Have Something to Say: Creating Stories for the Media

Photo by sskennel

Alison Risso is the Communications Director at Mightycause, and before that, she worked with National Geographic, Discovery Channel, TLC, and Animal Planet. Most recently, she worked with the national nonprofit KaBOOM! In this two-part series, she gives us great tips on how we can create stories to pitch to the media.

My mother pointed out to me that she knew I was well on my way to a career in PR when I was in High School.  How, you ask?  I’m embarrassed to admit, but when I needed a date to the Homecoming dance, I compiled a list of guys I liked and spent and evening calling down the list.  No drama, no pining and waiting by the phone, no subtle batting of the eyes in Calculus. I made a list, I made the calls, I made my case. Got a date, had a good time, end of story.

Now that I’m in PR, the process has not changed much. So if you’re looking to get press for your nonprofit, here are some pointers:

Have something to say.

Everyone has something to say, but it can’t all make it onto television or the newspaper. Think about whether you have something that is:

  • — Impactful – will this information change the reader’s life or the lives of others?
  • — New – not just new for you, new to the world
  • — Different – if it’s not completely new, how is it different?
  • — Unexpected – Man Bites Dog-type stories catch people’s attention
  • — Emotional – powerful stories about people or animals always resonate
  • — Visual – we’re highly visual creatures. Good imagery makes your news more appealing
  • — Controversial – media outlets love a little conflict, but be careful. Being negative can look like sour grapes when not done well

If you have some, but not all of these elements, think about whether you have the ability to add more to help you get coverage. Perhaps you can create an event that adds something new, different, and unexpected to your message, giving it a “hook” that will appeal to media.  Can you find a spokesperson or story that helps deliver more of these elements?

Here’s a piece I ran into recently:

  • — Homelessness is a problem that needs attention.  No real news there.
  • — Turns out one in three homeless people are veterans.  That’s new information.
  • — Eric Jungles is a veteran who wanted to help other soldiers. That’s an emotional story.
  • — Eric decided to sleep outside in the freezing Minnesota weather until he raised $10,000 for a national organization that fights homelessness.  That’s a visual, impactful and unexpected event that he added to the original “homelessness is a problem” idea.

Eric’s story was included not only in Minnesota publications, but in the New York Times “At War” Blog because it hit on a number of these elements. Eric’s fundraiser was a success for the same reason.  People were motivated to give for the same reasons editors found his story compelling.  Can you create a story that attracts media attention?

Create your story first, and check back to our blog next Tuesday for tips on how to pitch your story to the media.

[UPDATE] Link to follow-up post “Have Something to Say: Pitching the Story.”