As a senior living marketing professional, it can be daunting to approach the media with a story suggestion. But, with a little knowledge of what makes a story compelling, you will be better equipped to pitch your idea with confidence.
Whether you want coverage for a cool new program your community is running or have a special event coming up, Donald Murray, a former writer and writing coach at the Boston Globe, says there are seven elements to a good news story. You should understand them before you make a pitch!
- Information: You need to have concrete details about the who, what, when, where and why. When reporters ignore your pitches, it is often because they lack substance. Think about the facts and details before you pitch a story, and be sure to also consider the logistics. If you want an outlet to cover a resident’s birthday, for example, make sure you check with the resident first and confirm they would even want to speak to a reporter!
- Significance: Your story pitch may be of utmost importance to you, but what about the outlet’s readers, listeners or viewers? If you are not thinking of the audience, it is likely you will strike out. Keep in mind, however, that even if your pitch isn’t particularly news-worthy (i.e. what a newspaper would, for example, want to run on their first page), editors still want ideas for feature stories that they think their readers will care about.
- Focus: A good story is limited and focused. In public relations, we often want a reporter to get all the details, but if you give them too much to work with, you will be disappointed in the result. Remember what your core story idea is and stay focused in your pitch. You ultimately can’t control how a reporter decides to report, but you can help them to determine the story angle.
- Context: Good news stories offer readers perspective. Again, your story idea might be of great interest to your own community, but reporters are often responsive to a pitch that has wider implications beyond the senior living community you represent. Is there a larger trend or issue you could tie your pitch back to? For example, if you wanted to pitch a story idea about a new art program, is there a local or national trend you could reference in your pitch to attract a reader?
- Faces: Good stories include characters. Think about who will be the face of the story you pitch. Whomever you put forward – and you should offer up different sources to enhance your success – should understand and be passionate about the story. They should also be responsive and willing to get back to a reporter in a timely manner.
- Form: Good news stories take shape and give the reader a sense of completion. As a public relations practitioner, you can help reporters generate form by offering a well-rounded set of facts and sources for a story. This list of facts and sources does not have to be formal, but should be comprehensive, focused and carefully coordinated.
- Voice: Good stories also include good conversations. The reporter has a job to provide a narrative of facts and details; good, concise quotes will add color and accentuate points in the story. While reporters will likely want to obtain their own quotes for a story, including them in a pitch or news release, when relevant, can help to show a person’s personality and provide key insight that further inspires a reporter to pursue your story.
Mr. Murray was one of the best, and his book, “Writing for Your Readers” is a classic. PR and marketing professionals who want to better understand what reporters want should pick up a copy.