What can you do with news material that is not newsworthy? Many consultants and media relations professionals have to grapple with this dilemma. It can be a difficult judgment call, but there are smart ways to overcome the problem. Here are lots of ideas about what you can do to make draft news material more newsworthy and have more success in pitching to media.
How to make draft news material more newsworthy
These ideas will help you develop a better package of information when you pitch stories to media:
1. What makes your product or your company different from your competitors?
Dig deep to find out corporate and product/service details that you can use to differentiate your product or service from your competitors’ products or services. Interview the person in charge of product development, and also find out company information, eg company history, biggest achievements, details of research staff, interesting human interest details of leaders and other employees.
When I worked with Amcor, the international, billion-dollar paper and packaging company, I had some dealings with the product design and development branch of a subsidiary company. These specialist creative people designed a whole range of innovative plastic, paper and cardboard packaging to suit customer requirements. A lot of the newly-designed products were highly visible on supermarket shelves, and therefore well-known to the general public. As I was head office corporate affairs manager, I didn’t have the time or the insight to find out some of the secrets of designing and developing products. Therefore, I didn’t find out how they invented new packaging designs that were practical, cost-effective and attractive. In hindsight, there would have been many interesting story angles into how they did this and the human interest stories behind their work. All this would have been great as news items and backup stories for corporate and marketing purposes. Social media is also a great channel for these types of angles. Nothing like hindsight to help make draft news material more newsworthy!
2. Make it about the end user
When you write a news release, you want something that gets the attention of your audience. Whenever people read a news item other than stuff like politics or crime, they are likely to think subconsciously, “What’s in this for me?” You need to keep this top of mind when writing news content, especially about new products and services. In their turn, when reporters write articles, they ask themselves, “Will this create reader interest?” In essence, you’re writing the news release for the end user.
I thought of this recently. One of my contacts is a successful vehicle repairer/panelbeater. He is always client conscious – providing good quality work on motor vehicles at a reasonable price in a neat and professional working environment. One of the innovations in his business is to offer clients a live video view of the work being done on their vehicle, with the option of discussing their job with him while the work is in process. Innovative! This would be a good human interest or innovation story for the vehicle section of daily mainstream or local newspapers or TV shows about motoring. Plus on news industry websites and social media.
3. Include data
Most people like to see data in the content they’re accessing. For example, if you’re seeking publicity for a new product release of a great new product:
- Prepare a list of any company data that may be helpful in supporting your story. Where you can, translate the figures into useful comparisons for instance, when talking about the volume of water, you can use the well-known comparison of how many Olympic-sized swimming pools that volume of water would fill.
- Gather data on your industry, and the typical end user.
- Collect interesting pieces of information about outstanding users.
4. Comment on breaking industry news and trends
Staying on top of breaking news stories is an opportunity to insert your organization into the story by responding with comments and perspective. This trend works best when your company can offer expert commentary, but also as a different user for the product or finding different uses for it.
A timely approach is when your competitors make an announcement (acquisition, product, etc.) that could affect your customers or industry as a whole. When significant competitor news hits, consider offering your commentary about what the news means for the industry or consumers.
Keeping your brand top of mind for potential consumers is invaluable, especially for companies with long or involved sales cycles. Continue a steady run of media coverage between announcements, reports and other big marketing investments by making sure you always have a story to tell. This response will make your draft news material more newsworthy and give your company some marketplace benefit.
5. Include visual material
A major automotive manufacturer created multimedia news releases delivering images and videos of several refreshed new vehicle designs from a large exhibition. Their primary goal was to bring the auto show experience to enthusiasts who weren’t able to attend the show in person. The manufacturer’s PR team also planned several media tours and interviews with media on site at the show. In addition to reaching a substantial audience of enthusiasts directly, the multimedia news releases also inspired significant social sharing of the visual assets and generated additional news coverage. The competition for visual images, and the significantly expanded digital news segment provide great visibility opportunities.
You can read more in my articles about using visual material: “Visual images will interest media in your news angle” and “Use photographs for greater impact.”
6. Locate interesting content already in hand
Most organizations own a lot of interesting content, and smart media relations pros are recognizing that they can earn media attention by mining information their colleagues produce. For example:
- Snippets of information such as factoids, data points and quick tips are attractive fodder for social sharing. Tactically, you can use those sorts of snippets to promote longer form content such as white papers, blog posts or articles offering useful tips, ideas and advice.
- Data gleaned from within the organization or accumulated through a survey or observation of market trends is valuable to journalists and bloggers, who also appreciate insider commentary relating to the findings.
- Infographics and clever demonstration videos can help brands earn a remarkable amount of media visibility both online and in traditional channels.
- Presenting information visually can spark ideas in newsrooms, and simplify concepts, inspiring story ideas and coverage. And it’s not unusual at all to see infographics and clever videos picked up and shared on industry blogs and social networks, winning the brand that issued the content significantly more relevant visibility in the process.
- Internal experts are rich sources of credible insights and commentary that journalists and bloggers are often interested in talking to and quoting.
7. Find third party support
If you believe the news angle you have been asked to promote is too weak, find third party support for your view. Seek a second opinion from a colleague or a trusted outsider. You might have a good contact in the news media whose opinion you could seek informally, especially if it is a journalist specializing in the area in question, such as IT, telecommunications or travel. Having a back-up like this is good insurance if you have to tell your chief or senior management the angle doesn’t have news value. The chief is less likely to overrule you if you have supporting opinion on your side.
8. Find a previous response
Another alternative is to see whether there is a precedent – whether your organization has tried to gain publicity for similar products or services in the past – and you can report how the media responded or not in that case.
9. Check competitors’ material
You could see if competitors have a similar product or service, for you to research how they promoted it in the marketplace. Competition will be fierce in just about any industry. Doing your due diligence on competitors and their strategies will help in giving you or your client an edge. Learn from their mistakes and don’t make the same ones. Gain good ideas from their successes without obviously copying them.
10. Brainstorm options
If you feel the material won’t interest news media, you could try brainstorming the topic with your colleagues or get your agency to do this if you have a PR agency appointed. The brainstorm may identify a new angle for the material, or suggest another way to pitch it to the media, ie in a quiet time or to a more receptive news outlet or specialist reporter. Brainstorming is a fertile option to make your draft news material more newsworthy.
11. Research more deeply
You can try to highlight a different aspect of the product or service by researching more deeply into the topic to discover elements that may not have been apparent initially. Try to uncover really interesting aspects of the topic to highlight. Internet search engines are ideal for digging deeper to find newsworthy angles.
If the topic is about a particular product or service in a direct mail campaign, a good copywriter will have already discovered considerable information as part of their research. They will search in great detail to uncover different angles to promote. Your release can complement the text written in the direct mail campaign. You can do the same with the research conducted by advertising copywriters.
You could try associating the material with one of your existing products or services so it can ride on their back, especially if the other item has had a successful sales record.
You could focus on the target audience. Work back from the end users, the customers. Make a connection from their point of view. How would they use it? What unusual or creative ways are there to use it? Seek out an interesting person with a different story to tell about their use or experience of the product or service.
12. Partner with other products and services
Perhaps the product or service can be associated with an external product or service in a joint promotion so that you partner with someone else. For instance, different garden products could be connected in a promotion, door locks could be associated with doors or burglar alarms, accounting services could be associated with tax advice, a basic tool such as a torch could be associated with photographs of situations where they are used. A hotel could link with a car manufacturer because it uses that manufacturer’s brand of prestige car for its hotel limousine service. A law firm could link an angle with an accounting firm, and so on.
13. Focus on the benefits, not the features
Focusing on the uses of the product or service – the benefits to the end user – will get you to the key value in the product or service. Far too many marketing campaigns are based on the features of the product or service. Too often, these features are meaningless jargon to the consumer. You can translate the features into meaningful benefits to highlight in your news release. Usually the features on the product or service will have been supplied to you for your research, but you need to convert them to benefits.
The way to do this is to put yourself in the shoes of a skeptical customer or target stakeholder. Then ask for each feature, “So what? What’s in it for me?” The answers will be the things you can highlight in your release. After that first question, ask “Why?” at least a couple of times to dig down get to the core of the benefits. The best benefits are specific, measurable, tangible, achievable and help solve the customer’s biggest problems.
Another way to find the benefits is to ask “What does this mean to a customer?”
You will be surprised as you start to dig deeper you will uncover unexpected angles. But don’t stop there. Keep concentrating hard on the problem for a while and then leave it in the back of your mind while you sleep on it overnight. Usually by the next morning, or even during the night, your brain will arrive at something creative that will save the day.
14. Reframe your questions for communication results
Most people who provide you with new product information provide few details of news interest, so the best approach is to interview them and ask questions about the new product or service. When they supply a promising detail, continue to ask “why” several times until you get the answers you want from digging down several levels in this way.
By getting more answers and information you can offer suggestions that increase your value to the organization or client. You can discuss opportunities available in paid, owned, and shared media, and potential partnerships—not to mention communications results that prove your work is an investment. This will help to make draft news material more newsworthy.
15. Ask for the information you need
There are a number of different questions you can ask to get the information you need. The idea is to have a conversation showing your interest. By doing this, you can teach your manager about what information you need to be most effective.
Consider this situation. Your CEO or a senior executive asks you to write a news release about a new senior vice president of marketing and sales for your company. You have two choices:
- Write a basic “new hire” news release that gets sent to the local paper and most likely ignored. Or it might be posted on their website or buried in the business news.
- Ask the CEO if there’s a particular reason or project driving the appointment of the new VP. Gain an understanding of those reasons and the skills the new person brings to the company. Now you have the information you need to pitch the story to the editor of the business journal. Now create a feature story about the VP for your company website and newsletter. Gain a speaking opportunity for the VP at the local chamber of commerce. If the new person has been appointed to run a major project, you can offer to be part of the planning team for rolling out their project to the marketplace. To be successful, we need to see the basic story of such an appointment, but to also see beyond it and how the communication can fit into the bigger picture.