I was on a road trip with my family recently and we had some time to kill. We decided to take turns telling stories and after we each had a run at it, we shared our favorite. My nine-year-old’s account of the creepy clown under his brother’s bed was my personal favorite, but the majority agreed they liked the story I shared about time travel and our cats, Gizmo and Butch. I celebrated the accolades quietly to myself, and then thought I sure hope I can tell a story, after all, it’s what I get paid to do.
Much of what we do as PR professionals is storytelling. We craft and share our client’s stories with the audiences that matter to them. That can include consumers, legislators, educators, industry groups or the media. And, as the vehicles with which we communicate continue to change, it can mean telling a story in 140 characters or 1,400 words.
I thought I’d share a few of the rules I follow when telling our client’s stories – particularly to the media.
Determine what makes your company or product different. Reporters get bombarded by hundreds of people just like me, pitching them stories about a client’s new product, event and other various news, so we have to give them a good reason to want to even read our pitches or take our calls. One of the first things I ask clients to help me understand is what makes them unique, different, and possibly even better than the competition. When you nail that down, be sure to communicate it early and clearly in your story.
Assemble a cast of characters. Long before I pitch a story to reporter, I make sure all the pieces of my story are in place, including a list of those who will tell the story though interviews. This can include a company spokesperson or CEO, as well as customers who can provide testimonials or industry experts who can offer third-party justification. These sources should be prepped to talk with reporters before you pitch a story, and you should have their contact information ready to share with interested media.
Don’t just say it, prove it. It’s one thing to say you have a great company, product, idea or cause, but it’s another to demonstrate why that’s true. When crafting your story, be sure you have details to back it up. Use statistics, research findings, surveys, testimonials or other data to provide depth to your story, to verify your claims and to help demonstrate how your company or product fills a need. This can add multiple layers to the story and is often the key to getting someone interested.
Start with a teaser and work toward a novel. When telling your story to a reporter, you start with a pitch. Again, reporters receive countless pitches every day and the last thing they will do is read a 1,000-word email. So start your story telling process with a teaser. Make it brief, but be sure it has substance. Save the layers for follow up conversations, but let them know you have done your research in advance by letting them know you have data, fact sheets, testimonials, video, etc. to share. By the end of the process, you will have a novel!
Don’t forget the news. For the most part, your story will only be of interest to a reporter if you can tie it to news making it relevant to readers. Be sure to work in trends or current events into your story to make it even more newsworthy. Always ask yourself, why is this story news?
Years ago, I sent a story pitch for a client to the Chicago bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal. He gave me a call after reading my fax (it was many years ago) but thankfully, he got my voicemail. I never deleted the message the entire time I worked for that agency because he said, and I quote, “This is the best pitch letter I’ve ever read.” That message was a real gift because I would listen to it just to boost my mood after days of striking out with reporters when pitching other stories. But it was a great pitch and it resulted in a front-page feature story. So my point is this – when telling your story, be thoughtful, do your homework and prepare, make it interesting to others, not just yourself, and always make sure your story is relevant to a reader, listener, viewer or follower of the news outlet you pitch.