Story Placement and “The New PR”

When I talk to business owners and company leaders about why they think their messages aren’t getting traction with public relations or earned media, I’ll cite changes in the way newscasts actually present information. Instead of just telling you the news, an anchor’s got to deliver an enticing customer experience — they’ve got to convince you that a story’s so hot, you need to stick around until later in the show:

Coming up next, a new iPhone app that’s making eye doctors see red because it could help you throw away your reading glasses forever. And where it comes from will surprise you!

I’m fairly certain that’s how I heard my local CBS anchors tease this story about a real app that purports to retrain your brain to overcome how your eye changes shape as you age. The report included a lot of actual science about how the brain process images, and how consumers might do themselves a disservice by relying on reading glasses. However, the hook (and what most people will remember about the story) is that a startup is trying to disrupt eyewear sales by healing eyes with smartphone apps.

Cranking out page views online or extending “AQH” and “TSL” audience figures means producing stories that sizzle. Could your company’s story hold an audience’s interest through a commercial break? If not, an assignment editor will pass over your pitch in favor of something that fits a script that sounds like:

Sure, it’s a mournful state of affairs for journalism. But it’s the playing field we’re all on right now. We’re not just talking about television or radio news, either. It’s easy to poke fun at Upworthy headlines, but the only reason we’ve heard of them is because they work. This trend should challenge you to conduct a content audit and think about how you communicate the impact your product or service can really make on your community.

Look at your current slate of press releases, blog posts, and marketing collateral. Rip out anything that assumes your audience has more than a passing familiarity with your industry. (Better yet, add those items to a resource library or knowledge base deeper in your website.)

Assume an assignment editor doesn’t care about your company, its heritage in the community, how many jobs you create, or how much good work you’ve done. Challenge yourself to think about the real urgency behind what you do and how you do it, as if your whole world depended on keeping an audience enthralled during three minutes of your competitors’ commercials. Imagine how you can use “the tease” as a window into the message you’re trying to promote or the goals you want to achieve.

Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram