MP&F’s Top 25 PR Questions

December 7, 2012

McNeely Pigott & Fox is celebrating 25 years in business during 2012, and one of the ways we’re celebrating is by answering the 25 questions we are most often asked about our business.

Question 16: “Can you get my story in the New York Times?”

By David Fox

Here’s a scenario for consideration:

Our client, Santa’s Trees, is having a banner year, with Christmas tree sales up, a new lot on 12South that’s become an instant neighborhood icon, and plenty of celebrity customers to whet the appetite of any news outlet looking for a holiday feature story. Add to that a national trend undergirding this seasonal enterprise, namely a nostalgic resurgence of real Christmas tree sales – and not just real, but fresh. Fraser firs cut last week in North Carolina. Or Noble firs, fresh from Oregon. We’re talking a perfect, old-fashioned Christmas. At a time of virtual, digital overload, the promise of chestnuts, open fires and REAL Christmas trees resonates with even the most cynical among us.

Santa's Christmas Trees operates Christmas tree lots in the greater Nashville area. Each location offers premium frasier fir trees, wreaths, garlands and other holiday greenery.

Santa’s Christmas Trees operates Christmas tree lots in the greater Nashville area. Each location offers premium frasier fir trees, wreaths, garlands and other holiday greenery.

So is that a story for the New York Times? It may be the hook on a national trend piece. What about the Wall Street Journal? We see stories like this all the time in USA Today. Could it be worth a pitch?

Virtually every newsworthy, local enterprise can make the case that it deserves national coverage. But can you really get national coverage on a local story, even one with national appeal?

Let’s start with the basic reality check: They, i.e., national reporters, don’t care about your story. They care about the story they want to tell, and if your story helps them do that, great. The trick is to find the reporter whose interest aligns with yours. And that is the proverbial needle in the haystack. But that’s what PR firms are trained to do.

The truth is, you gain national media coverage by building to it over time. That means building visibility for your brand, building relationships with national reporters and building the case for national coverage.

For example, the celebrity customers who have visited the Santa’s Trees lot in 12South include Hayden Panettiere, star of the “Nashville” TV show. The show’s current ‘newsworthiness’ could help interest national media. The visual appeal of the story is another factor that could help. A video capturing the excitement is another possibility. Anything that makes the pitch more compelling helps. It’s all about packaging the pitch.

Next is the process of getting it to the right reporter or editor in the right way. That means you have to know whom you want to pitch it to. Building relationships with national reporters is key. Having a friend at the New York Times works wonders but those are rare, and those who have them guard them carefully. Sometimes national publications have local stringers, so knowing that person can help as well. Ultimately, you have to figure out how to deliver the pitch. Social media has broadened the options, but it’s a matter of determining which vehicle makes the most sense. Does the reporter you have in mind have a Twitter feed? Perhaps he or she would consider a story idea shared as a tweet.

The bottom line is that getting a story covered in a national publication takes a lot of work, perseverance and a good amount of luck. And then there are those serendipitous times when the story falls in your lap, which is like a gift from Santa Claus.

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