Building a newsworthy business is the best thing a business owner can do.
Baking newsworthiness into your business lines up a whole slew of benefits that do everything from mobilizing your potential customers to boosting your SEO. Being newsworthy inherently means your business is almost always on someone’s mind, and as such your business is able to actively take part in ongoing, culture-level conversations.
But all of this is much, much easier said than done. Truly newsworthy businesses are actually quite rare, as any tech reporter with an inbox full of press releases can tell you.
That means we need to first define some terms and understand what a newsworthy business is, and what it is not. We have a few examples that will help illustrate these ideas.
Hold on to those examples, too, because those will be instructive when it comes to evaluating your own business’s newsworthiness and developing your own newsmaking strategies. How to actually get your story out will be the last part of our discussion.
First, though, we need to dig into the idea of news value.
What Is a Newsworthy Business?
A newsworthy business has a story that would be of value even to non-prospective customers.
In effect, a newsworthy business has a dual value proposition: It has the product or service it sells to its customers, then it has a narrative it can offer to a media outlet’s audience. These are two very different things.
The value proposition for customers addresses how the product or service you sell would enrich the customer’s life somehow. The news value proposition, on the other hand, appeals to basic human curiosity and thus has a much wider audience.
(Note right now that the difference between these audiences means any advertising or promotional messaging would fall flat when trying to sell your news story — that audience is not interested in promotion and would find such messages intrusive.)
Newspaper editors and TV news producers argue in meeting rooms every day over what is actually newsworthy, but marketing and sales strategist Nancy Michaels nailed down a good rubric for assessing news value in a piece on American Express’ Open Forum blog.
Michaels said a story has news value if it can:
- tap into or buck a noticeable trend,
- tie itself on to an ongoing current event,
- tap into general human interest,
- appeal to a locally specific group of people,
- or even prove some superlative value (“World’s Largest Pumpkin!”).
So, let’s consider a hypothetical coffee shop called Jane’s Coffee. Owner Jane tries to stay on top of big trends in tech, and so she decided that her coffee shop would introduce Bitcoin payments and even install a Bitcoin ATM so customers could buy some of the digital money and spend it in one place. The local paper would have an interesting story to tell its audience: Local entrepreneur embraces volatile, controversial money. In fact, that could even be the headline.
This would be a good example of a business tapping into a trend and getting some publicity out of it. Notice that the news value of this story has nothing to do with Jane’s Coffee’s value proposition — there is no mention of how her staff roasts beans in house or how regular customers drop by every morning because they love the friendly service.
How to Be Newsworthy
Unless you are Elon Musk and your business is violently shaking up a whole industry, you might have to get creative in how you go about creating news value.
No. 1 – Charity
Charity is a classic go-to move. Let’s say Jane’s Coffee also offered full-time staff members a paid two-week leave every year so that they could go pursue any charity work they wanted. All of a sudden, media outlets have an interesting story to tell of a progressive business that incentivizes charitable works (in addition to experimenting with new forms of money). Any good journalist would pick up that story.
TOMS Shoes is one of the best-known companies that bakes charity right into its business model: For every pair of shoes purchased, the company donates a pair to someone in need in a developing country. If you want to see just how well that particular message has worked for the company, all you need to do is walk around a college campus on a warm spring day.
No. 2 – Tell Outlandish True Stories
But TOMS can also tell stories to the business community about the chaos the business experienced in its first months. Jill Kransy at Inc.com has one such story, in which founder Blake Mycoskie was caught off-guard by an angry buyer from Nordstorm, and a TOMS Shoes intern eating a breakfast burrito stepped in and calmly negotiated the buy order.
By circumstance or even through the vision of a rebel leader (e.g. Richard Branson), a business can simply live wild stories, which in turn are a lot of fun to tell.
No. 3 – Thought Leadership
In a previous post, we panned the narcissism of which so-called thought leaders are often guilty, but being an intelligent forward thinker in your industry is a great newsmaking strategy … as long as you are so qualified.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was an early adopter of the personal blog as a platform for thought leadership, but another entrepreneur might have a more interesting recent case study.
Ryan Carson, founder of web-development educational site Treehouse, blogs semi-regularly about his company’s own structure and internal processes. Treehouse is newsworthy in tech, management and startup circles for its four-day workweek, its remote work agreements and its lack of managers.
Carson blogs about the challenges of getting things done and communicating within a flat organizations, and this in turn has elevated Treehouse’s brand even among people who wouldn’t need the service in the first place.
No. 4 – Host Events
If you ever need to swipe event ideas, pay attention to bars and nightlife spots around your city.
A notable example that resonated worldwide in 2014 was a video taken at Chicago bar The Burlington, which hosts Game of Thrones viewing parties on Sunday nights. We won’t spoil anything for readers who aren’t caught up on the show, but there was one fight scene that elicited some pretty visceral reactions from the audience, and that video went viral a day later.
No. 5 – Be Disruptive
Not every business is in a position to shake up its industry, but those that are benefit greatly. Uber is one of the best recent examples because its entire business model threatens legacy taxi hegemonies in many cities, prompting taxi drivers in some European cities to go on strike.
Being disruptive opens businesses up to potentially being movement leaders, which is a dream scenario, and something for which more businesses should strive, Context Partners CEO Charlie Brown argues in a piece for Fast CoExist:
“For your company to be a movement-maker, you must dial in three core elements: a goal that unites, clear roles for participants and the right rewards to transform a single action into lasting change.”
Brown’s example was the aforementioned Elon Musk’s Tesla. Tesla, he says, unites people around the idea of greener transportation, shows customers and stakeholders how to achieve that (i.e. buying a Tesla, though Brown points out that some customers want a bigger role in providing feedback), and rewards customers largely through exclusive-status signaling and superior craftsmanship.
No. 6 – Know What Reporters Are Looking For
This is communication 101: Know your audience. Fortunately, if you have ever spent any amount of time in a newsroom, you know that it takes minimal goading for a reporter to tell you what things bug him/her and thus what you can do to stand out in the stream of press releases going to reporters’ inboxes.
Courtney Seiter, former journalist and Raven Tools’ community manager asked reporters in 2013 what they look for in a press release. The advice they gave her was gold.
Beyond basics such as being clear, concise and easy to contact, one recommendation that stood out is to take your message a step further and explain the “So what?” aspect of what you’re pitching.
“If you really want to get the attention of a serious journalist working at a serious publication, talk realistically about impact,” Memphis Business Journal reporter Andy Ashby told Seiter. “My editor always asks, ‘So what, who cares?’ Tell people in that industry why they should care.”
No. 7 – Tell a Story
Marketers beat the storytelling drum so much the term has almost lost any meaning, and that’s a shame because structuring information as a story is among the best ways to get a message to stick.
Remember, reporters are going to want to turn information into a story, so why not do that legwork for them?
“Rather than just quoting or paraphrasing a release in a story, make your story stand out by including your own voice in it,” Mallary Jean Tenore advises reporters at Poynter.org, one of the journalism world’s best knowledge resources. “Your voice is likely a lot more conversational and engaging than the language that’s used in releases.
“Follow up with the person who sent the release or with the people quoted in it to get quotes that are different from the ones that everyone else will have. When necessary, add analysis and context that will help advance the information in the release. Chances are, if you do these things, you’ll be happier with the end result.”
CopyBlogger goes even farther, suggesting that press releases themselves are outdated tools, or at the very least should be de-emphasized in favor of simply telling a story.
“You can’t just tell any old story, either,” the site’s landing page for modern press releases reads. “You’ve got to present something of real value that also prompts additional action, like a visit to your blog or a request for more information.”
No. 8 – Segment and Target Audiences as Though You Own the Medium
This is where we get into owned media vs. earned media. If you are unfamiliar with those terms, the basic idea is owned media refer to channels you possess (your blog, your newsletter, your Facebook page), and earned media are blogs, newspapers, TV shows, etc. to whom you have to pitch to get coverage.
If your marketing is tight across the channels you own, then you already must have a process for creating buyer personas and segmenting. These same processes can be applied to the audience you’re targeting.
If you are pitching the Wall Street Journal, you can get a pretty good idea of who reads that paper (hint: media outlets divulge all this information in their brochures and landing pages for prospective advertisers).
Then, do the same work for the editors and reporters who control the gate between you and that audience.
“Your news might also be news to a very niche selection of publications,” Miranda Miller wrote for Top Rank Blog in 2013. “Do your research and know the editorial calendars of publications you’re targeting in upcoming months. Find the angle that makes your company news relevant and newsworthy to each, and give them plenty of lead time to work you in.”
Miller follows that up with maybe the best piece of advice we can share:
“Good online PR is a mindset, not a process.”
Leverage the channels you do own and the contacts you do have to share your story, and always have a good story that is rich with news value to tell.