When was the last time you opened your favorite magazine and found a story that simply didn’t fit with all of the other articles or the magazine’s overall theme? The answer to this question is – or should be – never. Magazines, like all media, have one job: to deliver content that’s relevant to their audience. In other words, they choose the stories that are newsworthy.
As my colleague Jen Picard pointed out in a recent article, 5 Reasons Your Pitch is Falling Flat, one of the biggest disappointments for a PR pro is seeing a campaign fail. Doing your homework and making sure your story is newsworthy to its audience – both reader and journalist – is the most important step to ensuring pitch success.
A newsworthy story is one that is interesting enough to warrant publishing. Editors and producers look at the stories pitched by PR pros with an eye towards newsworthiness, evaluating submissions based on a version of following criteria:
- Timeliness: Is the story new/current? No one enjoys reading about or writing about old news.
- Proximity: Does it impact me? Stories in our own back yard are more interesting than stories that happen 10,000 miles away.
- Prominence: Who’s involved? Celebrities, politicians and business leaders are interesting to readers. If they’re involved in the story, you probably have a slam-dunk win.
- Conflict/Incompetence/Scandal/Shock Value: Is there something shocking or scandalous in your story? If you’ve read a tabloid recently you know this rule well; like it or not, conflict is almost always newsworthy. The old adage “If it bleeds, it leads” didn’t happen by accident.
- Future Impact: Will this news shape the future in any way? Often a story fails the timeliness test but still gets a pass if it has future importance to a company, person or other subject people care about.
- Human Interest: Human-interest stories are the newsworthy wild card. A story can fail all of the above but win based on human interest. After all, everyone loves a heartwarming story!
A story doesn’t need to include every point above to be newsworthy, but it will need to nail at least one. The best pitches usually include 2 or, more likely, 3 of the above.
Knowing, in a general sense, what a journalist is looking for in a story is half the battle. The other half is putting the story through what I refer to as the “relevance test.” A journalist’s newsworthy test tells them if the story is right for their publication/audience. The relevance test tells you if you will pass that test.
Testing for relevancy does require objectivity. You’ll need to remove yourself from the mindset of an employee or agency PR rep and put yourself in the shoes of both the journalist and the reader. Pretend you know nothing of the story or the related company and evaluate your pitch based on the following 5 criteria.
Relevance Test: 5 ways to test the newsworthiness of your PR pitch
- Test 1: External Relevance: Is your story interesting to people outside of your company? Too often employees enjoy hearing about developments that are not too exciting for those who are not employees. How many times have you had a co-worker come to you with an idea for a press release that simply didn’t make sense? Right. It happens all the time. Just like you are forced to explain to that same co-worker that their story isn’t worthy of a press release, you need to be honest with yourself about whether your own story is pitch-worthy.
- Test 2: Personal Relevance: Would you read the story? This is the easiest test of the bunch. Simply ask yourself: if your story were to run, would you read it? If the answer is no, abandon ship!
- Test 3: Customer Relevance: Does your customer need or care about your story? If the answer is yes, proceed. But do so with caution, remembering that just because your pitch is relevant to your customer doesn’t mean it will pass test 4 or 5.
- Test 4: Journalist Relevance: Based on the stories the journalist you’re pitching has written recently, will they find your story relevant? As you build your media list think carefully about every person you add. Spend time looking at the stories they have written and be honest when you ask yourself this question “will this person find this interesting, or am I wasting their time?” If your story fails this test, that person should not be on your list.
- Test 5: Media Relevance: Determine if the story you’re pitching fits within publication you are about to pitch. On the surface this may seem simple, but in truth it can get complicated and will force you to think about your story and pitch objectively. Obviously you wouldn’t pitch a celebrity story to TechCrunch; technology stories belong in TechCrunch. However, that doesn’t mean that they will cover EVERY tech story. You need to decide if you have the type of story that they tend to cover, and this will take a bit of research on your end.
Just like a journalist’s newsworthy test, your pitch doesn’t need to pass every relevancy test. At minimum I would recommend that it pass tests 1, 4 and 5.
Putting the Tests to Use in Two Steps
Start by crafting your pitch messaging with an eye towards the newsworthy test a journalist will use to evaluate. Once you’ve crafted the story and feel you have passed the newsworthy test, put your story through the relevancy test. Decide if your story is worth pursuing (test 1-3), and then decide whom to pitch at which media outlets (test 4 and 5).
Is this a ticket to guaranteed success? No, of course not. In PR you need to be ready for rejections. Will this test and the research and prep work it requires reduce your rate of rejection? Yes, it will. Do your homework! Journalists will appreciate the effort and your success rate will improve.