined as those stories that will make it into their publications or onto the air with the greatest possible impact.
All we need to do is help them get these stories. Somehow, though, it doesn’t always seem like we’re working toward this goal. Certainly there are times — particularly related to public company communications — when the PR strategy calls for not responding to reporters. And that’s fine, when there’s a good reason for it. However, much of the time we are actively seeking media coverage or working with reporters who cover us every day, and this is where we need to think in terms of story.
What makes a good story? First, something new is usually a nice place to start — particularly if it can be combined with an exclusive of some sort. Something smart is also good, but it has to be smart in a way that is clear and relates directly to newsworthy topics. (An expert who can quickly and insightfully comment on news events is a good way to provide something smart.) Sometimes, access to an important figure is all the reporter needs for a good story. The litmus test for all this is the resulting story must be strong. Try asking yourself if you’d read or watch the story you are pitching.
How often, though, have you found yourself pitching a press release that contains little or no news, or calling reporters about a concept that hasn’t been worked out well enough to be interesting? If there’s no story there, save your breath for another day. Don’t waste a reporter’s time with a non-story … or he or she just might not take your call when you’ve got something really good to offer.