If you’ve been in media relations for longer than, say, a month, you’ve probably come across that delicate situation in which a client wants to publicize something that just doesn’t warrant publicity.
I’m talking about the ribbon-cuttings, groundbreakings, store openings, anniversaries, and small-product launches. They’re a big deal to your client (who is paying you), but chances are good they will not resonate among the journalists you pitch regularly—at least not those at daily metro papers or big online news sites.
It comes down to this old adage: Man Bites Dog makes the news. Dog Bites Man rarely does—unless the story has a twist. Your job is to take a Dog Bites Man pitch and give it a twist that makes it more exciting, interesting, or unexpected.
Here are five ways to do that:
1. Widen the angle.
Combine the not-so-big news with other elements that, together, are big enough to warrant coverage. Say a nonprofit client just hired a new No. 3. Meh
. That’s not a story. But if that’s combined with several new board members and two promotions—including a communications director, which reporters and editors will need to know about—now you’ve got something. This happened to one of my clients. The changes occurred over several weeks, but we wrapped them together into one news release—and three different news outlets ran stories.
2. Don’t use traditional media.
Document and publicize the event in a different way through social media. Use Instagram. Send tweets with clever Twitter hashtags, and create mini-conversations in fewer than 140 characters that partners can retweet. Create a Storify
story before an event from the promotional social media sharing you’ve used. Make a word cloud with the client or event’s logo. The point is, you can hoot and holler and create a buzz on your own, and you don’t need journalists or bloggers to do it for you.
3. Create a real news hook.
This tactic involves coming up with something newsy that gets coverage associated with the not-so-newsy event. A client recently had a ribbon-cutting that I knew the press would ignore. But it was the kickoff for a major fundraising campaign for a multi-million-dollar community project: redeveloping a landmark hospital, one that had become decrepit and vandalized, into a place where children will learn, seniors will live, and residents will gather.
We pitched and wrote an op-ed piece explaining the project’s importance that ran the week after the ribbon-cutting (which, you guessed it, didn’t get covered.) The op-ed attracted far more notice and reaction than a ribbon-cutting ever could have. The point, after all, was to publicize the project.
4. Reframe which media to pitch.
Often, if the metro daily paper won’t cover something, a smaller publication will happily make space for it. After the story runs, it can be shared on social media and promoted on the client’s website. In other words, the story can get a larger audience even if the initial publication had a smaller circulation. Also, don’t forget about online sites, which have more capacity than broadcast or print outlets.
5. Level with the client.
Be honest but tactful about what the media will consider newsworthy. You are the expert, and you have been hired for that knowhow. Make sure to explain your approach. If it doesn’t include sending a news release, let the client know why. Not only does sending a news release just to appease the client waste resources, but it also unwisely raises expectations for publicity.
Some PR people favor writing a “news” release even when there isn’t news. Journalists can be a lazy, snarky bunch—I know; I was one for about 15 years—and they sometimes fall for pranks when something newsworthy was actually just faked. But they rarely run with something when the release doesn't contain real news in the first place.
Have you found a way to reframe a Dog Bites Man pitch into something different?
Becky Gaylord worked as a reporter for more than 15 years in Washington, D.C.; Sydney, Australia; and Cleveland, Ohio for major publications including
The New York Times,
The Wall Street Journal, and was associate editor of the
Plain Dealer's Editorial Page before she launched the consulting practice, Gaylord LLC. The company helps clients improve their external relations and communication and increase their influence and impact.