Fundamentally, we say our business is about helping our clients tell their stories and deliver their messages to the audiences that are important to them, to support their business objectives. We are fortunate to work with clients who have some really good stories and they entrust us to help use those stories to build their brands and drive toward their business goals.
We often counsel clients on how to formulate and tell a good story. But it’s important to remember, as we have to remind clients now more than ever, that not every good story is a news story. That was even true in the days of 12-page sections in two daily newspapers per day and is especially true now, after the Great Recession has left behind much smaller news organizations at every level.
Also, if you have a dominant, long-term story like we do in the Detroit area with the City of Detroit’s municipal government bankruptcy, it means fewer stories than ever will make it into news coverage. Last week, Columbia Journalism Review studied the Detroit newspapers’ coverage of the bankruptcy and reported that at the Detroit Free Press, “To coordinate it all, the Free Press holds meetings on the bankruptcy story every Tuesday afternoon, with 20 or 30 people in attendance. ‘Everyone from the food critic on down is expected to contribute if they have a story.’” Yes, the bankruptcy even limits the amount of time and space that can be spent on stories about restaurants. It has impacted the coverage of everything expect perhaps sports.
In order to get news coverage, you have to identify and communicate bona fide news. PR professionals should not be expected to “talk to your friends in the media” or “spin a story” anymore. Instead of trying to live up to those inaccurate stereotypes, we can work with our clients to determine what about them is actually new (that is the basis of the word “news”), what is prominent, what is part of a trend or what expertise is within the client could be helpful to coverage of news that is already on the traditional media agenda.
Anything that doesn’t fit into the category of news can and should absolutely be communicated. Every organization has more storytelling tools than ever at the ready, if it chooses to use them. These are tools that can also shape opinion and drive results. This includes social media (as long as it is one tool of several), your website, video, e-newsletters, events and so many others.
Sure, it used to seem easy to think you could just send out a press release and someone at a news outlet would “pick it up” (in reality, it really wasn’t that easy). Now, and probably forever, to make it into news coverage, you have to have news. But to communicate, you just need a compelling story.