How to tell stories journalists actually want to cover
By Taia Pandolfi, Workhorse's Content & Media Strategist
Press relations (PR) is a critical part of an integrated marketing strategy, helping you reach new audiences, elevate your brand, and improve sales. When done well, PR efforts turn into visually compelling, narrative-driven stories that highlight your work and bring you closer to your audience. The end reader probably won’t even know the time you spent pitching, following up, preparing, and sharing, and that’s how it should be.
We could spend this whole blog explaining how a pitch becomes a story, but that information is useless if you haven’t already learned how to identify what makes you newsworthy.
This is a crucial process that organizations often ignore when planning their press releases and pitch calendar; they focus on the programs, events, or announcements that they believe are newsworthy without considering the important gatekeeper: the journalist.
While you can share your press release with a broader digital audience beyond your media list, you still need to be strategic when deciding which stories are the most newsworthy. PR is time-consuming, from drafting and getting internal approval on press releases to researching media contacts and trends to scheduling and preparing for interviews, and there’s no guarantee that journalists will bite. So you need to reserve the time-intensive work, like press releases, for announcements that have the best chance of becoming media coverage.
That being said, press releases are still the favorite way for journalists to get story ideas from PR contacts. Cision’s 2022 State of the Media Report showed that 76% of the journalists they interviewed preferred press releases. Although many marketing tactics have changed as the world has become digital, the old press release has retained its power.
Before we dive in, here’s a roundup of PR jargon you might need:
Short event announcements you submit to local or regional event calendars to get the word out. These include a short description, image, and link.
A concise document (sometimes a landing page, but often a PDF or shared folder) that introduces your brand and/or specific program, including compelling images, institutional messaging, key people, and links for more information.
An email you send to a journalist that highlights a relevant story idea you want them to cover. This usually includes a link to a press release and images, plus a specific call to action.
A 1–2 page document or email that contains the key details of an event, program, or announcement. This should include quotes from key stakeholders, an "about" or mission statement, compelling photos, and a media contact.
What Makes You Newsworthy?
There are four primary elements you can use to guide your newsworthiness assessment. They are not mutually exclusive—in fact, a story is stronger if it has more than one. Consider these elements from the perspective of the specific journalist you want to cover the story. Think about what their readers might find newsworthy, based on these criteria.
Does your event/program/announcement have ties to the local community? Is there local or regional context that heightens your story? Will your story have an interesting impact on your community that you can foreground?
Is your announcement about something really new or noteworthy? Are celebrities or recognizable names participating in your announcement? Does your announcement include an important event or a landmark moment (like a major anniversary)?
If your story is relatively small, are there other organizations you could partner with to tell a bigger story? Does your announcement align with a broader trend in an interesting way?
4. Human Interest
People like to read about people! Who is at the center of your story? Can you expand on their story to help audiences connect with them?
Press Coverage: Where to Start
The following tips all rely on this one: in order to be effective, you have to plan. Work with your program managers, artistic director, operations team, or whoever organizes what you do to ensure you have enough time to plan ahead. This is an issue we see at so many organizations, and it might be the top complaint of marketers we work with. The more time you have to plan, the more creative and successful your outreach will be.
You’ll be able to send out a glorious, photo-packed preview announcement 4–6 months in advance. You’ll have time to research and pitch the most relevant media contacts. You’ll post your event listings months ahead. And then when those events or programs are happening, you’ll already be working on the next quarter. A dream.
Prioritize Compelling Visuals
Photos aren’t just nice to have—they’re essential. Journalists will often turn down story ideas that can’t promise compelling visuals. Whether you schedule a photo shoot or use the visuals you have on-hand, do your best to include high-quality photos in your media kits, press releases, and pitches.
Send a Preview Announcement
These are an excellent way to incorporate PR into your marketing calendar without spending lots of time writing press releases for specific events, programs, initiatives, or product launches. For example, a performing arts organization might put out a release in early May that outlines their events for September–December. This release can go out as soon as their event calendar is finalized, including program content, dates, and ideally locations. They don’t have to have ticketing links or landing pages just yet, although they should be included if they’re ready.
These preview announcements will get your organization on the radar of editors and journalists early enough that you could get into print publications. You can always follow up with a dedicated release closer to the event if you have time.
Make Time to List Your Events
If you can only budget a few hours for PR, start with event listings. Many journalists keep an eye on local event calendars, plus local audiences use them to plan their weekends. Event listings are a great way to reach new audiences without stretching your capacity too far.
One Piece of the Puzzle
PR doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In fact, it relies on other elements of marketing to succeed: when considering a story pitch, a journalist will likely review your website and social media channels, sign up for your newsletter, or ask colleagues about your organization’s reputation.
PR builds on your marketing fundamentals. It elevates and extends the work you’ve already done to establish your brand and gives your organization a halo effect that has more impact than a creative digital ad or well-written event page. There’s a reason they called it “earned media.” Media coverage proves that important storytellers think your work is interesting, valuable, moving, or inspirational. So start planning, do your research, and give your most newsworthy stories their best chance.
If you need expert advice on your PR strategy, a quick media training for an upcoming interview, or you just want to ask a bunch of questions about the world of PR, Taia, Workhorse's media strategist can help. Just drop us a line!
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