How to Sell Your Story to the Media

Macias PR - How to sell your storyBy Mark Macias

Identifying a great narrative is the most important element behind any successful media campaign, but selling your story to the media can’t be overlooked.

You can have the best idea, but if you sell it the wrong way, your story will never be pitched in any morning news meeting. More relevant, you typically only get one chance to make a first impression in business, and in journalism, it lasts only a few seconds.

During my time as an Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York, tech startups, business owners and publicists pitched me all kinds of stories on topics ranging from consumer tech to medical, health to features.

At the same time, I had to pitch stories on a daily basis to a room full of jaded, experienced journalists who had heard every news idea possible. It’s very hard to reinvent the wheel or spin a square idea with that group.

So how do you sell a story idea to journalists?

Don’t try to tell any reporter that this is a great story, or revolutionary or why everyone loves your product or service. They will read right through it. Instead, take an objective approach and back it up with words that aren’t opinionated.

For example, take a look at that truck in the photo above. It has a story just like you and I have a story to tell. What has that truck seen, or why is it still running years after others have failed? How did it accumulate that rust? What are the stories that took place inside of that truck? Any scandalous cross-country ventures that took place inside the cabin?

That is how you sell a story to the media. And please, don’t use those words or phrases that are on the left box. Every journalist hears those phrases several times a day, so that is the quickest way to get your story rejected before it is even pitched.

Macias PR was named the 2015 top “PR Consultant Firm of the Year – USA” by Finance Monthly. The firm was founded by Mark Macias – a former Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York. Macias is a weekly contributor with CNBC.com and author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media, which has been featured in the NY Times, Fox Business, NY Post and others. Macias PR has run media campaigns for tech startups, financial groups, service providers, nonprofits and politicians.

PR Case Study on Credibility

By Mark Macias

It was all over the news. Amazon would soon start delivering products using drones to deliver products. Even established news organizations, like 60 Minutes, reported on it.

Don’t believe the hype or near-term predictions. It was all part of a flawless PR plan executed perfectly by Amazon.

The drone story wasn’t about reinventing the delivery system for Amazon. It was about Amazon creating a strong, intriguing narrative and backing it up with substance.

This makes for a great case study on credibility that you can apply to your own business. But first, a quick personal story.

Jeff Bezos understands the media intuitively, and I first learned that back in 1999 when I was a producer with NBC in Miami. I pitched a profile story on the young, unknown entrepreneur from Miami Palmetto High School. At the time, Bezos was beginning to shake up Wall Street with strong predictions on his company would revolutionize retail.

His hype worked and the stock skyrocketed.

It’s no different with PR. A strong statement usually gets covered but it first needs to have credibility.

Lesson One: Establish Credibility with PR

Every media campaign needs a credible narrative because without credibility, the media won’t cover your story. If you’re a portfolio manager for a hedge fund and you want to get on CNBC, you better have an established record. Likewise, if you’re running for City Council, you need a plan that is believable and possible or the local reporters won’t write about you.

Amazon has proven itself over the years so credibility has already been established. Did you know earlier this summer, Dominoes Pizza unveiled the same “drone delivery” platform? But guess what – you probably didn’t hear about it because Dominoes Pizza doesn’t have the credible track record of Amazon. If you’re going to make a bold claim, make sure you have the operations or history to back it up.

Lesson Two: Build Suspense

60 Minutes rarely buys into hype. They don’t need to create hype because it is an established program with the best journalists. But in the case with Amazon, if you watch the segment (click here to watch video) you will see how Amazon was able to build suspense for the drone unveiling. 60 Minutes opened their show with that unveiling to bring in viewers – proof that suspense works.

Lesson Three: Identify a Gimmick that Reinforces Your Services

The drone delivery unveiling was a brilliant strategic media move for Amazon because it reinforces its delivery service. But this isn’t about drones and Amazon changing the way books and clothes are delivered to our homes. This isn’t about customer service or delivery becoming more efficient. This was about an idea that every consumer wants to believe. It’s a page from the Jetsons.

This doesn’t mean you should create a gimmick that is not true. At its root, I’m sure Amazon and Jeff Bezos believe drones do have an opportunity to change the way products are delivered. Your gimmick should inspire but have a root of reality.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR or MarketYourFund.com

Press Releases – Worth the Money?

By Mark Macias

Clients are always asking me what I think of press releases on the PR newswires.

“Will they help us get publicity with reporters,” they ask.

Even a spokesperson with a New York City agency asked me what I thought of PR newswires. She said her agency approved funding for press releases with the PR newswires.

I used to work with her at CBS, so I threw the question right back at her.

“Did you ever once go to the PR newswires to look for a story when you were at CBS?”

Press Releases – When do they Work and Not Work

But press releases can be extremely helpful depending on your media need and strategy.

The various PR newswires are helpful when your business is trying to get something on the record – like a milestone. If your business is growing faster than the competition, you want to announce it to the world and PR newswires are a great place for these.

But press releases on the PR newswires should never be confused as a media strategy.

Notice the emphasis is on “PR newswires” and not “newswires.”

How PR Newswires Differ

There is a big difference the “newswires,” like the Associated Press, Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters, and the “PR newswires.”

The newswires are actually read by assignment editors, producers and reporters. It’s not easy getting media announcements in the newswires because the news threshold is even higher, but if you can get it picked up by a newswire, other news organizations may run with your story.

Paid press releases with the PR newswires can be an element of a larger media strategy, but before you spend the extra money, ask yourself these questions:

Am I trying to get publicity with journalists? If you are, you will be better pitching the story individually to reporters.

Do I want to get something on the record? If your company has achieved a major milestone, signed a major client, hit an impressive sales number, etc – a press release on the PR newswires is a great means to distribute that message.

Do I need exposure for my new website? A paid press release can help with SEO because the backlinks will potentially help you with search engine ranking.

You can read longer, in-depth stories on these topics at www.prhelp.co.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR or MarketYourFund.com

Cat and Mouse – Related to PR

By Mark Macias

Why does the cat always catch the mouse? When you think of how agile and quick a mouse can be, he should always be able to outmaneuver the cat. Yet, nearly every time, the cat will always catch the mouse.

That’s not just a fun question. It’s actually a way of thinking that applies to public relations.

First off, I don’t claim to be an expert on mice or cats. I have never owned a cat and I hate mice, so I am not skilled at analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of mice and cats. But as a person who lives in Manhattan, -and every New Yorker will tell you – “if you have mice, get a cat and the problem will go away.”

There must be some strategy behind a cat’s approach. There is and here is how it applies to public relations and business.

What Cats and Mice Teach us about Public Relations

A cat traditionally studies its prey before it attacks. It tries to understand the mouse’s movements and agility in advance. The cat is more patient. It takes his time approaching the mouse, waiting for the right moment to pounce while the mouse is busy sniffing the ground.

Now let’s take a closer look at the mouse. I’ve watched mice move on the streets of Manhattan and I will never understand why he loses to the cat. The mouse is faster and more agile and should run circles around the puffy paw.

Trust me, I couldn’t catch a mouse on the streets but I guarantee you I could catch a cat if I needed to. The mouse – on the surface – has every natural talent to win the household game, but it doesn’t because he is afraid.

In the world of PR, you should study and understand the journalists you want to pitch because you only get one chance. If you fire off that story idea before it is completely developed, you risk losing an opportunity for coverage.

Many clients want to see results quickly, and as a business owner, I understand. I want to see a high rate of return as well on my investments. But if the execution of the strategy is rushed and sloppy, you risk losing out on solid media placements.

Fear of Failure Destroys PR Campaigns

Fear is another failing item that can’t be associated with public relations. A creative media strategy requires confidence in an idea and strength with the execution. You can’t be afraid of creative ideas when pitching reporters. Sure, I’ve come up with some crazy publicity stunts and not all of them worked. But a good majority did. If I was afraid of failure, I would have missed out on the home runs. The same applies to your business. You can’t be afraid like that little mouse.

Finally, the mouse fails because he doesn’t think. If you have observed any mouse in a kitchen after turning on the light, they don’t react to change well. Their bodies scramble without direction. It’s like they are immobilized by the sudden change in environment. As a publicist, you need to be able to adapt quickly to change. If you are getting multiple rejections from reporters than it is highly likely your strategy or media pitch is off and needs to adapt to the moment.

If you’re trying to succeed with media placements, you really do need to think like the cat but move like the mouse. If an idea doesn’t seem to be catching on, listen to the feedback of reporters. Are you missing an element with your idea? Does the reporter need more evidence to support the story? Be nimble and respond to their questions. Be like the mouse – fast, agile and quick to respond.

In the cartoon, Tom & Jerry, the mouse always won because he out-thought the big, slow cat. Of course, that is the land of fiction, but since the Tom & Jerry narrative was created by a real person, I can now understand why little Jerry won every time the two battled wits. The publicist or business that out-thinks the competition, usually wins.

Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR or MarketYourFund.com