What makes a story part I: The ‘So What?’ test

Do you find it difficult to place stories in the media?

If you do, you’re not alone.

Earlier this year, we partnered with Charity Comms to find out that the main challenges facing charity PRs were when it came to securing press coverage.

The responses showed that lack of time and resources were the most common issues for charity media teams, with 59% and 44% of respondents admitting to these problems. However, following closely was a group of results that imply there is a disconnect between charities and journalists.

These include: 1) 38% of respondents said journalists weren’t interested in their stories. 2) 25% said journalists only want negative stories, not positive news; many also cited a demand for “attractive” or “high profile” case studies or “dramatic, sensationalist, ridiculous” stories 2) One in five (20%) said they did not know whom to contact to get press coverage.

We’ll share some information on points 2 and 3 in forthcoming posts, but for now let’s talk about what “news” is. Here’s a clue: the answer is in the title.

A frequent complaint from the journalists I speak to is that many organisations – not just charities, although they are also culprits – treat PR as a branch of their marketing department. Rather than thinking about what makes an interesting and relevant story for readers/viewers, they see news as an opportunity to promote their work, products, services and campaigns.

Promotional puff does not make a good news story, but it does work as a paid-for advertisement. Journalists have an insatiable desire to retain their independence and usually dislike having to produce content that could be mistaken for advertorial (content that has been paid for by a sponsor). Personal conscience aside, the credibility of a media outlet can also be damaged if readers suspect there is too close a liaison between a journalist and a corporate interest.

Journalists also tell me that many press releases they receive that supposedly contain news are uninteresting and irrelevant for their target audience. So the lesson here for any charity PR trying to pitch a story is to make sure that it is actually news – i.e something that the journalist and their readers didn’t already know.

A good rule of thumb to apply against any story or case study is the ‘so what?’ test. Will anyone but you actually care about the story you’re pitching? How does it add value to their lives? Why do they need to know this information? Does it tell them something they don’t already know?

The simple fact of the matter is that most people are not desperate to hear about your organisation and the work it does, so simply telling them about what you do isn’t going to cut it.

Your stories have to be interesting and relevant to your audience. They need to understand why the story matters and why they should spend their valuable time listening to or reading about this when they could be doing something else instead.

Do you find it easy to source stories from within your organisation? Do other departments understand what a story is and so provide you with information without you needing to ask (or is that wishful thinking?!) Are certain types of stories easier for you to sell in than others?

Image licensed under Creative Commons

This blog was originally posted on Charity Connect