There’s method, expertise and relevance involved…
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard a client express skepticism about the earned media channel of communication. Not because they don’t think it’s extremely powerful and effective – they do. Their tenuous belief has to do with a perception that seemingly random conditions lead to outcomes. That a great story secured is more of a happy accident and not, in reality, the outcome of a surgical, planned methodology.
Here we will debunk the media myth and explain the path to editorial glory. However, even though there are five steps and each one relevant to the successful outcome, the expertise involved to properly execute each one of these to maximum effect is also a byproduct of experience. Knowledge honed over years of working in the trenches to appreciate the nuance of what flies and dies in the reporting world. Let’s take a tour together on the path to editorial victory based on the fundamental understanding that great stories don’t fall like manna from heaven but are a result of a strategic process.
Granted you can’t buy legitimate editorial coverage, so the entire proposition isn’t transactional (for the most part) – at least it isn’t for the blue-chip media properties where journalism and reporting rules hold sway. But that’s the beauty of it. Editorial media is a reporting environment, based on storytelling that emanates from inspection, examination, evaluation and consideration; thus, why it is far more valuable, effective and powerful than an ad.
The essential truths
It’s helpful to understand what separates the editorial wheat from the chaff.
- A ’story’ that’s not really a story won’t get told – truth to anyone looking at the reporting medium with clarity. The fundamental story idea you start with is the lynchpin to outcomes. How the story concept is constructed has a lot to do with editorial interest, relevance and value. Great reporters can see a great story unfold.
- Story concepts built on self-promotion looks like advertising and thus why editors and reporters suggest contacting the ad department. When the story isn’t really there to benefit the media viewers/readers, reporters sense that immediately.
- When you speak in editorial terms, with material that respects the editorial paradigm of inspection, examination and reporting, you can earn a conversation with editorial gatekeepers. This is where seasoned experience pays off most often.
Press releases are invitations to stories, not stories in themselves. The facts are most releases are devoid of a story, contain too much self-promotional, non-essential attribution and aren’t interesting. Media material is needed and valued when it’s done right. If it walks and talks like a story worth telling then you have something.
Five key ingredients to better non-paid media outcome
- Frame the larger story
Where you start is connected to where you will inevitably finish. The story concept is key. If you are planning a new product launch for example, the story isn’t the product launch. Rather it is placed within a larger context about trends, reports, studies and cultural shifts where a larger problem is being solved by the product – residing within a broader context.
- Is there new technology involved that falls out of a growing trend in consumer behavior and need?
- Is there a societal benefit or consequence that brings value to how people live, prosper, grow or succeed in some way?
- Is a higher purpose connected to the company that is being served by this launch, are you bringing a new idea or solution to sustainability and climate impacts for example?
- Is there a relationship between your product and a health and wellness outcome that benefits peoples’ lives or helps them overcome a barrier to personal growth?
Bottom line – find the larger story and outline how these parts fit together to create a better whole. Supporting studies and quantitative research can be powerful tools here if you can prove the condition is important and meaningful to consumers’ lives.
2. Do your homework
What do we know about the reporting world? For one, editors and reporters need trusted quote-able sources to do their jobs. The executive in charge of marketing or brand cannot be the only source cited in a story worth telling. What subject matter experts can be enlisted to help placed credible context around the problem you are solving?
Are there real people, not paid endorsers, who’ve had experiences with the product and found value in the outcomes of using it that reinforce the larger context of problem-to-solution?
Can you identify studies and reports from independent sources that lay the factual foundation for a cultural or societal shift you are addressing? Please note if it’s a study you paid for then its value cred is diminished right out of the gate (not entirely but take note).
When you are able to supply the reporter with respected third-party sources and experts that corroborate and verify what you are saying, you’ve accomplished two important things: one, you are able to help shape the story outcomes; and two, you are helping the reporter who is always under time constraints to do their job more successfully. Win and win.
3. Pick your targets wisely
The days of press release spray-and-pray are over. This technique is an old-school hedge-your-bet move by some publicists who attempt to win on a quantity game, assuming that some percentage of media receiving material will somehow run the story. Those days are gone.
The path to wider coverage begins with bellwether, respected media properties that tend to be influential to other channels (national print to TV). Moving the story along a planned continuum is a smarter play. Hope is never a strategy.
Where you take the story has a lot to do with where the reporter has been before. What media are likely to be interested in this story within its larger context? You can determine that in part by understanding the audience they serve and what will be inherently valuable to them in serving their readers/viewers.
Which reporters are likely to resonate to your concept/idea? If you do the heavy lifting to understand what they’ve published previously you may find a pattern of interest where you can draw lines of relevance from previous work.
4. Magic of vertical build
The industry trades that cover your category are a great place to start to frame the story elements and while doing so create evidence the angle has merit, reporting legs and is worthy of being told. Trade placements are not considered competitive to larger media properties, rather it serves as helpful background and elevates confidence in the story bona fides.
A stepped strategy that begins in trade channels is a strong game plan as you move up the editorial food chain to media with a larger, broader audience.
5. Editorial syntax in everything you do
If it looks like a story and walks like a story then it’s a story. When you create supporting material to take your idea out into the reporting world, it needs to respect editorial sensibility. If you truly understand how reporters would treat the subject and prepare your backgrounding materials in a way that screams you understand the rules and how they do their job, you earn respect right at the front door if inquiry.
So much of what editors and reporters see each day is self-promotional and never served in the context of a bigger story concept. They are required to wade through, identify and separate what is useful from what is not. Most won’t do it and thus why the pitch never materializes as a published piece.
If you want a reporter to respect you, listen to you, then serve the story up in a frame that bristles with editorial savvy and states, obviously, that you know them, their world, their audience and how they will likely treat the story themselves.
Too often story material is created to please the internal approvers because it sounds like an ad and tells the key messages directly, and without any editorial context around it. Looks good on paper, but in reality the release may fall flat on its face once in the hands of those who report rather than promote.
It’s tougher than it looks
All of this work is a bit like a symphony of well-crafted components that serve to anchor a story in the greater good and embed success in the effort rather than impede it. The paint-by-numbers approach of release generation to spray-and-pray distribution is truly a walk down the pathway of a loose dice roll to any tangible media outcome.
Better in the end to be strategic about how this great work is conducted and be patient with a process that has more moving parts. Inevitably it will position you for greater earned media success in the long run.
The relationship-building nuances of becoming a trusted source for real news with reporters are inexorably linked to achieving media objectives. Seasoned experience is required because you must have been at bat a more than few times, learned the differences between good and bad, before you understand what to do and what to avoid.
Simply said, reporters know if you know the drill.
If you think you need a fresh approach to non-paid, earned media outcomes use this link to initiate an informal conversation. We promise an interesting, useful dialogue.
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Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, The Healthy Living Agency. Traditional brand marketing often sidesteps more human qualities that can help consumers form an emotional bond. Yet brands yearn for authentic engagement, trust and a lasting relationship with their customers. Emergent helps brands erase ineffective self-promotion and replace it with clarity, honesty and deeper meaning in their customer relationships and communication. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.