What makes a story newsworthy?

There’s an endless argument between communicators and management and between communicators and journalists: What makes a newsworthy story?

Company executives often want to tell the world about some incremental improvement in a product or a service using a press release or a media interview to get the media to spread the word. To them, anything about the company makes a newsworthy story.

But often good communicators and marketers find themselves in the difficult position of (a) having to try to tell executives that their story isn’t newsworthy or, worse, (b) trying to pitch a non-newsworthy story to reporters. As the PR or marketing counsel, how many times have you encountered this situation? Probably more than you can count.

The challenge at hand

So what do you do when in this situation? We’ve complied some helpful ways to think about the challenge and some tools to help you make sure you and your team are investing time in the right newsworthy stories.

First, let’s start with definitions. What is a newsworthy story?

It has a number of definitions, but one of the best I use is a newsworthy story forces a targeted audience to pay attention to it. And paying attention means the story might lead them to:

  • Reconsider previous notions of a company’s momentum (branding)
  • Consider investing in the company
  • Decide to evaluate or purchase a new product or service based on the announcement.

Examples of what journalists consider newsworthy are:

  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • High-level executive changes
  • Funding/investment
  • Product/services announcements

Now you might think why would anyone write a story, a press release or a blog — put the time and effort into it — unless it had some of those elements. Many people do.

The sad reality is many companies and a lot of communicators put out communications simply to check off a box and make the client or bosses happy. This is a recipe for failure both short and long term. Remember: As the PR or marketing representative, you represent the company, and it is your reputation along with the company’s or client’s that is at stake.

Crying wolf syndrome

Communicators who pitch stories with no news value are like the boy who cried wolf, and when you’re trying to drive your company toward a business goal—an IPO, more venture investment, an acquisition—you simply can’t afford that.

Waste a reporter’s time and they won’t forget. Time is money to them. Remember, reporters have their own agenda, they want to get on the “front page” (physically or digitally) and those who get non-newsworthy pitches will make mental notes about you and your company that will linger for years. Trust me, reporters/journalist are human and some do hold grudges.

Good PR people don’t ping journalists without a quality story to pitch. And those who follow that path are usually rewarded with better relationships with editors and higher story-pitch success.

So, how can you arm yourself for success? Build a simple methodology to determine whether a story is newsworthy.

The story:

1. Has to be relevant to your target audience. Whom do you want to take notice of your news and why?

2. Has to (as mentioned above) have enough new data and information in it to compel that target audience to pay attention. A middle manager joining an industry board is not newsworthy because it doesn’t affect the company or the customers in any meaningful way, which is one of the tenets of a newsworthy story. But a company that has sold its millionth product is a newsworthy story; it’s a significant milestone and demonstrates consistency, reliability and the strength of the company and its product-development teams.

Effecting change

Now the difficult task at hand, how do you work with executives or clients who insist that you pitch a non-newsworthy story?

1. Remind them of the principles of what makes a good story and that weak story pitches will forever reflect on future (truly important) announcements the company wants to share.

2. Suggest they wait for a moment of more impact (a full-fledged product advancement or new family of products).

3. When there is nothing near-term on the product announcement calendar, work with them to conceive an industry-trends story that reporters will find appealing. While this doesn’t satisfy the short-term need of creating “momentum” around a small product enhancement, it will be a better story for reporters and help you build long-term credibility with the relationship.

Reporters look for both company-specific and industry-specific stories. Mix in some industry-trend pitches, and they’re much more likely to listen to your product story pitches.