What is “news” and how/when should you make it?

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media scrum
The media scrum: You'll rarely want or need to be caught in this situation in seeking publicity for your business.

Every day,I wade through dozens of news releases. Most are easy to discard on a cursory glance. Overtly commercial product announcements, for which our media would not be suitable even for paid advertising, quickly go into the computer’s trash basket. Puffy announcements extolling the wonderful “luxury” new condos available for sale end up in the round basket as well.

I put a smaller group aside for a closer look, usually when it is quieter at the end of the day. (Despite breathless wording in some of these announcements, almost none are so important that they actually deserve the ‘drop everything’ treatment’.)

It takes me a few moments to read the smaller pile, and the assessment combines some objective rules with subjective interpretations.

Is the news likely to be of significant value to the readers?  

For example, sometimes contractors write bragging news releases about project completions. I yawn. Outside of perhaps helping the contractor sell new work, who cares? Certainly subtrades and suppliers and even competitors may be interested in a start — there is work to do — but when the job is done, if the contractor wants to brag, the business can use its own internal eletter or purchase an ad or two.

“New hires” are also usually a yawn to us, unless there is a major underlying story. As an example, if you hired “that” Michael Cohen in New York City as a project manager, we’d publish the story (as would, probably any other media outlet.)

Is the story intrinsically interesting and  visually appealing?

I’d put a “topping off” ceremony in this category, if done right. Really good photos (they don’t need to be professional, just human) showing the work in progress and workers celebrating — if appropriate, in proper safety gear — on the building top; or a time-lapse video of the construction-to-date would pass muster.  A breathless pitch for “luxury condos” available for sale once the job has been completed would not.

Can we handle the story with minimal risk and limited resources?

Sometimes publicists invite us to interview people purportedly to cover “important” stories. But this requires significant time and editorial effort, and we don’t have a lot of that. Even genuinely interesting stories often must be held simply because of the work required to publish them. We’re especially sensitive about publishing anything that would require a legal review for potential libel.

We’ve gone beyond avoiding some types of negative stories, such as contractors being charged with serious crimes. Here, there usually is an official prosecutor’s news release to use and other public record information so we aren’t really risking negative consequences from the reporting. But of course these are the stories you don’t want us to report, if you are named in them, and how to keep news out of the publication of course is another issue, altogether.

Is your story about an award or recognition?

Here the screen is a bit different. We ask: Are all the awards in a given category/group recognized, or is the publicity seeker seeking to have his story stand out individually.  This problem frequently arises with association awards, where there can be several dozen category winners. We’ll publish the entire list, not a single recognition. Another type of problem occurs when the award is a creation of another publication or media outlet. We don’t care to give our media competitors free press, so will decline. (Equally, we publish our own Top 10 lists, and if you get on one of these lists, you can enjoy the free publicity ride.)

Are you a current advertiser?

We’re blatantly biased in this regard. Advertisers get to break all the rules, though we’ll still edit the story for style, and give it prominence in accordance with its intrinsic newsworthiness.  As well, as an added service, we’ll provide media relations/publicity counselling to our advertisers to ensure they can maximize the free publicity in other media.

As you can see, the process of deciding about newsworthiness and free publicity involves some screens and evaluations. If you spend hours trying to craft a news release only to find it goes nowhere, take a few minutes to assess whether you meet the criteria for publicity. Other publications and websites have their own standards, of course, and some will take anything they can get. But taking a while to think about ease-of-use genuine readership value will go a long way to putting your story on one of our sites.

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