Okay, let’s talk about stories. Not every thing your company does is a story. To you, perhaps it is, but remember that you have limitless space on your web site and near?limitless budget for your glossy annual report.
On The National, we have 21 minutes. That’s it.
On my radio columns, I get three minutes once a week.
Thus, the fact that you might be “the leaders in innovative products and services” is all very nice and I’m sure you are, but that’s not a story, it’s a positioning statement.
If you (as many companies and p.r. firms, sadly, do) try to pitch me weekly on fairly boring and non?newsworthy stories, over time I’ll learn that you’re simply not a reliable source for a good story. Sure, you’re just doing your job, but remember that you’re doing a disservice to that job if you bring me so many mediocre pitches that in time I simply tune you out.
There are a couple of p.r. people whose calls I always take. I usually don’t hear from that often, but when I do I know it’s because they’ve given their story its own litmus test before pitching it to me. They’ve got some ideas for interesting visuals, it’s a revolutionary technology, and the topic is something that most people watching or listening will “get.”
Real stories have two key components:
1. First, they are timely: If I agree to do a piece on your product, I’ll want it to run the day it launches or, even better, just before it does, so I have a bit of a scoop (the media is a competitive business, after all). This may require you to give me details before they’re public, and ask me to hold the story under embargo. Which I will.
2. Second, they are interesting to my mom: My mom is reasonably tech?savvy and has an engaging curiosity. But honestly, she couldn’t give a rats?ass about how you’ve reduced latency on Cisco switches using a new IPsec standard. In other words, how will your story actually affect the day?to?day lives of the average Canadian? If it won’t, don’t pitch it. For instance, I rarely cover new handset releases from the cell phone companies – mostly because they’re not new or interesting. I cover revolutionary applications of new technologies, not evolutionary upgrades in existing technologies. The fact that your company’s cameraphone now does 1.5 megapixels instead of last year’s 1.2 megapixels is simply not a compelling story to my viewers. On the other hand, if it’s the first to incorporate live videoblogging and instant direct?to?web video uploading, well now you have my attention.
Finally, it’s good to understand what happens behind the scenes once you’ve piqued a reporter’s interest – they now have to pitch your idea too! Each morning (for a daily show), all the reporters gather for a story meeting where they pitch the stories they think are interesting to the other reporters, editors, and producers. So if you want to get on air, arm the reporter with some tools to make their pitch easier. If they don’t fully understand why your product or service is important to the average consumer, what problem it will solve for them, etc., your idea will never make it past that story meeting.
A last bonus tip: Most story meetings happen around 10 AM for daily shows, which gives reporters only an hour or so to go through the previous day’s emails, faxes, pitches, ideas of their own, etc. and decide what to take to the story meeting. If you know the reporter and genuinely believe you have a story that’s timely, revolutionary, and you can explain it in 15 seconds or less (seriously), giving them a call around 9:15 or 9:30 is probably a good time. But – and this is a big but – be absolutely sure you don’t waste this on a story even the slightest bit unsure about. That hour is the most valuable time in the reporter’s day, so if you miss, don’t expect them to take your call that hour in the future.
Note: This series was originally written and published in 2008.