It’s no surprise that over my years in journalism and public relations I have watched a lot change. And I mean a lot. There was a time when it really truly mattered who I knew in the media, and while those relationships are still important today, the success I create for clients is really back to the basics – it’s all about your story. Today, I encounter new people in the media industry every day. An editor I worked with today may not be there tomorrow, so you have to make sure your story is a stand-out.
The difference between having a good story and being able to tell it effectively is the difference between standing out amongst the clutter in a journalist’s inbox and never being seen. All too often I ask this simple question, “What’s your story?,” and I get a bunch of product mumbo jumbo. A press release, or pitch to a journalist, shouldn’t read like an advertisement. You really do have to uncover the story behind it all.
Example: A few years ago I was teaching my first class at SCORE Chicago. There was a woman sitting in the front row with a unique product. As part of my course, I offer to look over attendees’ press releases post-class to see what they’ve learned and to make sure it’s going to produce interest and results for them. This particular entrepreneur was one of few who took advantage of this opportunity, and what I got read like a product advertisement. I asked her why she started her business and she said “safety while driving." "Okay," I thought to myself, and immediately went online to research car accidents and driving safety. What I came up with was a very compelling fact that lent the credibility her product and story needed. All of a sudden her press release and story took another path.
So how do you find your compelling story? Here are some tips:
• Define the why: Remembering why you started your business, or created your product, will often lead to the bigger, more credible story behind your business. What need or problem does it fill or solve? How, or why, will it change people’s lives? Why should they care about your business? Your story is not only key to your PR success, but important to how you pitch investors or banks for money, and how you market your business. It should be the forefront of your business. Does your why create that emotional connection and need within your customer?
• Do your research: By conducting some simple online research can you find information that backs your why? Does it prove there is a need for your product/service? You may even uncover information that makes your story a national trend – and journalists love new trend stories. Really.
• Let go: Don’t get caught up in too many product details, unless it specifically has a lot of cool features and benefits for customers. It makes sense for Apple and other tech companies, but a cake or dress shop might not have such a need.
• Use photos: Photos speak a thousand words and that quick visual can determine if a journalist “gets it” or not.
• Write and think like a journalist: We are all bombarded with headlines and stories, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to begin putting yourself in a journalist’s shoes. They are looking for your compelling story, not a product pitch. If you do the latter, you’ll likely get forwarded to the advertising department.
Jennifer Fortney is president of Cascade Communications, a boutique virtual PR and marketing communications company in Chicago focusing on small business and startups. In her 15+ year career she has worked with some of the top Fortune 500 companies and a wide variety of small businesses and startups across the country. A journalism major with music minor from the University of Kansas, she is also the PR Instructor at SCORE Chicago and founder of @MyStorySource live media pitch feed on Twitter and Facebook. @SmallBizPRXpert