For any fast-growth business making an impact, achieving notoriety is essential. In addition to online marketing activities that bubble away in the background, brands can benefit hugely from sudden mass exposure through the media.
Traditionally, this exposure was only sought on behalf of brands by PR professionals, focusing on TV and print publications. Nowadays, the news isn’t so straightforward. With the advent of online virality, getting in the news is no longer limited to a mention in the tabloid press, or an interview on the radio. Great stories spread like wildfire.
Startup marketers must understand the power of sites such as Reddit and Twitter, and how these influence the modern newsreel. Being “featured in the media” doesn’t mean the same as it used to, but it’s still as crucial. Endless splintering of interest groups, the buildup of niche communities, and the release of free information has changed the landscape forever.
This article will look at some basic elements, which together create “newsworthiness”. It will look at how you can conduct seminal research, pitch the findings successfully, and use digital media outlets to promote your discoveries, generate awareness, and build a fantastic backlink profile for your website.
Why the news?
Essentially, there are two motivations for seeking coverage in the media; gaining awareness and acquiring backlinks. PR professionals enter the fray from the brand awareness route. SEOs and “outreach specialists” typically tackle their site’s technical performance in search engines by increasing high-quality backlinks. There are crossovers, of course – a matter which has been contentious for many years.
Awareness will filter potential customers into the top of the sales funnel. Backlinks will improve the strength of a website by passing authority from prominent web properties. The creation and promotion of high-quality written and visual content is at the forefront of both.
In the online sphere, news websites and blogs are some of the strongest domains available. They’re also the most accessible. By targeting the right journalists and web editors with compelling content, you can acquire some of the best backlinks on the web. From a PR perspective, these platforms are the most widely-consumed on the planet. As just one example, Mail Online has somewhere around 200 million monthly users.
Exposure in the media has always been important in the print and TV world. Whilst digital media requires a vastly different approach, the benefits of using large media outlets to amplify a message have not diminished.
News comes and goes. Some news will stick more than other news, but at its basic level, all news is newsworthy. To some extent, newsworthiness is subjective. However, there are some core principles that drive it, and common characteristics in the most popular stories of any day, week, month, or year.
So, what makes a story newsworthy? According to Media College, the following factors make a difference.
Current and relevant stories are the most widely shared. With the advent of digital technology, many have argued that we harbour less tolerance than ever for “old” news. If the same story has been told a hundred times before, it won’t be news anymore. That said, we have a paradox in that when repeated actions cause a trend, that trend itself becomes the news. Regardless, news outlets are always looking for the freshest insights and angles.
The closer, the better. This could involve geographical or emotional proximity, or a mixture of both. Major global events will inevitably evoke a widespread reaction, which will be felt most pertinently among the people closest. Consider proximity in your marketing, primarily when creating content that’s emotionally compelling to a certain group. When pitching pieces to the media, consider inputting a local angle, whether it be to an industry or geographical area.
A news story must have significance on different levels. Newsworthy events almost always have a direct, or perceived, impact on those consuming it. They might threaten to change the way they live and work (positively or negatively), they might give cause for concern, or cause for celebration. In every case, newsworthy stories are impactful on some level.
Recognisable figures are gold-dust for news publishers. The public are curious about those in the limelight, and therefore a celebrity angle is sure to boost the newsworthiness of a story. This is why the popularity of gossip websites continues to grow, although print sales have nosedived. By applying your content theme to an existing influencer or prominent figure, either critically or supportively, you can improve its chances of exposure in local, national, and international media.
Two further factors in newsworthiness, according to Tony Rogers, are conflict and novelty.
Conflict is naturally gripping to human beings, and you’ll recognise that in every great story there’s an element of tension. People love and hate conflict, but they’re rarely ambivalent to it. This is exactly what makes for great content; the impossibility of ambivalence.
Novelty is when there’s a natural deviation from the expected course of events. It might be a controversial and unusual opinion, some strange findings in a report, or an event that could never have been foreseen. Fresh perspectives are the most jarring, and this is guaranteed to get people’s attention.
In order to get your stories featured in the news outlets, you need to understand these basic principles of newsworthiness. Later in the article, we’ll look at how to construct pitches and put forward your content to the journalists and influencers involved.
Newsworthy research content
Unique research is a tried-and-tested PR tactic, which shows no signs of abating anytime soon. Brands invest vast amounts of resources into conducting detailed research studies, and have done for many years. Whilst this helps them operate within their market, it also gives the media content collateral and debate points for their audience.
The principles of newsworthiness certainly still apply here. Research studies should be planned around the topical issues of the time, in combination with the interest of your key audience members. It should also demonstrate your brand’s expertise in its particular field.
Major players in the property industry do this very well. Aligning themselves with the UK public’s obsession about house prices and shortages, companies such as Rightmove, Spare Room, and Property Partner regularly conduct surveys and in-depth research on buyer behaviour, emerging trends, and much more besides. This feeds the media machine, providing a solid spine to the ongoing national discourse about property and housing.
Charities and non-profit organisations are also particularly active in this sphere, using powerful findings to justify their cause and raise awareness about particular issues.
However, a problem arises when integrity and interest can be brought into question. For example, one recent study showed that girls who ate breakfast were typically of healthier weight than those who didn’t (in fact, they used the word “thinner”!). This research was explicitly sponsored by the breakfast food giant, General Mills. That said, the data was corroborated and published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
In summary, methodical research projects provide legitimate fodder for journalists. They serve to support or contradict viewpoints. This creates the polarisation of opinion that all media outlets seek (conflict!), in order to improve engagement in their content and discussion on their forums, both online and offline.
Consider how to apply your findings to each audience. Publications and popular websites will want to hit this nerve, too. Be different things to different people, but keep the factual findings consistent. You may find that X is better than Y, and present it as such to certain media outlets. However, when pitching to a different group, consider whether to emphasise that X is also better than Z.
Conducting research projects
It’s hard to argue against the idea that unique and powerful research represents newsworthy content. If the findings are compelling enough, they’ll demand attention. But how do you go about conducting this research, and then presenting it to those with the power?
Here are some tips for conducting research projects that will get into the news.
Ask yourself whether there’s an appetite for your research. Will the media be interested in your findings? Research the publications that are most likely to feature your work, and monitor some of the most popular themes they publish.
Plan and prepare
Set out a clear project plan, and determine what data you need to draw meaningful conclusions. Establish your routes of communication with participants, and ensure that you have a clear and consistent methodology for the study. Without this, it will get ripped apart by critics. Rest assured, if you’re in the news, you’ll have critics.
Get in early
Tap up writers in the early stages, and prepare them for what’s to come. Mention that you’ve got a study underway and the findings already look interesting. This is a softer approach initially, and puts you on the radar.
Ask a unique question
Reflecting on the timely and novel aspects of newsworthiness, you should ensure that your topic hasn’t been saturated. The exception to this rule is when you’re seeking to disprove existing research. Remember, conflict is newsworthy.
Use the data to hand
By using information that your business has in its midst already, you significantly reduce time spent on research. This can even be used just as a starting point; as inspiration for the future direction of your study.
Your methodology must be consistent. Adopt a scientific approach to reduce variables, and stick to the agreed set of research goals.
This depends on the nature of your research. For surveys in particular, investing budget into sponsored promotion and/or participation incentives will increase response rate and provide a wealth of data to work from.
Pitching your findings to journalists
Thick skin comes in handy when pitching news stories and research findings. Rejection is rife, yet it need not be a foregone conclusion. For some examples of what NOT to do, check out this article for some real-world disasters. Read and learn!
This guide to pitching by Lynda Tait highlights some of the ways that research can be presented to the media for the maximum chance of being picked up and shared. Among other advice, she advocates a bold and direct approach.
“Be direct – pick up the ‘phone to introduce yourself and your research. Find telephone numbers and email addresses on a newspaper’s website. Best time to call is probably before copy deadlines, during the morning, but always ask if it is a good time to speak.”
Lynda also talks about the importance of getting to the point, developing longstanding relationships, and keeping contact lists up-to-date. In addition, she talks about timeliness and avoiding the immediate run-up to afternoon deadlines.
A useful guide by Kat Boogaard features three examples of successful journalist pitches. When pitching a newsworthy story, she also encourages marketers to get to the point quickly. Following the example, she says:
“There’s no unnecessary fluff. This message cuts out all of the pleasantries and conversational fillers. It even begins with the matter of fact statement, “I’ll get straight to the point.” You might feel as if you’re writing like a robot, but remember that journalists are conditioned to only look for the information they need — the who, what, when, where, why, and how. So, make it easy on them and cut out all of the needless small talk.”
Essentially, journalists are busy people with deadlines to meet. Present your findings in the most easily-consumable way, and don’t ramble. To wrap up, here’s a quick checklist of considerations to have when pitching content to journalists.
- Try Twitter first, you might just get a better (and quicker) response either way
- Spell everyone’s name right, and triple-check before sending
- Reference their previous work, but remember they can smell disingenuity
- Be relaxed, professional, and polite
- Always personalise your approach
- Remember they don’t owe you anything, no matter how good your news is
- Have a ready-made press pack of company blurb and information to hand
- Do not bombard people, it will damage present and future relationships
- Add a form of exclusivity to your pitch, such as offering first refusal
The crux of the issue is that no matter how incredible your research is (and its resulting content), the wrong pitch will put off potential suitors. In the next sections, we’ll see how you could potentially skip the pitch stage altogether, and use shareability on social media to get content featured in prominent places across the web.
This is an age in which visuals are more important than ever before. Devices are better, connectivity is unprecedented, and attention spans are short. Visual content can represent complex theories in consumable forms, while users are on the move or at their desk.
The ability to communicate these ideas through video, graphics, and photography is exactly what journalists and web editors want. By presenting your material in these forms, you’re already a thousand miles ahead of competitors that limit themselves to PR releases, tables, and raw graphs – even if their research itself is fascinating.
Neil Patel created the Ultimate Guide to Visually Appealing Content, which talks about how the brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text, and how content with imagery gets 94% more views on social than content without. His main types of visual content include photography, video, screenshots, infographics, data visualisation, comics, memes, and visual notetaking. These can all be used to present your content in its most appealing form.
In a fascinating talk at the Digital Marketing Show in 2014, Joe Shervell showed how you can profit from shareability and hack the news with your content. He focuses on visual content, having seen considerable success through the use of infographics in particular.
In the presentation, he speaks about how journalists and bloggers are dependent on content that’s already in the public sphere. Marketers benefit from placing exceptional content strategically across the web – on sites like Reddit – because journalists and bloggers are likely to use it if it’s compelling. This is especially pertinent now, with ever-increasing pressure on news sites to generate huge traffic, thereby boosting vital ad revenues.
He also cites Jonah Berger’s work on shareability, and the model he conjured called STEPPS; social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and stories. According to Jonah, these are all factors that impact the spread of content and ideas. You can download this framework on his website.
A billion business owners have asked the question, “How do I make my content go viral?”. The hard truth is that it’s extremely difficult to guarantee. Such is the mad world of the internet, it’s impossible to predict what will capture the public’s imagination next. That said, by ensuring that your content meets Jonah Berger’s STEPPS, you’ll be giving it the best possible chance of success.
This piece by Andrew Couts at Digital Trends provides some brilliantly useful information about how to position your content in Reddit, and is well worth a read. By achieving notoriety here, you’ve got more chance of bypassing the pitch stage and entering the syndication networks organically. This is a sentiment echoed by Joe Shervell in his aforementioned talk.
Whilst there is no proven formula for virality, I’ve listed three more articles below that’ll help increase the shareability of your content.
- 7 ways to make your content go viral (BuzzSumo)
- How to go viral: 8 things you need to know (Sprout Social)
- Improve your chances of going viral (WikiHow)
Getting into the news is both competitive and accessible in equal measure. Due to the vast wealth of popular news and entertainment websites on offer and the increased demand for 24/7 fresh content, journalists and web editors are on the hunt for great shareable stuff.
At the same time, thousands of digital marketers and PRs are battling for the same spots at the same time, so it’s difficult to find a route through the noise.
Furthermore, it’s challenging for those in control to sift through mountains of pitches every day. Marketers must be clever and considered with every approach, showing respect but directness through communications. Above all, they’ve got to offer consumable and highly shareable content to people that want a quick turnaround and fast traffic.
This excellent piece on Forbes highlights “what journalists really think” of PR pitches. A particularly stunning insight is from Charles Fleming of the LA Times;
“I receive more than 500 emails a day. An astonishing number of them are pitching topics that neither I nor my staff has ever covered – sent by people who’ve either never read our publication, or never read our coverage, or noticed what bylines go with what stories.”
Whilst this is an alarming admission, it also means that by taking a sensible approach, you can immediately stand out from the crowd. And as we’ve already seen, social media success may help you bypass the pitch stage entirely.
Meaningful research should be presented in visual and written forms to increase its chance of being picked up and shared. At its core, research findings must have credibility and integrity, to protect your brand from unwanted backlash. Aside from this, its originality, uniqueness, and relevance will attract attention from those with influence.
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