In the last blog post about public relations, you learned what makes a story attractive to reporters. That’s just the beginning. There are certain types of stories that give you a good chance of capturing a journalist's attention. Here are a few of them, along with some ideas for tailoring them to your purposes.
Human Interest Stories
A human interest story is a story that examines the personal aspect of an organization or event. It evokes emotion from readers or viewers. These are great for nonprofit publicity seekers because they show your mission in action.
There are lots of ways that you can put a human interest slant on a story. Here are a couple of ideas:
- David vs. Goliath — Think about someone overcoming overwhelming obstacles with your organization's help.
- Heroic acts — If someone in your organization did something heroic, or if something your NGO did helped to save a life, that's certainly newsworthy. Stories of heroism are some of the best publicity you could ask for.
Facts and Figures
Have you noticed how much the media loves to share information about the latest research studies? Such topics have a tendency to capture the attention of the audience. So if you can find a piece of research, some statistics, or a survey that relates well to your NGO, you will be well served to tie a story in with it. Your interpretations of the facts make for great quotes, and they can stir up controversy.
The research or survey you use doesn't have to uncover groundbreaking new discoveries. Something as simple as the percentage of foster youth needing computers to be educated remotely could serve as a great topic.
Stories Related to Current Events
Tying a story related to your nonprofit to a story that has made headlines recently is a great way to get a reporter's attention. Smaller news outlets are especially receptive to such stories. By proposing such a story, you're giving the reporter a chance to show readers how large stories relate to them and their community.
One particularly effective way to use this technique is to find stories of problems that your NGO is solving. Take the COVID-19 outbreak, for example. There are plenty of stories about it in the news. What you are doing to help the people you serve could be the basis for a useful story.
Stories That Challenge Common Knowledge
Have you ever read a story that took a popular belief and turned it on its head? These kinds of stories really make us think, and we're apt to discuss them with friends, family, and co-workers. That's why reporters love them and why it makes sense to find commonly held beliefs to dissect and diffuse.
While you don't have to perform elaborate experiments Mythbusters-style, you will need some facts to back up your ideas. Statistics are good for this purpose, as are anecdotes from those who have found out for themselves that the belief is false. For example, one in five college students in California is homeless or has been homeless in the past year. If you work to help the homeless or help at-risk youth to go to college, this could be the tie-in to a great story.
Stories That Relate to Holidays
Holiday stories are staples of the media. When the holiday season is coming up, for instance, newspapers and TV news programs frequently feature reports about soup kitchens and food banks. Valentine's Day, Easter, and Thanksgiving are also media favorites. But it doesn't have to be a major holiday to get media attention.
There are lots of less recognized holidays that can help you get in the news. Administrative Professionals Day and Grandparents Day are a couple of good examples. But even holidays that few people have ever heard of make for good stories. How about Take Your Dog to Work Day? And then there are weekly and monthly observances such as National Volunteer Week and Black History Month. You can find listings of these holidays and observances online. There are lots of them, so you should be able to find several that you can relate to your business throughout the year.
Tips and Top Ten Lists
Lists are heralded as one of the best vehicles for getting links and traffic to a website. But lists have been around since long before the Internet was ever thought of. A worthwhile list can be a great basis for a news story.
When it comes to lists, tips and tricks are among the most popular subjects. Anything that can make life easier is welcomed in today's busy society. And as an expert in your field, people (and hence reporters) are interested in your advice. While you can't counsel them all one-on-one, a newspaper article or a feature on the TV news is sure to capture their attention.
Lists of the top reasons for a given choice or occurrence are also well received. Stories such as "The Top Ten Reasons You Should Watch Less TV" or "The Top Five Reasons Adopting a Shelter Pet is Better Than Buying One" can be successfully used to promote your organization, but they also serve to keep the audience informed.
Lists are best suited to print media, but they can work for television news as well. If you plan to pitch them to a TV news reporter, however, it's important to keep them concise. Television viewers tend to have short attention spans, and a list of 20 things is unlikely to hold their attention. Time constraints can also keep longer lists from getting airtime. Even if your story is based on a previously printed news story with a long list, it's best to condense it to no more than five items.
(Pro tip: Repurpose these for your social media channels too!)
What Reporters Want from You
As a publicity seeker, the last thing you want to be is a thorn in a reporter's side. You want to be someone that the reporter enjoys talking to and someone who gives him what he is looking for without him having to dig. You don't have to be a mind reader to accomplish this. You just need to attempt to look at things from the reporter's point of view. Here are some important things to keep in mind when pitching stories and doing interviews.
- Give them something that has widespread appeal. Mass media, after all, is designed for the masses. Reporters need stories that will appeal to a large percentage of their audience, not stories that are only interesting to a small subsection. So the more groups you can make your story apply to, the greater your chances of getting the reporter's attention.
- Make it clear why your story is relevant to the reporter's audience. A simple announcement of a promotion, an increased online presence, or a virtual fundraiser isn't enough. You need to explain why the audience should care.
- Be prepared for all questions. You have no way of knowing every question that a reporter will ask you ahead of time, but it's important to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. The more you know about the subject of your story, the better you'll look during your interview. And the better you can answer the questions, the happier the reporter will be.
- Don't overdo the hype. While your primary objective is to promote your nonprofit, your story shouldn't read like an advertisement. If it does, it will be detrimental to both your credibility and the reporter's. Stick to the facts, and remember that subtlety is an asset when it comes to publicity.
- If your story is time-sensitive, get it to the reporter early. You don't want to pitch it so early that it seems irrelevant, but the reporter will need time to get all the facts and get the story written up for timely publication. A week or two before the desired publication date is a good rule of thumb. If for television or online media, a few days usually is the norm.
- If you have a story that's particularly juicy, keep in mind that reporters love to get a good exclusive. Being the first to cover a hot topic can give their careers a huge boost. If you can provide them with news that has widespread appeal and no one else has covered it, you'll be their new best friend.
- Remember that reporters will not necessarily create a story exactly as you pitch it. It has merit, but they may want to present it from a different angle. Don't take it personally.
- Understand that every story you pitch is not going to be a winner. Sometimes there's just no space when your story is time-sensitive. And sometimes your story just doesn't meet a reporter's needs. If this happens, thank the reporter for his time and move on. Try another media outlet, rework your story, or come up with a new one.
So now that you have a great story, how do you get it in front of a journalist? Stay tuned to TechSoup’s blog, because that’s the final installment for this series.
- See How Nonprofits Can Use Instagram: 5 Easy Tips.
- Find out, Are Digital Ads the Missing Piece in Your 2020 Marketing Plan?
- Watch a webinar on 3 Ways Starting a Podcast Can Help Your Nonprofit Grow.
- Take a TechSoup course on Social Media Marketing 101: How to Get Started With Social Media for Fundraising for Your Nonprofit.