Legal PR blog

What makes the news: generating press coverage

Although there is no recipe for the perfect news story (timing plays a huge role in what makes it onto the front page), it is fair to say that a story which has two or more of the following stands a good chance of generating press coverage: impact, topicality, human interest, local interest or something which is just downright strange.

A story which has it all makes the front page.

– Dog bites man = small local news
– Man bites dog = Regional news
– Rabies epidemic triggers fears of widespread dog bites = national news

1) Timing

News value and context plays an important role in whether or not your story gets picked up by the press. If your press release starts with “Last week…” you may as well not bother. Timely comments within hours of a breaking news story, however, are often welcomed, and even more so are case studies that illustrate your points. For example, if you advised a family on their flood insurance policy after the last floods, and if they are willing to tell their story on what happened next, you will have a better chance of getting noticed by journalists when the next storm hits Britain. Timing is everything. Wait too long and the sun is out! Get your story out the day it happens, not the day after.

2) Proximity

For local papers, TV and radio stations, locality is everything. They often operate within very strict catchment areas which determine whether or not your business or case study is relevant to their audience. Issuing a press release with local relevance to Manchester if you are based in Birmingham won’t work. Make sure your press release or pitch is genuinely tailored to local papers if that is your target, using knowledge of local issues, culture and photography.

3) Significance

How many people will be affected by the issue or story you are presenting? The higher the number, the better your chances of getting it in so give it some thought and be prepared to include numbers, statistics or even estimates in your story.

4) The celebrity factor

If you can tie your story to another popular news story or event, it may stand out on a crowded news day. For example, a piece about how to manage injured employees may not be front-page news but in the context of Wayne Rooney’s Metatarsal fracture or a high-profile sacking of a former Apprentice winner. Even better if you can actively involve or include a comment from a celebrity or local politician with a voice and a keen eye for a story.

5) Human interest

People make stories and by putting a face to an issue, you are making it real and relevant to both journalists and their readers. Case studies are absolutely crucial to many stories and, unlike big events, they don’t date as quickly. This means that you have a chance to get into the press longer after something may have happened (a new piece of legislation, natural disaster etc). Make sure the people you have in mind – clients or other contacts – are happy to be named and have their picture in the paper before you put them forward. Your PR agency will be able to brief them fully on what to expect so that they are upset or surprised by a sensationalist headline.

6) Avoid marketing/Sales

Most journalists work happily alongside PR professionals with both sides appreciating the other’s needs. Journalists need a good story, good pictures and as much of the story on a plate as possible. In return for providing that, you get your name, business and comments in the paper/radio/TV. Keep your comments focused on the topic and issue to hand and do your best to avoid leading with a marketing pitch.

7) Relevant

Most important of all: make sure what you are saying is relevant to the audience! The appointment of a new lawyer in Bristol is not of interest to the business papers in Newcastle despite the fact that they can provide advice all over the country.

8) Facts

Statistics that are well-founded (e.g. not just what people in your office think) make great headlines. 24% of people lie on their CV, a survey finds – now that’s something we can all relate to. Commissioning surveys isn’t cheap but if you have a generic point to make and nothing to pin it on, this might be an option. Make sure you tailor the survey questionnaire according to what you wish to gain from it; you should be able to picture the headline beforehand.

By regularly reading the papers and magazines that you are interested in featuring in, you will begin to form a clearer picture of what the editorial staff are looking for and what makes news. It will help you and your PR team pitch your idea in the best possible way and earn respect from the journalists.

Christina Savage Post by: Christina Savage / Website:
With a strong network of media contacts and in-depth knowledge of professional services, Christina advises a range of businesses and law firms on media and business development initiatives.