Guest Post: Media relations lessons from ‘Romeo and Juliet’

This guest post comes from Daryl James, former newspaper editor and reporter turned communications pro.  Daryl also contributed the post, If newspaper editors taught media relations” to The PR Practitioner. 

What story has more news value: An apartment fire on Tuesday morning or the same apartment fire on Saturday morning?

Pop quiz: What story has more news value … an apartment fire on Tuesday morning or the same apartment fire on Saturday morning? In a typical week, the correct answer is Saturday morning. The reason has nothing to do with the apartment fire. It’s all about the timing.

Weekend editors routinely get stuck with all the boring stuff to cover: Community festivals, block parties, dog shows, marching band competitions, benefit carwashes and the all-time dullest … public safety fairs.* An apartment fire looks pretty interesting by comparison. This is something that media relations professionals need to understand.

Sometimes a story ends up on Page One simply because it happens on a slow news day. If the same story happens on Sept. 11, 2001, suddenly nobody cares. Juliet (the famous one from Shakespeare, not the one who dated my friend in high school) understood this, which is why she stood next to all the ugly girls at the Capulet costume party. When Romeo saw the contrast, he broke into spontaneous poetry: “So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows / as yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.”

A snowy dove looks pretty good standing next to crows, but not so good standing next to peacocks. Likewise, your boring news release about a company service project looks pretty good if the editor’s only alternative is Edna’s 95th birthday party at the local retirement community. If the editor’s alternative is hijacked airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center, then you’ve got no chance.

Journalism professors often overlook this concept when they talk about news value. I learned in college that the proper way to judge news value is to look at the event itself. Does it involve conflict? Does it happen close to home? Does it involve somebody rich or famous? Does it affect lots of people? Does it involve something weird, like a naked Valentine’s Day killer who attacks her lover with a pickax? If the answer is yes to two or more questions, then you’ve got a story that people will read. If the answer is yes on a slow news day, then you’ve got a Page One story that people will read. Desperation drives news value.

Unfortunately, most of this is luck of the draw. You have no way of knowing when you send a news release what kind of news day the local TV stations and newspapers are having. But at least if you grasp this concept, you will understand that sometimes it’s not your fault when nobody cares about your well-crafted news release. Sometimes, it’s about the timing of the story more than the story itself.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I will share five tips on how to leverage this concept in your daily practice:

1. Try to create events with good photo opportunities. Many times, the story with the best photograph gets published — not the best story. This is especially true in the business section, where editors are constantly looking for photo opportunities.

2. Don’t distribute news releases on obvious busy news days, such as Election Day or the day of the biggest forest fire in state history.

3. Ignore rule No. 2 if you have bad news to share, such as the arrest of your corrupt CEO. (Corrupt CEOs love big forest fires.)

4. If you don’t mind working on the weekend, Saturdays and Sundays are often good days to stage events. I was a weekend editor for more than three years and can think of many lame stories we published simply because we couldn’t find anything better.

5. Don’t write blog entries longer than 300 words. People don’t read to the end.

* Except the one time in Mesa, Ariz., when the person driving a police van to a public safety fair hit a pedestrian who had stepped out of his stalled vehicle on U.S. 60. (Important safety lesson: Don’t hit pedestrians with your van.)

2 Responses to “Guest Post: Media relations lessons from ‘Romeo and Juliet’”

  1. PSUPRtrailblaze (Michelle Fritts) - March 10th, 2009

    Neat media relations advice although hard for normal PR http://www.theprpractitioner.com/?p=373

    [Reply]

  2. PSUPRtrailblaze (Michelle Fritts) - March 10th, 2009

    Neat media relations advice: http://www.theprpractitioner.com/?p=373

    [Reply]

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