Ask PR Newswire: Why Didn’t My Story Make the New York Times?

“Why didn’t the New York Times / Wall St. Journal/ USA Today/ [insert other publication title here]/ pick up my story?

It’s one of the most common questions PR pros hear from their bosses and clients, and we hear it frequently, too.

So why do top tier news outlets give stories a pass?   Here are some of the key reasons:

  • Exclusives.  Almost all outlets prefer exclusives.  The top-tier publications demand them.   Exclusives attract audiences, sell news stand copies, drive web site traffic and ignite conversations on social networks.  A great way to kill your chances is to send pitches via e-mail, putting recipients on the BCC line.  Another sure-fire way to wreck your chances is to tell your target outlet about all the media coverage your story has already garnered.
  • Scope.   While a story is undoubtedly important to the organization pitching it, the value of the story to a target publication’s audience may be an entirely different kettle of fish.   One sure fire test – does the publication actually run the kind of story you’re pitching?  Media outlets are very good at understanding what kind of stories attract their audiences.  If your organization wants to attract attention from a particular publication, it’s crucial that you frame your message in a way that will interest the publication’s audience.  National news outlets are looking for stories with broad scope – namely, those that will be of interest from coast to coast.
  • It’s old news.  In today’s ‘deadline every nanosecond’ information marketplace, currency is, well, currency!  Search engines and social networks denizens want the latest information.   Big name publications aren’t going to cover events after they’ve happened.   That said, all is not lost.  Many smaller outlets – from local newspapers to industry monthlies – will still devote some print space to recapping events, so if you missed the boat with the big boys, you may still be able to gain coverage of your new product launch or event recap, provided you provide them with a reason (read: some real news they can sink their teeth into) to do so.
  • Your story is boring.  There.  I said it. And I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings.   Developing a good pitch takes time.  You have to really delve into the story and find the most interesting angles – the whys and hows and whats that people will really care about.   Read your pitch and your story.   Is it so interesting that you would actually like to tell your friends about it?  If the answer is no,  sharpen your pencil and give it another shot.

In a funny twist, my colleague to whom this exact question was posed this week learned more from the client in a follow on conversation.   The client had, in fact, violated two of these cardinal rules. First, the headline of the press release in question included a date far in the past.  Secondly, they told the lifestyle editors at the NYT that other publications had covered the event previously.    The fact that the pitch was accompanied by a valuable gift worth about $75 was the final nail in this pitch’s coffin – newsrooms do not work on a “pay to play” basis.

Our director of audience development, Victoria Harres, oversees the media relations efforts here at PR Newswire, and she has some good advice regarding pitching.

“National publications are looking to publish stories that connect with their readers,” she notes, going on to suggest, “Ask yourself what the human angle is in your story. And remember, PR jargon does not work. Leave it out. “

Here’s some related reading, if you’d like more help with your pitches and press releases:

How to Pitch Lifestyle Editors

4 Keys to a Successful Digital PR Pitch

Getting the Press to Cover Your Conference

When your Client (or Boss) Wants to Issue Non-News

Author Sarah Skerik is PR Newswire’s vice president of social media.

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