6 Tips for Pitching a Weak Story

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Every story you pitch can’t be a blockbuster.

Sometimes, your company or client wants you to put out a story that you know isn’t going to be Page 1 news. Not even close. It’s weak, but you really don’t have a choice.

So, how do you make the best of this bad situation? First, don’t delude yourself — or your client — into thinking this can be a big story. Acknowledge that it has limited news value and find a way to wring the best coverage you can out of it.

I’ve used a number of different approaches to pitching weak stories over the years. Here are six of my favorites.

Tips for Pitching a Weak Story

  • Narrowcast your news. Sometimes, weak stories have angles that make them interesting to particular audiences. For example, a mid-level executive hire probably won’t make the Wall Street Journal but it could be of interest to trade publications, local publications where the company is based, publications located where the executive lives, and even alumni publications where the executive was educated. Be creative in seeking out these angles. They can get you coverage where none seemed possible.
  • Tie it to a news event. Timing, in PR as in comedy, is everything. Your story may be weak but perhaps it’s possible to tie it to an event that makes it newsworthy. Let’s say your baking company is launching a new line of cupcakes. This is unlikely to be seen as big news in most markets. However, what if you time the launch for mid-May and tie it to Mother’s Day? Maybe create some kind of contest or giveaway for Mother’s Day around the launch? You’ve now created a timely story with real news value.
  • Grant access with the story. Reporters want to get to know top executives and newsmakers. That’s part of their job. If you have a weak story, you may be able to generate some coverage by having someone of real value do the interviews. For example, if you’re opening a new plant that’s not huge news, have your CEO there and give reporters some time with him or her. As long as you keep your executive on message, you may be able to generate a bit of coverage. Celebrity sells.
  • Think visually. Not everything has to shine through the written word. Your weak story may just have wonderful visuals. Use them to your advantage. Let’s say your manufacturing company just got a contract to produce a rather mundane component for an eye-catching sports car. Announce it in front of the car itself. Have your CEO drive up in the car and show reporters the component and just what it does. You may not get a long story. You may get a short item with a big, color picture, which is even better.
  • Distribute the story selectively. News publications love exclusives. If you’ve got a weak story, you may be able to mitigate some of the weakness by providing it exclusively to one or several publications ahead of the main announcement. Just make sure the news organizations know they are getting it before everyone else. They may bite if they think they can get a beat on the competition. You have to be a little careful with exclusives, though, as the folks who don’t get it may feel cheated.
  • Leverage social media. This seems like a no-brainer in the Facebook era, but lots of folks neglect this when it could win some attention for a weak story. First, make sure your story has a home online, like a blog post, YouTube video or online press release. Then, link it to your social networks and let your friends and followers start spreading the word. This won’t necessarily get reporters to cover your story, but it will get additional exposure for the item. Sometimes, your customers are the ones you really want to reach anyway, so social media can be a great way to bypass the press and go right to your key audience.

Follow these tips and you just may be able to garner some coverage for weak stories that otherwise would end up with a goose egg. Of course, remember to set the proper expectations with your organization or client so that nobody’s disappointed when you actually do pull the rabbit out of the hat.

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Pitching Bloggers — The Rules Are Different

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As the blogosphere progresses and becomes increasingly influential, communicators will need to find ways to reach out to bloggers just as we do to traditional journalists. This will become an integral part of media relations.

However, bloggers are not traditional reporters. Sending them press releases via a blast email will not turn out well.

The Lorelle on WordPress blog has an interesting post titled “Promoting Your Wares to Bloggers.” Here’s one of her points:

Don’t Waste The Time of a Blogger

If you want a bloggers attention, don’t waste their time. Do not put a blogger on a mailing list they never asked to be on. Know the blogger and the blog you are approaching. Read their blog and their policies. If they clearly state, like I do, that they will not accept any requests for commercial link exchanges, don’t even ask.

If your subject matter it unrelated to their blogging topic, go elsewhere. If it is, and you expect them to take you seriously, ask first, and send them the product with no expectation of a response or publicity. I’m often asked to review photography products and services, as well as software and hardware. If it isn’t in my hands to rip apart and put back together, don’t waste my time.

Now, Lorelle is a blogger and she is clearly speaking from her own experience. Those of us who work as professional communicators may view this from a different angle, but understanding the audience is critical.

From my own experience, bloggers have always proven to be both thoughtful and helpful — but you must understand and participate in their world. If not, let the flames begin…