By James Tout on 18 Jun 2015
Five steps for making your complex story fit for media consumption
How do you turn complex and data-driven reports into easily-digestible stories that the media will pick up and run with?
It’s a dilemma that faces all PR professionals. At Journalista, we specialise in taking complicated material from a wide range of sectors including healthcare, education and business, and boiling it down into something the media can work with.
ukactive’s Generation Inactive report contained a wealth of facts and figures on the scale of the ‘physical inactivity pandemic’ among primary school aged children and its potential to strain the NHS to the point of collapse if nothing is done to stop the build up of long-term conditions across society. It made recommendations to government including the introduction of fitness testing in primary schools and a ‘whole school day’ approach to activity.
The report was covered as an exclusive in The Guardian which helped generate an explosion of digital and broadcast interest from the BBC, ITV and Sky News. Further coverage came via the Daily Mail and in numerous other outlets via a piece on the Press Association newswire.
Meanwhile, ERC’s State of Small Business Britain conference in Birmingham on June 16th unveiled a raft of new research on small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), ranging from start-ups to high-growth firms, as well as the connection between entrepreneurship and wealth and the role of mobility and migration in determining ambition.
We organised for BBC Radio 4’s flagship news slot the Today Programme to broadcast live from the conference venue and persuaded journalists from influential titles to cover the gathering. This resulted in high quality coverage in the FT (ERC was on page 3 of the paper and a top digital news item for two days running) and the Telegraph – as well as a bonanza of activity on Twitter and a 10% boost to ERC’s follower numbers.
PR can sometimes feel like more of an art than a science. There are lots of factors outside your control that can prevent even a strong story gaining pickup and this often comes down to what’s on the news agenda. So good horizon scanning to spot potentially conflicting stories is essential. But what else can you do to make your complex story more attractive to journalists?
Here are a few top tips:
1. Break it down
Most policy documents, annual reports, academic research or data analysis will be text- or figure heavy – and often both. But news journalists are looking for the most significant facts and numbers – the startling or surprising lines and stats that encapsulate your story and give it some shock and awe. So, you need to be on the lookout for the key information and draw this out.
In ukactive’s case, a key finding derived from Freedom of Information requests was that fewer than half (43%) of primary schools recorded the length of time children spent actually being active during PE, while another shocking stat was that only half of 7-year-olds got the minimum 60 minutes’ of activity recommended by the Chief Medical Officer. The report labeled the lack of proper fitness monitoring a ‘ticking time bomb’ for the NHS.
As for ERC, its main Growth Dashboard research on startup and SME growth around the UK drew some surprising conclusions – including that Northern Ireland had the highest proportion of firms reaching £1m turnover within three years. Meanwhile, SMEs were shown to have collectively created 600,000 jobs across Britain in 2014 alone.
2. Find the hook
You’ve got to ‘newsify’ your story. That means tying it into the bigger debates in your sector. Always remember the SWF – the So What? Factor. Ask yourself: why should anyone outside of the organisation or sector care about this story? What bigger messages does it contain?
For ukactive, its growing reputation as a health commentator meant linking the story to NHS-related conversations was important. Previous research by ukactive had shown that physical intactivity represents costs UK public services £20bn per year, while NHS England boss Simon Stevens has warned that obesity could crush the NHS without concerted action.
ERC’s story was a ‘good news’ one – which paradoxically can be harder to sell. But it represented the first real evidence that SMEs – as distinct from large corporates – were back to the levels of growth last seen before the financial crisis of 2008. So the story became one of small firms overcoming adversity and bouncing back.
3. Don’t overload it
There’s often a temptation when preparing media-facing materials like news releases to cram in as much information from a report as possible. Try to resist it. The old adage that ‘less is more’ was probably coined for press releases, because it couldn’t be more apt. Don’t bamboozle journalists with a plethora of facts and figures stretching over three pages – they’ll either slash this in half or won’t bother trying to find the key material at all and bin the story.
Caveat: This can depend on your target media. There’s a judgment to be made by the PR professional about what level of detail their intended outlet will appreciate.
4. Plan your sell-in
Planning is vital. News moves fast and no journalist wants to feel they’ve been ‘scooped’ by their competitors. But PRs are often under pressure to offer exclusives to one media outlet or another to guarantee coverage which they know could lessen the chances of pickup elsewhere. So getting your scheduling right is critical. Done correctly, this can mean a good spread of coverage across numerous outlets. But poor timing can lead to little or no coverage and some very angry clients.
5. Cultivate relationships
Of course when it comes to media relations, getting to know the key journalists covering your sector is very important and can grease the wheels. But ultimately, no matter how well you know a journalist they’re very unlikely to run a weak story. ‘Contacts’ can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. On the other hand, if you can supply journalists with quality story material on a regular basis, you’ll increase your chances of getting a fair hearing.
Other relationships can be important too – particularly on major reports. There might be stakeholders you want to bring in to support you, or prep a certain audience for what’s coming.
In ukactive’s case, Generation Inactive was welcomed by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, adding an authoritative extra voice to the story. ERC’s report, meanwhile, garnered reaction from new Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise, Anna Soubry.
Are you struggling to get cut-through for your reports? Get in touch and we can talk you through how our strategic communications advice could help you.