Monday, December 20, 2010

The Key To Selling Non-Profit Stories: Find a 'News Peg'

There are so many worthwhile programs and causes out there. Every day, selfless people give of their time and resources to make the world a better place, but for the most part, these organized acts of kindness take place in obscurity.

Unless you have a good PR Man (or PR Woman, of course).

When you are working with a non-profit or charitable organization, getting the media interested in covering their good work often requires some creativity. It's not blood and guts ("Clerk shot dead in convenient store robbery") mayhem, death and destruction ("Three-alarm fire leaves dozens homeless"), or something totally off the wall ("Man bites dog"). It's just good folks doing good work. Not something the media is usually interested in. (As a grizzled old editor of mine once remarked after reading my copy, "There's no sex in this story!")

The best way to sell these otherwise overlooked stories is to find a "news peg," something timely that relates to the tale you are trying to tell - a milestone, a statewide or national observance, a policy change or a trend. Clients always think their stories are interesting, but the challenge as a PR communicator is to find a way to make it interesting to a majority of readers or viewers. (See "The Media Wants Stories, Not Announcements") That's where the news peg can prove invaluable.

Remember, a story is not newsworthy without news.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Building Brand One Story at a Time: Why Your Organization Needs PR

Yesterday was a prime example of how an enterprising PR person can help your organization build brand and market share.

Media across the country and (thanks to the Internet) around the world were buzzing with a story about how Tuesday was going to be the busiest day ever for FedEx. CNN had a reporter riding along on a FedEx delivery truck; the AP called it the “pre-game show for Santa.” The same news cycle, the national media carried a quirky feature about the Top 10 Quotes of the Year, which are compiled annually by an associate librarian named Fred Shapiro at Yale University. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Quote of the Year was U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s “I’m not a witch” quip.

Both of these cases are excellent examples of why it is so important to have PR people inside your organization watching and listening for stories. I can imagine the FedEx story starting with a routine traffic report by a vice president at a management meeting at FedEx headquarters. It took a PR person, however, to identify it as a major story, package it and sell it to the media. The annual quotations story from Yale is a no-brainer: It’s quirky, timely and interesting, and you can sell it over and over every December. Keep your eyes and ears open for other PR-generated year-in-review stories in the coming weeks.

The point is, there are newsworthy stories everywhere inside of every type of organization. You just need a seasoned PR person to identify them and help you sell them. Ordinary consumers don’t realize that much of what you see and hear every day in the media are stories that started with a press release or phone call to a reporter from a PR person. Some of the biggest brands in America – Google and Starbucks, for instance – have been built almost exclusively through the relentless use of PR. It’s much cheaper than advertising and people assign it more credibility because it is filtered through the media prism. (If you read it in the newspaper, it must be true, right?)

If you are looking to build brand, defend your brand, reinvent your brand, rehabilitate your public image or establish yourself as an authority in your field, forget advertising. PR is the way to go.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Media Wants Stories, Not Announcements

Veteran CNN political reporter Bill Schneider recently did a Q&A interview with PR News on media relations and offered the following advice: The media wants stories, not announcements.

Schneider’s advice is something I’ve been telling my clients for years, having spent nearly 20 years on the other side of the desk from PR people pitching nonsense. Clients inevitably come to me with what they think are great “stories,” but as their PR consultant, I have to inform them that their great story will never get published. Or, I have to figure out a way to shine it up so it will.

In order to get the media interested in covering your story, it has to be “newsworthy,” but news value is a concept that most people who never worked in the media, including many PR professionals, simply don’t understand. The standard for newsworthiness is that a story has to interest a majority of readers, viewers or listeners. The decision-making process on the media end, however, can be fairly subjective. That’s why it’s invaluable to hire a PR professional who has spent time in the news business because they know how to throw a pitch over the strike zone. Whether an editor will swing at it is another matter.

If you are a non-profit organization, community group, church, etc., it’s relatively easy to get publicity about your event because most small and mid-size media outlets publish community news as a matter of policy. But if you are a for-profit business trying to get free publicity about a promotion, the news department will most likely tell you to talk to advertising. There are three possible ways to avoid this pitfall: 1) find something undeniably newsworthy about the event; 2) stage a “PR stunt” (something extraordinary that’s impossible for the media to ignore) or 3) if you are already an advertiser, ask your rep at the station to apply some pressure.

The best way, however, is always newsworthiness. A legitimate story is impossible for the media to ignore.