What makes a news pitch successful? That’s the question every press officer no doubt asks themselves whenever they write a press release or pick up the phone to a journalist.
I’ve written elsewhere, on NCVO Knowhow Nonprofit, offering advice on how to generate news, how to write an effective press release and how to develop a constructive relationship with journalists. But I thought it would be useful to share here some examples of the stories that have made it into print, broadcast and online media since the Constructive Voices project launched last year to highlight the positive impact of charities and social enterprises and encourage more constructive news coverage.
A winning formula
The most successful coverage we’ve secured to date has been for Playing Out, the social enterprise that’s getting children playing out on the streets. We worked together on a press release linked to new research showing street play makes for healthier kids and happier communities. This was the perfect combination of a story containing new information, a positive message and evoking strong feelings, in this case of nostalgia.
It was also able to offer great case studies (right around the country) and lively visuals. And the timing worked in its favour too, coming in the quiet summer period. The result was that Playing Out received coverage in a huge array of outlets, including The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Sunday Times (including this film), The One Show, BBC Breakfast, BBC 5 Live, BBC Online, Sky News, Woman’s Hour, regional TV and 17 BBC local radio stations.
Use a positive pitch, know your audience and grab attention
Not all potential stories will hit the media jackpot in this way. But using a solutions-focused pitch – and being realistic about your target audience – can pay dividends. Dental charity Dentaid launched a scheme involving a mobile van to tackle toothache and oral problems amongst homeless people in the West Country. The regional ITV news didn’t need much convincing to cover this.
Similarly, the BBC World Service were happy to flag up the work of Farm Africa who were running a campaign to encourage young people living in cities to return to farming to deal with the shortage of youngsters working on the land. Using a local celebrity figure with a great backstory – a Nairobi street-kid turned comedian – to head up their campaign clearly also helped.
Don’t be afraid of using an eye-catching headline to grab a journalist’s attention. This was a bit tabloidy but you can see how we turned what could have been a dry subject matter into something striking: How bingo and blow-up boobs are encouraging women with learning disabilities to attend breast screening. ITV London news also covered this story but that recording is no longer available – a useful reminder to set up your own YouTube, Vimeo or audioBoom accounts to keep a permanent record of any coverage you receive.
News pegs – or not
Keeping a lookout for appropriate news pegs has also proven effective for Constructive Voices.
When the government was under fire for wasting over £1bn on its troubled families programme, we flagged this up to Constructive Voices members and found one charity, School Home Support, which had been involved in the scheme – and were able to put their side of the story in the Guardian , including the positive impact they’d had.
When it was announced that the Duchess of Cambridge was pregnant again – and suffering from extreme morning sickness, again – we reminded our media contacts of the supportive work of Pregnancy Sickness Support resulting in interviews and coverage in various outlets including the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 and BBC Radio 5live.
In this instance, the media were understandably more interested in hearing from people affected by the condition rather than focusing on solutions. And it’s true that the media do often come to us wanting a strong case study to illustrate a story they’ve already written. But providing case studies is a way of building a relationship with journalists who will hopefully be more receptive to the stories you want to tell in future.
And you can also use the opportunity to try and put a more constructive spin on your case study, turning them from victim to empowering figure. Often the media want this type of story anyway, like this woman featured in Woman magazine who went from being diagnosed with breast cancer to becoming an international disaster relief volunteer. Or this article in New! Magazine about the woman who used her own experiences of domestic abuse to help other women – and raise money and awareness of the issue.
The rather unfortunate headline serves as a warning when you’re dealing with the more tabloid end of the market – and a reminder to ask what sort of control you can have over the final version of a story, especially the headline. If you’re not prepared to take the risk, then don’t.
If a story is strong enough in its own right, a news peg isn’t needed. When the charity Snow-Camp signed up for Constructive Voices, the unusual nature of their work was enough to attract immediate interest from a media contact with our email that had the subject: How skiing is relieving inner-city deprivation. Here’s the resulting coverage on ITV London.
Increasingly, Constructive Voices is being approached by journalists looking for help with stories, especially at the BBC which has embraced a solutions-focused approach to news. The BBC’s West of England business correspondent wanted to do a solutions-focused story linked to military veterans around Remembrance Sunday. We were able to connect him with the military charity Cobseo, resulting in various pieces of coverage including this report on a Royal British Legion Industries scheme that helps military veterans back into work.
And right on cue, we’ve just been told about two upcoming solutions seasons being developed by the BBC: Different Together, looking at initiatives which bring people together across fault lines of race, religion, age, and class, and another on solutions to plastic.
If you think you can help, please email firstname.lastname@example.org:
- Put the topic in the subject: Different Together or Plastic solutions
- Outline the solution/idea tried
- Give your contact information – name, organisation, website, email, phone
If you sign up to Constructive Voices, you’ll get to find out more about upcoming work with newspapers and broadcasters, and you’ll also get the chance to be involved in our collaborations with journalism colleges, receiving interview practice and making links with the reporters of tomorrow.