The #1 Crucial Question Every Journalist Asks When Reading Your Press Release
Get the answer to this one question wrong and you get the delete finger. Get it right and you get your message out to millions (without having to build the audience first).
One of my party tricks as a professional speaker is to ask the audience, “If you were pitching the press and a producer asked you why is this a story right now, what would you say?”
One after the other, hands will go up and small business owners will call out, “Because I have a new product launch” or “I’m opening a factory” or “We’re expanding into a whole new facet of the industry” or “we’re having an event”. Or even worse, “we just hired a new CEO”.
These answers are the correct answer if you’re a Kardashian or a brand like Apple or Facebook, each of which have such a huge footprint in the media’s consciousness that Zuckerberg or Kim endorsing a new kind of breakfast sandwich is automatically news.
For the rest of us mere mortals, not so much.
Too many entrepreneurs and experts make the mistake of assuming that just because their product or service is one that’s useful throughout the year, it’s automatically interesting as a story at any time.
It isn’t. Here’s why.
The media are obsessed with remaining relevant to their audiences. So, you need to “hook” your message on to whatever’s currently front and centre right now.
The reporter who prints out your pitch and brings it into his or her morning meeting is going to have to defend it to a senior editor or producer, who will ask things like: Why is this story of interest right now? Why is it newsworthy? Is it based on an emerging trend? Does it speak to a breaking news story? Is there a celebrity whose actions call this expertise to the fore?
For example: A breaking story about a celebrity committing suicide opens the door to an expert in mental health or grief counseling to step forward to share insight.
If there’s a stock market crash, a real estate investor can speak about how diversifying one’s portfolio will save a chunk of cash.
If there’s an election running, an image consultant can offer commentary on the candidates’ fashion sense and how the public perceives them.
When I teach my Baby Got Booked course online, I coach my students to think about the following ways to “hook” their message onto what’s relevant right now.
1. What’s in season?
For example: A nutritionist or food company would do well to think about what the home cook is thinking about right now. Is it back to school season? Are there a whole bunch of unusual summer veggies (eg fiddleheads) flooding the local farmer’s market?
A concrete example of this that landed one of my students, Miriam Pearl of Delicious Without Gluten not just an interview but a regular column on her local breakfast TV show was pitching gluten-free Valentine’s Day treats. And then following up with ideas for bread-free sandwiches, healthy school lunches, gluten-free Jewish holiday treats and more.
2. What’s trending right now?
I encourage students to check out Twitter and Facebook for stories that are trending and see if there’s a way to speak to an emerging trend. For example, when Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller came out on Facebook talking about his struggle with depression, it created a fabulous opportunity for one of my students Jason Finucan, who speaks about destigmatizing mental illness in the workplace, to help take a celebrity story and parse it in such a way that a lay audience can understand and apply it in their daily lives.
3. Is it breaking news?
The recent court ruling against the parents of a toddler who died of bacterial meningitis opens up an opportunity where an ethics expert could step forward and address the underlying morality of the issue. Or an integrative medicine practitioner could help the public better understand what the real stats are behind deaths in patients who receive both traditional and alternative medical care.
When there’s a big breaking news story, newsrooms scramble to find an expert who can take the sometimes complex and emotionally loaded facts of the case and explain them to those watching, listening and reading at home. If you’re able to talk about a big news story with a fresh or unusual perspective, chances are there’s a journalist waiting for your email or call.
4. What are the celebrities up to?
Celebrities often create fantastic opportunities for the rest of us by just doing what they do: embracing a fitness trend, getting divorced, going to prison, announcing births, or simply saying something on Twitter. The possibilities are literally limitless.
For example, when celebrity chef Jamie Oliver recently publicly supported breastfeeding, it created a media uproar. This would be been a fabulous opportunity for a company like Two Doulas, who provide perinatal, birth and postnatal support to talk about the 5 biggest challenges that new moms face when breastfeeding. They don’t need to have any connection whatsoever to Oliver himself; their impact lies in making the story relevant and giving words to the thousands of Canadian mothers who struggle with a lack of support and the resulting guilt from not being able to do something so “natural”.
5. Awareness Days
Another fun way to figure out a “why now?” for your topic is to hit Google and enter the title of your topic plus “awareness days.” There is an awareness day or week for just about everything. It makes it far easier for a journalist to pitch her producer a story on fertility acupuncture and interview an award-winning expert like Dr Lorne Brown on the subject with Canada’s Infertility Awareness Day looming on the editorial calendar.
So there you go. Five easy ways to flex your message and answer the #1 question that all gatekeepers to the media will ask. Want free tips and a template to write a killer pitch (instead of a boring press release)? Download them for free here.