Key Components to Telling Your Story
(and Getting the Press and Public to Listen):
Form and Function (Design, Content) Part 2 & 3
3. *Bring it Home to the Kitchen Table:* Once you've found everyday sources and stories the general public can relate to, along with a relatable angle or point of view, it's time to bring it all the way home. Like the election consultants say, you've got to talk about your 'kitchen table issues.' These are the issues that affect daily life in a direct way, the issues that dominate serious discussion at the kitchen table.
It's pretty easy to pin these issues down - usually they're related to finances, employment, health, education and other things that directly affect a household's quality of life. It's our job as communicators to explain how the issue or campaign at hand is a part of that kitchen table discussion, and you might be surprised at how simple it is to do, and how powerful the effects can be. In most cases involving the environment, it's going to come down to health or money.
Recently, campaigns to preserve wilderness and other public lands in the West have been nothing short of brilliant in their ability to unite disparate demographics and rally support for protecting some pristine areas, even during the height of the Bush administration's push to drill, log and develop wherever possible.
Those campaigns, often targeting lands near conservative strongholds, succeeded because they were able to shift the debate away from being a left vs. right, red vs. blue, green vs. industry argument. The key was to make wilderness protection a kitchen table issue by hammering on the economic value of leaving those areas the way they are. Even business owners that couldn't give a hoot about wilderness or habitat protection were quick to change their tune when faced with the serious prospect of saying farewell to valuable tourism dollars spent by sportsmen and other wilderness enthusiasts in local communities.
Putting this component into play may sound like hours of research, but the good news is that if you've already found the right 'everyday' sources and angles for your story, it should flow effortlessly onto the kitchen table.
4. *Going to the Dark Side:* This is probably going to hurt just a little bit. Another key component of telling your story that I almost /never/ see in all the press releases I get is the other side of the
story. Somewhere along the way, perhaps in childhood or maybe during that really tough first job, the idea formed for many of us that the best way to deal with the opposition is to pretend they don't exist. But in today's world of information and disinformation overload, that approach just doesn't make sense anymore.
When you pitch a reporter or editor a story, you are essentially asking that journalist to trust you - to trust that you are a credible source of information - and it can be tough to trust someone who wants to tell you a story, but deliberately leaves part of that story out. So when you tell your story to reporters, tell the WHOLE story, including the other side. But don't fret, I'm not asking you to transform yourself into an investigative journalist overnight - when you tell your story, you can still tell it from your perspective, which journalists will expect, just don't commit sins of omission.
In addition to presenting a more well-rounded story that will seem more credible in the eyes of editors, acknowledging the other side in pitches, releases and editorials also provides another tremendous advantage - it allows you to respond. Is that coal plant really going to create that many more jobs? How is that company's track record when it comes to running the responsible operation it touts? You get the idea.
By presenting and rebutting the other side's claims, you're now several steps ahead of the game, and if you've got the attention of the reporter or editor, they're now beginning their reporting work entirely from your frame of the debate.
5. Highlight your key facts: I mean literally highlight them. Put those important tidbits, statistics, numbers or other data in a box or a bullet list or at least boldface. Do something to make them stand out. Putting together a box or even a graphic is also enticing to publishers that are always looking for some extra 'fill' material for print or their web presence. You might even put together a bulleted list of short anecdotes or summaries of supporting points that help make your case. While providing that filler, this also serves to summarize your pitch for an overworked and underpaid journalist - so make sure that you're highlighting only the juiciest tidbits to entice the reporter to read the entire release.
There is one caveat to all this, and this is probably a debatable point, but in my experience, it's essential that all the facts you choose to highlight are just that - objective, verifiable facts. In my experience, unless you're highlighting the opinions of some major newsmakers, boldfacing or listing your major arguments or emotional appeals is a turn off. If youv'e done your work, the facts will be compelling enough and you'll gained my interest if you just lay them out and let them speak for themselves.
6. Tell your reporter " where to go " next: Hard to believe but too often I see a release in my inbox without any contact info for further information. Other times, no one answers the contact phone number and/or there's no futher information about reaching anyone quickly. This can kill an otherwise brilliant pitch. Most people reading this post wouldn't dream of sending anything to a reporter without an office, cell and e-mail contact at minimum, but going the extra mile to help lead a reporter in the right direction is likely to pay big dividends .over a longer period of time. And falling short not only wastes an opportunity, it lessens your credibility for the next time.
Next, if your pitch or release has succeeded in piquing the interest of a reporter, the next thing she/he's likely to do is pick up the phone or get on the web to start researching.
This is a key opportunity to point your intrepid journalist in the right direction, so on the original pitch don't hesitate to include possible interview sources, relevant reports or surveys, websites, other media articles, photos, Youtube videos or just about anything else. Of course, there is a danger of overdoing it - try to cram as many resources into as little space as possible is tricky so be discerning. Forwarding several large documents or articles in the body of an e-mail or attached to multiple e-mails is likely to lead to deletion, either by a spam filter or a human.
Links are gold, shortened links using a tool like TinyURL are even better. A good rule of thumb is to limit your list of links and additional resources to less than half a page, well labeled and organized.