Selling Your Story Idea to the Media
Everyone knows the best salesman is a person who believes soundly in his product, which is why you must be absolutely convinced that your story is newsworthy before you pitch any journalist. If you can’t sell that story idea to yourself, no reporter or producer is going to buy it. Likewise, if you don’t understand why your story is newsworthy it is going to be difficult to persuade any reporter that your story merits coverage.
In Journalism 101, students are taught the five W’s that help them identify the value of a story. They are the: Who, What, Where, When and Why, along with the How. You can use these rudimentary bullet points to help you identify why your story is newsworthy and what is important to stress in your pitch. Let’s do a quick lesson in the five W’s so you will understand how to apply them to your pitch.
WHO: Who is this story about? Who is the character in the center of the story? If you are pitching an organization, business or nonprofit you must identify a person to revolve the story around because the best stories involve people.
WHAT: What is this story about? Here is where you need to bring focus to the idea. Many people pitch stories on their businesses, but when you ask them what the story is they say, “a story on my business.” By identifying the “What” you will have an edge in pitching the story because your idea will be more focused.
WHERE: This should be one of the easier W’s to identify. Where is this story taking place? Does the location have any value or importance in the community? A diner in Iowa has little national news value, unless it is a Presidential election year when all of the candidates are pressing the flesh with patrons over ham and eggs. That pushes the diner to newsworthy importance, but if you include a character (the WHO)– perhaps a single, young, working waitress who has no health insurance— suddenly the story starts taking shape.
WHEN: Does your story have any timely components? Will your story take place on a single night or day? Is your story relevant at a certain time of the month? All of these questions could make your story timely, which will increase the value of your story.
WHY: Why should anyone care about your story? Why is this story happening? Why are people coming to your event or why are people buying your product or service? The “Why” question is the last W to ask yourself because it could be the deciding factor that determines whether your story is pursued or killed. No producer or reporter will dare pitch a story that no one cares about, which is why you must identify in advance why people will care about your idea and why they will have an emotional attachment.
HOW: Not every story has a “how” factor, but it is still important to ask yourself this question. How is your story, business, service or product changing lives? How are you helping people? How will your business or product save people money or better their lives? If you can’t answer this question off the top of your head, ask yourself “how” then look around your business and start focusing on the main components that sets your business a part from the competition.
By learning the five W’s and the one H you are essentially focusing the story down to its root. The more you narrow down the story, the easier it will be for you to identify the right targeted news outlet for your story. And by asking these questions in advance you will not only learn more about your story, but you might also uncover a better story that will help reinforce the message you want to project.
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Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. He now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.