For those who work in public affairs, fewer tasks are more important and challenging than getting the perfect story placed about a key client or issue. While there is no secret formula guaranteed to work every time, there is a reliable approach for success: Think like a reporter!
Below are five questions every public affairs professional should be asking him or herself before picking up the phone or clicking send on that email to a reporter:
Is the Timing Right?
Nothing irritates reporters more than being called close to deadline and pitched a new story. Don’t call a print reporter at 4:30 PM to pitch your story idea when you know she’s racing to file a story by 5:00 PM to make tomorrow’s paper. If you want your client mentioned in the morning tip sheet, send the tip the night before, don’t wait until the morning.
Don’t wait until the last minute to start the pitch process. Reporters need time to research your pitch, ask questions, make clarifications, get opposing perspectives, and most importantly – convince their editor to greenlight the story.
What’s the Action?
story (stȯr-ē), noun: an account of incidents or events
Reporters write about actions. Whether it’s the weather, an act of congress, or the obituaries, all reporters must write about something that happened.
To successfully place that story the client is so eager to read, think about how to clearly demonstrate an action was performed so the reporter can write a story.
Pro Tip: The best stories typically involve a problem and a solution.
Commonly referred to as a “hook,” ask yourself what else is currently happening in the world that makes your story relevant and timely. Reporters and their editors are acutely aware of current events, after all their job is to report the news – so think hard about how your client’s story relates to issues and events already being covered by the outlet you are targeting
This is often an exercise in creativity, but don’t get too carried away. Stretching it too far can cause a reporter not to take you seriously. If you are having trouble finding relatable events or issues, try another publication or reporter who may have a history covering similar topics.
Every news outlet knows its audience, so should you. Reporters and editors are far more likely to cover a topic when they are confident it will please their audience and keep them coming back for more.
Don’t be shy about spelling out in a pitch email why you think a reporter’s audience will care to read your story, “I know thousands of public affairs professionals read your newsletter and think they may be interested to learn that…”
What Needs to be Fixed?
When providing a reporter with pitch materials, press releases, key quotes, and other collateral with the hopes they will write a story, one way to help your chances of success is to make sure she doesn’t have to do the added work of making changes to conform with the publication’s format and style guidelines.
Make sure all materials are written exactly as you hope the story will appear in print or online. As a rule of thumb, make sure all materials are written in AP style.