09 March 2020
As a freelance communications consultant, one question I often get asked by clients is ‘what makes a good news story?’. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer.
There are, however, a few simple rules of thumb you can follow to give your story the best chance of picking up media coverage.
First and foremost, and this may seem obvious, your story needs to be newsworthy. But what does newsworthy mean?
Well, it’s got to be interesting to a journalist and their readers. If they don’t consider it newsworthy and engaging, it won't get coverage.
This is where many businesses I speak with fall down because they think that what’s interesting to them will be interesting to others.
While that may be true sometimes, it’s not always the case.
So ask yourself, is there news value in your story? Is it unique, different or interesting? Will it have an impact on people, particularly the people you are looking to target?
If the answer is no, maybe it’s time for a re-think.
In my experience, though, there’s often news value in many of the stories that businesses talk with me about, the trick is to help them find the best angle on which to build their story around.
The other element is human interest.
Whether you’re pitching a story to journalists directly or are publishing to your own audience, the human-interest angle is key.
Does your story have an impact on people? Will it help them to improve their lives, or make their business easier, or stop them making the same mistakes?
If you can show that your story is both newsworthy and has an impact on people, you’re halfway there.
Once you have decided that you have an interesting and newsworthy story to tell, there are a few basic rules for writing it. This will make it easy for your own readers to follow, as well as giving journalists as many reasons as possible to use your material.
Whether you’re putting together a press release in the hope of getting media coverage, writing a blog to showcase your business, or a digital PR piece to feed your social media, the way you put your story together will go a long way to determining its success.
There’s no exact science to crafting the perfect news story, it’s more of an art form that takes time – and experience – to perfect.
There are, however, a few basic building blocks that should be present in every good news story, and if you put these in place with everything you write, you’ll be on the right track. These are the five Ws:
Who is the story about? And who does it affect?
Defining who your story is about or relates to is a key piece of information to get across. It might be about your business, or an individual within it. And it might have an impact on your staff or customers. So, make clear who the main players are within the story and who it affects.
What’s the story? What’s new about it?
This is where many good news stories stand and fall. If there is no point to your story, or if there is nothing new or interesting in what you are writing, then why are you writing it? Remember, the whole point of your story is to share information, ideas and advice with your target audience, so make sure they’ll find it interesting and relevant.
Where is this happening? Where does your story take place?
It might be an event or a promotion you are running, or it might be an online initiative that anyone can access. Defining where your story takes place will ensure it is relevant to your target audience.
What is the timing of your story? And does it add any significance?
Again, putting a time and date on your story will make it relevant.
We’ve saved the ‘Why?’ until last, because this is the most important element of any good story.
Remember the ‘human interest’ angle from earlier in this blog? This is an example of the ‘Why?’. Make sure your story has a strong one.
To help you understand the ‘Why?’, put yourself in the shoes of your customers or target audience and look at things from their perspective. Then ask yourself, why is your story interesting? Why is it unique or different? Why should people care?
If you can’t think of a strong enough reason for why people should care, then they probably won’t.
Remember, what’s interesting to you and your business might not be interesting to your customers, or journalists and their readers, so make sure your story is.
Once you’ve got all the above elements of your story nailed down, it’s time to pull them together into a press release, blog or digital news piece.
This is easier said than done unless you’re used to writing content regularly. A professional communications consultant or copywriter can write your story for you, to help you tell it in the right way, but if you are doing it yourself, here are a few pointers to follow:
Once you’ve got your story together and you’re happy with it, it’s time to send it out to the media, or publish it yourself.
Before you do that, have you thought about the audience you want to target, and your objectives for putting the story out there?
For example, are you hoping for sales on the back of your story and if so, which media or publications might be best to help you achieve that?
Are you looking for more brand awareness in your industry? If so, have you identified the trade journalists you need to be engaging with?
Most importantly, who are your ideal readers and where do they hang out? Online, in print, on LinkedIn or Facebook?
Although it’s great to see your name and your business in the press, it’s not the only way to get your story out there. There will no doubt be journalists in your local area or sector that will be interested in your news and hearing what you have to say, so share your story with them to see if they will publish it.
If not, consider what other channels you can publish your story through to get it heard by the people you want to target.
The great thing about digital is, you can build your own audience – whether that be your existing customers, your website visitors, your email subscribers and your social media followers.
While media coverage is good, it’s unlikely that everyone who reads a news story about your business will be a potential buyer. Some of them might be, but not everyone is going to be interested in what you have to say. It may massage your ego when your story gets published by a newspaper or magazine with 10,000 readers, but if none of them read or engage with the article, then what’s the point?
With your own digital audience, though, they have chosen to follow your business and your content, which means you can talk directly to them to keep them engaged. It’s better to engage with 10 people who want to hear from you, than 10,000 people who don’t, right?
Journalists are fundamentally busy people and it’s their job to report on stories that they think will be of interest to their readers. It’s not their job to promote your business for you.
So, when it comes to pitching your story, have a think about which journalists may be interested in it and try to give them what they need.
Do make sure you have the right images and quotes to go with your story, along with a contact number if they need any more information or want to do a follow-up interview with your spokespeople. And do make yourself and your business available to them if they get back in touch.
Don’t, on the other hand, send them a story and expect them to use it, then pester them too much if they don’t – a follow-up phone call or email is fine but badgering them every two hours to see if they are going to use it, especially if it’s not relevant to them, will just annoy them.
And remember, even the best stories sometimes get spiked, so don’t take it personally. It all depends what is going on. The news agenda moves pretty fast, which means some stories – no matter how great they are – can get overlooked.
Already this year, we’ve had Brexit, #Megxit and the Corona Virus, and we’re barely three months into 2020. With such big issues dominating the news agenda, there’s little wonder that the stories you are pushing out about your business are struggling to find the room to breathe.
That said, if you know what’s going on in your sector and can find a way of piggybacking on the big issues of the day by providing a fresh angle or some expert opinion, there’s no harm in reaching out to journalists to see if they will cover it.
And whatever you produce for the media, you can also publish by your own blog, social media and marketing channels to maximise its reach – remember, you’re speaking directly with people who have chosen to engage with your content through these channels, so make the most of the opportunity and the audience you have already built.
Writing a good news story isn’t rocket science. Provided you follow a few simple rules, you should be able to get your story down on paper.
Getting it over the line is another story though, and that’s where a professional communications consultant can help make sure you get it right.
JSS Media was started to help small businesses tell their stories better and get their message heard by the right people.
With 20+ years of experience in business journalism and PR, we have the expertise to help you write your news in the right way and get it out there, whether that’s in the media or improving your own content, to showcase your brand better and connect with more of your ideal customers.
If you’re interested and would like a free consultation, where we can sit down and talk through what you want to achieve from your communications, give me a call today on 07432 118145 or fill out the contact form below and we’ll be in touch.