How PR pros can elevate positive news stories

Some reporters are looking to counter the preponderance of negative news with stories that offer solutions to big societal problems. Here’s how to tailor a pitch for them.

The axiom “if it bleeds, it leads” lures clicks, but it can also result in discouraging and polarizing coverage.

People are hungry for stories about the ways individuals and communities are solving problems. Though it may not be easy to see (just yet), this is a big opportunity for PR agencies and organizations that specialize in solutions to social and environmental problems.

The Solutions Journalism (SoJo) Network helps reporters by providing learning opportunities, resources and a framework to tell solutions-oriented stories that spark social impact and civic engagement. In the last six years, more than 12,000 reporters have taken a SoJo training, and by the end of 2018, they had published 5,000 solutions stories.

Those of us who work with social enterprises and other problem solvers know there are many more stories to tell, but it takes effort to understand solutions journalists’ needs and craft pitches that show the outlines of a balanced story.

Why these pitches are worth the work

Taking a solutions approach makes your organization’s or your client’s work more likely to get feature coverage and helps you build better media relationships.

Solutions journalism can pierce partisan divides and cynicism by targeting what works, and PR pros who provide these stories can help reporters create better relationships between their newsrooms and communities.

For example, after reading local SoJo stories, Los Angeles residents reported that they felt more likely to take action, and people in Detroit felt more connected to their community. Solutions stories might even capture the attention of jaded readers who would otherwise skip over depressing topics like climate change, poverty or addiction.

By offering solutions, you are being helpful not just to the reporter, but possibly to society at large.

The pillars of solutions journalism  

In order to pitch these kinds of stories effectively, it’s helpful to know the basic tenets of solutions journalism:

  • Highlight a response to a social problem, while putting it into perspective.
  • Examine how the response works.
  • Focus on effectiveness, not just good intentions.
  • Provide insights into making this solution practical.
  • Discuss what doesn’t work about the approach.

It’s also important to note that SoJo journalists seek solutions that can be replicated. As a PR pro, you should point out how your solution can serve as a model for others.

Of course, solutions stories vary in how thoroughly they follow the parameters. To get a sense of what solutions stories are like, check out the Solutions Story Tracker, a database that that lets you filter articles by news outlet, issue area, location and even success factors for scaling solutions.

How to pitch a SoJo story

A good solutions-oriented story needs to identify an issue and its consequences, illuminate what’s missing from the public conversation and provide insight into an effective response. It should focus on how the response works and what it achieves in meaningful detail.

If there’s no lack of awareness about an issue but potential responses are hard to find in the news, you can take a solutions angle. PR pros can help reporters by suggesting enterprises that are working to solve aspects of huge issues like climate change and economic inequality.

A great example is Carolyn Said’s profile of the Runway Project, which offers early-stage capital to African-American entrepreneurs to address the racial wealth gap and “interject some balance in capitalism.”

Also, frame stories to give you ways to tailor your pitch to beat reporters. For example, a pitch about scaling food hubs —organizations that strengthen regional food economies, not industrial agriculture — could be pitched to a finance reporter, a food journalist or someone who writes about agriculture and farm economics. However, each journalist should receive a tailored pitch to their niche.

Or you can offer a few angles on a story to one reporter, helping them generate multiple article ideas. They might revisit your source in the future.

Timeliness still matters

As with any other pitch, look for a news peg, or some other reason a reporter should give this solution attention now. You can tie it to a new report, an event, or new data.

Solutions journalists are looking to tell balanced, evidenced-based stories that talk about the pros and cons of a solution. That means a strong pitch will paint the landscape realistically and avoid over-the-top advocacy.

Always establish credibility for your solution. Explain why the individual or organization that you are pitching is an expert on the topic without resorting to hero worship. Then, describe why the solution itself is credible, without overstating it as a “silver bullet.” You’ll build trust with reporters by pitching stories that are factual, put ideas in context and provide verifiable proof points.

By keeping these approaches in mind, PR pros can pitch comprehensive, meaningful stories that focus on solutions, make a reporter’s life easier and help them (and you) make an impact.

Anya Khalamayzer is a PR associate for Thinkshift Communications. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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