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 firstname.lastname@example.org to explore what Dittoe PR could do for you.