It’s bloody hard work selling stories to journalists.
People do it because journalists exude the all-important ‘third party validation’ that you can’t get through self-publishing or advertising.
You might not have done this before. Perhaps you usually get your PR agency to do it, or it just isn’t in your sphere of experience. But really, you should give it a go some time.
Here’s an idea:
They should put ‘pitching stories to journalists’ onto MBA courses.
It will teach our future captains of industry that success in this realm is only partly related to one’s charm, timing, relationships and salesmanship. Mostly – and you may need to sit down for this next bit – it’s to do with whether the story is any good.
Like I say – selling stories to journalists is bloody hard work. But it’s a damn sight easier when you actually have a story.
Here are 6 PR whimsies that should never be exposed to the scrutiny of a self-respecting journalist. Make them into blog posts (or else dispose of them entirely) so that no one need incur the counterproductive wrath of an important influencer whose time you wasted:
1) We’re moving offices
If you ever read an independently written article about a company that has moved offices, then it will most likely be because an armed gang is holding the journalist’s family to ransom. Or it’s a publication that nobody reads. Or isn’t a publication at all.
The moving offices story is a classic case of something mattering a great deal to an organisation but not to anyone else. It is the equivalent of being a bit worried about constipation for a few days, defecating prodigiously and then using this as an excuse to update your Facebook status.
2) Us and another company are doing something together that doesn’t involve a contract
Lots of customer win stories are pitched; only a few of them ever get covered. A massive deal, an industry-first or peculiar customers are all good ingredients. Stories can also result off the back of ‘channel deals’ where a manufacturer strikes an agreement to push its stock via a distributor or major retailer.
But this is none of these things. This is the so-called story that emerges when two companies find something broadly in common and decide not to be complete strangers anymore. This is ‘corporate strategic alignment’, ‘technological interoperability’ and ‘synergistic initiatives’. This is NOT a story.
3) Something we announced previously is now available to buy
A favourite of US-based companies, this is the classic GA (General Availability) press release. In other words, the communiqué marking the general availability of a product that has already been pre-announced, showcased, certified, awarded best in show at some obscure event in Kentucky, and officially released.
This is the kind of story that some salespeople insist upon in the deluded belief that it represents a ‘PR victory’ over a competitor who’s suffering the same problems getting their product ready for market too.
It says much about how powerful the sales department is in an organisation, and how much influence it has over the marketing function.
4) We’re going to be 20 years old next year
Sure, everything can have a birthday. Pets, cars, buildings, corporations… It’s the staunchly held right of the self-obsessed.
Actually, that isn’t fair. Preparing for a year of celebrations and themed events, giving each of your staff a special keepsake, releasing a special logo commemorating your ability to not go bust in two decades; all of these are bona fide marketing communications tactics. But it isn’t a story.
If you want to make a story out of your company’s special birthday then mark it with something more worthwhile like a ritual sacrifice, or by donating your annual profits to charity.
5) Our CEO will be speaking at Burpcon 2016
You may think that cooking this up as a PR story is a vanity exercise by the CEO, but most of the time it’s a well-meaning colleague performing a vanity exercise on their behalf.
I’ve been present on at least two occasions where the CEO has tried to block anyone bothering to make a story out of something like this, only to be talked round by a marketing/PR sycophant who believes it might ingratiate them a few inches further towards a promotion.
People present at conferences all the time. Sometimes 90 or 100 speakers will pack a multi-track, three-day show. This is not news. And in any case, the website of the event has got all this stuff listed on it already.
6) We’ve won an award at the Blah-Blah Industry Awards Night
Some industry awards are worth entering because there is real value in showing customers and prospects that your business or technology has been judged better than its peers.
But almost all industry awards are directly correlated with a specific publication. Why does this matter? Well, imagine you are the person whose job it is to pitch this story. Who do you pitch it to? Well, you can’t pitch it to the publication that gave you the award, because they already know and are planning to write about it. And you can’t pitch it to any other publication because who the hell wants to write about the glittering awards ceremony hosted by a competitor?
The simple truth is that there is nobody to pitch this story to.
If you’re still wondering why The Sun never covers The Daily Mirror Pride of Britain awards, then I suggest you enrol onto the best MBA you can find and hope they’ve got a module on pitching stories to the press.
Oh, and wear a crash helmet when your turn comes.