During my career as the head of media relations for the world’s second largest environmental group, I regularly heard a common refrain from the scientists who so desperately wanted press attention for their projects. “But my project is so important, " they’d say, expecting that was enough to crack the evening news.
The truth is, there is often a big difference between what journalists consider “important" and what they consider “newsworthy. " When pitching a story to reporters, make sure it has both elements. An “important" story without a timely “news peg" is unlikely to get much coverage.
For example, roughly 35 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The magnitude of the health crisis on that continent cannot be overstated, and no news editor would likely dub the story unimportant.
But why would that story be on the evening news today? The crisis is as bad today as it was yesterday, and it will likely be just as bad tomorrow as it is today. In order for it to make news again, something has to happen to advance the story.
For example, if the American president announced a new, $1.5 billion aid package designed to help African children orphaned by parents with AIDS, that is news. Suddenly, the magnitude of the crisis finds its way back onto the front pages and into the lead segments of news broadcasts.
How can you make a story more newsworthy? Here are three ideas you can use for your story – the more of these you can use, the more likely you’ll be to receive press coverage.
1) Announce Something New - Since the word “news" contains the word “new, " it’s always a good idea to announce something that’s never been announced before. Perhaps it’s a new product, a new piece of research, a new piece of legislation, etc.
2) Contains an Extreme - Reporters love anything that represents the first, last, best, worst, biggest, smallest, greatest, etc. If you are releasing the first report of its kind, say so. If your new product is the smallest microwave oven ever produced, put it in the headline.
3) Counterintuitive is Good - Reporters love stories that make the reader do a double take and say, “What did that say?" If your story runs counter to everything we think we know, it’s going to get noticed. For example, if new research concludes that dumping toxic waste in a pond actually helps the fish population, the press will be on the phone with you almost instantly.
Brad Phillips is the founder and president of Phillips Media Relations (http://www.PhillipsMediaRelations.com ). He was formerly a journalist for ABC News and CNN, and also headed the media relations department for the second largest environmental group in the world.