Six ways PR professionals can (and should) ‘think like a journalist’

As a young kid, I felt I was destined to be a journalist. I wrote family newsletters and questionable short stories. I scored the editor-in-chief spot on the high school newspaper staff and eventually made my way to the college newsroom. But my career led me elsewhere, and I’ve spent nearly a decade working on the “dark side” of the media, as some (unfortunately) say.

 

While I may not be reporting or a big-time magazine editor, working with media is one of the primary responsibilities of my job. And, the truth is that media jobs and PR jobs are far more similar than we’re led to believe. From crafting captivating story ideas and writing compelling content to interviewing sources and maintaining a strong social media presence, the core skills of a journalist translate well onto the PR side of tracks (and vice versa).

So, let’s explore how basic journalistic practices apply to public relations.

 

Here are six ways we can “think like journalists” in our day-to-day roles as PR professionals:

 

Avoid selling and start (story)telling.

Journalists are quick to dismiss stories that seem too sales-y, and rightfully so. Similarly, as PR professionals, our first goal is storytelling, not selling. Sure, we need to include facts and figures, the “5 W’s,” and so on; however, these are just the building blocks and baselines to our content.

 

As storytellers, we must paint a picture, stir emotion and change behavior through words. Include extra details that weave in the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell. How many people were at the event? What did the chef’s award-winning dish really taste like? What sights and sounds overtook the banquet hall at the convention?

 

Help the audience visualize. The best content is rich with details that will hook readers and give them more than just a compilation of facts and quotes.

 

Know what’s newsworthy.

Generally, there are five key elements to newsworthiness: timing, significance, proximity, prominence and human interest. These apply across all kinds of content, not just media stories.

 

Is there a timely element? What does the article do for your audience? Is the topic close enough (geographically or otherwise) to your readers to pique interest? Why should people care? And, how does the story appeal to the audience’s emotions?

 

If you don’t know the answer to any of those questions, you’re not ready to tell the story.

 

Understand your audience.

Who are your customers? Who are your clients? And, who are the ideal readers of the story you’re hoping to tell? Be it a media hit, customer case study, blog post or e-newsletter, you must always know your audience and why they will want to read what you have to say. Spend some time carefully defining who you want to reach and figuring out their interests and behaviors. Then, and only then, can you truly reach them.

 

Research and verify.

All good stories are based on facts, and citing data will build trust with audiences and reporters alike.

From writing a media pitch, a white paper or a thought leadership article to compiling a media list or competitive analysis, research is always the first and most important step.

 

Who are your sources? Is there a study that supports your claim? What is the reporter’s beat? Is the reporter still writing for that outlet? What articles have already been written on the topic?

 

Ask yourself question after question until you’ve exhausted your options. Then, once you’ve compiled the information you need, review it, digest it and verify it. Double-check your facts and vet your sources.

 

We can’t be lazy. Someone will always know.

 

Strategically structure your writing.

There are a lot of facts, but there is only one story. As storytellers, journalists and PR pros must guide our audiences to the story. It’s our job to sift through piles of information and find the true purpose of the story. It’s also our job to tell it.

 

The most common method of writing structure is using the pyramid model. Your most important and most interesting content belongs at the very top of the pyramid. Since we only have mere seconds before our audience moves on, it makes sense to arrange writing from most important to least important, in case the reader jumps ship halfway through.

 

In addition to the order of our writing, PR pros can take another page from a journalist’s book by always thinking about campaigns and content in a broader sense. How can we take this one step further? Does this inspire a graphic or video? How many ways can we repurpose this to create more compelling content and reach more people? The sky can be the limit.

 

Mind the details.

Details matter and not just the details of the story (refer back to “Avoid selling and start (story)telling”). Just as journalists are expected to do, PR professionals are expected to heavily proofread their work. Names, titles, punctuation, dates, capitalization, attributions, AP Style… even formatting matters. It’s our job to be precise and represent not only ourselves well, but our clients well.

 

Journalism and storytelling are as old as mankind, and the basics of both are the same for us PR pros no matter the objective or the audience. By honing some journalism skills, you can craft stories and PR campaigns that resonate with the right people.

 

Can we help tell your story? Contact Lauryn Gray at lauryn@dittoepr.com to explore what Dittoe PR could do for you.

The dirty secret about online content and shrinking attention spans

RIP-attention-span

 

This article was first published on Ragan’s PR Daily.

 
I’m tired of hearing marketers, journalists, and PR people use “shrinking attention spans” to explain why their content sucks.

In an article about the role of public relations in a rapidly evolving media landscape—with which I otherwise agreed—David Armano, managing director of Edelman Digital Chicago, noted the following.

“The people we want to reach move effortlessly across a media landscape about which they rarely make distinctions. Increasingly, they spend time on mobile devices, skimming content in ‘streams or feeds.’ The average consumer of media has the attention span of a squirrel on Ritalin. Getting them to pause to read anything more than a paragraph is becoming increasingly difficult.”

Shrinking attention spans and squirrel comparisons have become go-to arguments for why people no longer consume long-form articles or online videos lasting longer than two minutes. But this is a cop out. The real reason people don’t consume longer forms of media is that most digital publishers don’t want them to.

Shrinking attention spans are the symptom, not the problem 

Let me be clear, I am not arguing against the body of evidence supporting our diminishing attention spans. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators conclude that the Internet is an environment that promotes perfunctory reading and distracted thinking.
Nor am I accusing anyone on the team at Edelman Digital of producing bad content. They are, in fact, trail blazers in the space.
I’m simply taking exception to the stance that digital publishers can no longer produce compelling long-form content because of shrinking attention spans.

Our shrinking attention spans are the symptom, not the problem.
The problem is that digital media is designed to be clicked, consumed, and spread as quickly as possible. Although the rallying cry is “content is king,” the reality of the Internet is that “clicks are king,” because clicks are what drive ad revenue.

The goal for digital publishers is not to produce well-written, thought-provoking articles and videos, but to create content that can be spread quickly and easily. How can readers quickly spread content if it takes them several minutes to read or watch it? Every single second a reader spends reading an article is one more second that could have been used to encourage the reader to share it, click through to the next piece of content, and repeat. Click, consume, spread.

In fact, it doesn’t even matter if the content is consumed, as long as it’s shared. Reading doesn’t generate ad dollars. So whenever you hear a media pundit proclaim, “Long-form journalism is dead!” what they mean to say is “Long-form journalism isn’t lucrative.”
It’s not that people won’t read long-form content, it’s that the nature of digital publishing has seemingly removed any incentive to produce content that takes longer than eight seconds to consume.

Healthier options are available 

As a result, digital media is being pushed further and further in the direction of becoming the fast food of content—it’s quick, cost effective, and not very good for you. But just as there is growing demand for healthy options at the drive-thru, there are significant changes taking hold in the realm of digital content that stem from the audience’s demand for quality.

For instance, Taulbee Jackson, founder and president of digital marketing firm Raidious, pointed to recent algorithm shifts in social and search platforms, such as Facebook and Google, as evidence of growing demand among consumers for better content. In a recent interview, he explained:

“Search results ranking algorithms like Google’s Panda and Penguin and Facebook’s EdgeRank were put in place to defend users against being exposed to bad content. Think about the ramifications for that. There is so much bad content that these companies felt it was necessary to help their users proactively filter out all the irrelevant noise. That is a big deal.” 

You can also look to movements like the one led by Mark Armstrong, founder of Longreads.com, as evidence of our growing demand for quality.
Longreads posts daily links to long-form journalism and magazine stories from publications including The New YorkerThe Atlantic, and Rolling Stone, as well as short stories, interview transcripts, historical documents and yes, even blog posts.

As the name suggests, a typical Longread is at least 1,500 words. The @longreads Twitter account has more than 82,600 followers, many of whom use the hashtag #longreads to share URLs to long-form stories they find around the Web.

Short doesn’t always equal bad 

I’m not suggesting that when it comes to content, long equals good and short equals bad. I, like everyone else, applauded Oreo’s profoundly simple, yet genius Super Bowl blackout tweet. But saying that people won’t—or as many arguments suggest—can’t process something more substantial than a picture of an Oreo followed by seven words because of their eroding attentions spans is simply untrue.

Marketers, PR people and journalists: Before you start dissecting what is an otherwise great piece of content just so that it can be consumed in the amount of time it takes to read this sentence, please reconsider. Your audience will read it. Then they will share it. And you will have engaged them in a way that few have.

Three Questions to Ask Before Pitching a Reporter

Stop right there. Before you even think about clicking send, ask yourself these three questions about your pitch.

#1 Would I click on this story?

The subject line of your email pitch can really make or break the entire story idea. Get inspiration by looking at the titles of previous stories or blog posts from the media outlet (and especially the reporter) you’re pitching. Looking at the list of the most emailed or most read stories on the publication’s website can spark good ideas too.

#2 Would their readers care about this story?

When creating your pitch, ask yourself if this is the type of story the media outlet’s readers would care about. If it’s even remotely a stretch, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and think of a different angle to take. In addition to thinking about the readers, make sure you’re thorough in your research so that you’re not pitching a type of story the writer would never cover. For example, you’d never want to pitch an entrepreneur profile story to someone who only writes advice-based columns for entrepreneurs.

#3 Would I read this pitch?

Time for a reality check. If you’re bored reading your own pitch, then the reporter will definitely be bored. Make it relevant to them, interesting and engaging from subject line to the final sentence. Consider using examples to illustrate what the company, service or product does to breathe more life into the pitch and make it sound less like a press release. Above all, make it as short as possible. No one has time to read a one page email pitch.

What’s the one question you always ask yourself before sending an email pitch? Is there one thing your most successful pitches have all had in common?