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Posted Monday, October 25, 2004

If you understand how positive news stories can contribute to positive business performance, then you should know that the summer period offers you a unique media relations opportunity to increase your coverage and "free ink." Here's what you need to know to formulate a headline-generating PR strategy in July and August.

Customers and other stakeholders like doing business with winners and one marker of success is a positive news story with your name in it. In stark contrast to paid advertising, media consumers believe that news stories are objective and that translates into greater influence, better sales and improved public awareness.

We all know, however, that placing a story in the media can be a challenge, depending on the "newsworthiness" of your story pitch. Your pitch, whether it is a phone call to a reporter or a news release distributed by wire, will succeed or fail on your ability to offer journalists news they can use.

In the summer months, however, news stories with lesser news value have a greater chance of success. Strong news stories will get better play or more prominent placement in the media. Here's why:

• NEWSROOM STAFFING CHANGES: Like the rest of us, experienced reporters, editors and producers take holidays over the summer months. Also, most newsrooms take on student interns and replacement workers for vacationing employees.

What does this mean for placing stories? "Green" reporters, eager for their first bylines and credits, are often more approachable and open to story pitches than veteran beat reporters are.

• OVERALL NEWS VOLUMES DROP: While breaking news such as crime and accidents seem to generate a consistent stream of articles over the year, there is generally less competition for non-breaking news such as features, trend stories, and special reports. For instance, governments are usually not in session, business deals tend to slow and special events are few in summer.

A story pitch that wouldn't get any attention in the busy fall period, therefore, may be substantially more interesting to a journalist in the summer simply because it conveniently fills the "news hole." But it's never an easy sell to get your story placed, just easier in the summer.

• THE POOL OF EXPERT COMMENTATORS SHRINKS: A very successful way that executives get into the news is by providing "expert commentary." For example, if you are an investment executive, you may be able to explain shifts in the stock market. If you work in the health sector, you may be able to provide context regarding a new medical discovery. Reporters tend to rely on a stable of quotable experts and in the summer, more than any other time of the year, those experts are less available. If you are an expert, you should be introducing your credentials to the reporter covering your sector.

MAKE REPORTERS LOOK GOOD BY GIVING THEM REAL NEWS: In pitching the media, your general approach in the summer is not a lot different than a media relations campaign rolled out at other times of the year.

You need a strong media release tailored to the needs of the specific news organization. Backgrounders, briefs or point-form fact sheets are useful if your story is complex. You have to be available for interviews, cooperative with helpful information and ready to answer the easy and the hard questions related to your story.

A specific difference, however, is finding out who should hear your pitch. Presuming the regular reporter covering your sector is away, you should find out who the fill-in journalist is. Whether or not the reporter is " green," you need to cultivate a professional relationship based on an honest exchange of news and information. The more you understand what they need for an article, the more likely you will find your name in the news.

There are some drawbacks to summertime news, though. There is less news consumption – readership drops for publications and fewer people watch the evening news. So a news story in the summer may not reach as deeply into your target markets. Also, while it is easier to pitch a story to a green reporter, the chance for error is greater. New journalists make mistakes as they learn and you might be the lesson.

But your summer news story will live on in computer archives and searchable databases. Depending on its news merits, your story may be followed by other media well into the busier fall period. Also, your summer news hit cost a lot less than display advertising and earned you a lot more credibility.

Scan your organization for news and get your PR machinery moving to place some valuable summertime stories.

About the Author
Ian Edwards is a senior consultant with Verus Public Relations ( and Reputations Inc. ( A specialist in getting clients in the news, he has a special summer PR package to introduce organizations to the promotional power of the media.


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