How to find out if your story idea will interest national journalists

Getting featured in national publications and programmes can be a powerful way to promote your business.

But I see so many business owners wasting time pitching stories to national journalists that are far more suited to local or industry titles.

So how can you tell whether your story idea has national potential? And if it doesn’t, is there anything you can do to get national journalists interested in featuring your business?  Read on and find out…

New values

If you want to understand what kind of stories journalists are interested in, you need to understand news values. These are the factors that help journalists decide what stories get covered and how much prominence they are given in their publication or programme. News values will differ from publication to publication (or programme to programme) and between different types of media i.e. local, industry and national.

Depending on which expert you read on the subject, there are up to 20 different news values, but to keep things simple, I’m going to focus on three.

Relevance

Wondering if you’re story has national potential? Imagine a map of your local area with a red line around its boundaries (even better, print one out and draw it on). Would people outside that red line care about your story? Would it be relevant to their lives?

Let’s say you run a fitness business, for example. You’ve recently launched hula hooping exercise classes in four different venues in your local area. Clearly this is not going to be relevant to someone who lives at the other end of the country, so this is a local story.

Maybe you run a financial planning business and have recently won a prestigious industry award. While this is a great achievement, is someone from outside your area (or the sector you work in) really going to be interested in reading about someone they’ve never heard of winning an award they’ve never heard of? Probably not. While this might make a nice ‘local person done good’ item in a regional title, it’s probably not going to be of interest to the nationals.

Or perhaps you run a local business networking group and you’re celebrating your fifth birthday. You’ve grown from 50 to 500 members and now have branches in 15 different locations in your county. While this is impressive, why would anyone outside of the area care?  It might be an interesting case study for people who’d like to start their own networking group - but in a publication aimed at business owners, not in a national.

Imagine a map of your local area with a red line around its boundaries. Would people outside that red line care about your story?
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Imagine a map of your local area with a red line around its boundaries. Would people outside that red line care about your story?

Unexpectedness

I speak to so many authors who think publishing a book is enough to make national news. But with more people publishing books than ever, it really isn’t such a big deal (and I say that as an author myself).

But what if your self-published book has made you a millionaire? That’s exactly what happened to thriller writer Adam Croft, which is why his latest book Her Last Tomorrow was featured in the Guardian. Adam’s story is both unusual and unexpected, which is why it made national news.

Jen Lindsey-Clark’s work made national news when she created a chocolate 'Cumberbunny' featuring the actor Benedict Cumberbatch’s face - and sent it to his mum for Easter. The chocolatier from Brighton, who has also made a life-size version of the British actor, got national coverage because her work was unusual.

And you can’t get much more unusual than a restaurant where customers dine in the nude, which is why the first naked restaurant couldn’t fail to attract the interest of national journalists.

It’s worth pointing out here that local publications and programmes also look for the unexpected - particularly something that’s unusual for the local area e.g. the first ‘pay what you want’ restaurant or  ‘men only’ beauty bar in a particular town, for example. But to make the nationals, it usually needs to be exceptionally surprising or a real ‘first’.

Chocolatier Jen Lindsey-Clark made national headlines when she made a life-sized version of the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch
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Chocolatier Jen Lindsey-Clark made national headlines when she made a life-sized version of the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch

Divisiveness

It sounds obvious, but to make national news, your story has to be something people will actually care about (beyond those in your local area that is). And stories people care about are often divisive.

Online gym owner Julia Buckley got national coverage when she decided to start taking a £50 deposit from new clients, which would only be refunded if they lost weight and/or inches. Her theory that the fear of losing money gives people an added incentive to stick to a healthy diet and exercise plan is one not everyone will agree with. 

The Keery brothers’ cereal cafe got a lot of national attention when it opened in the East End of London -and not just because it was an unusual concept. Selling bowls of cereal for £3.50 in a deprived area of the city also attracted criticism, along with protests and vandalism, which meant it attracted plenty of national media coverage.

And cafe owner Lawrence Lavender has been all over the national press in his native Canada for selling a Trump sandwich’,  inspired by the US presidential election candidate Donald Trump and advertised as being ‘full of baloney’ . The story has divided the public, offending Trump fans and delighting his critics.

This is not to say you should intentionally set out to be outrageous or provocative in order to get national media coverage (and I don't think any of the business owners I mention above did either). But if you’re wondering why journalists aren’t interested in giving column inches or airtime to your new jewellery range, event planning service or exercise classes, this is what you're up against. 

And do remember that ‘news’ is just one type of media coverage. If you’re looking to get featured in the national media, there are plenty of other ways to go about it (that can be more beneficial for your business). For example:

1.Thought leadership: offering your expertise on ‘hot’ news stories - both by supplying comments to journalists (both in print and on air) and writing opinion articles for newspapers and magazines. Writing articles for the Huffington Post on Danish life has helped Copenhagen based relocation consultant Melanie Haynes attract clients and further national coverage.

2.Teaching: there is a growing appetite in the national media for ‘how to’ content where you share knowledge and/or help people learn a skill. I’ve written a whole series of articles for the Guardian on how to get media coverage and this article on how to write a press release has sent a lot of business my way.

3. Storytelling: sharing personal stories about the parts of your life that intersect with your business can be a powerful way to promote what you do. This article on how being an expat inspired her to start a business has won Melanie Haynes eight new clients.

And one last tip for you...don't be fooled by celebrities! Many business owners assume that getting a celebrity involved in a press launch will automatically guarantee them national coverage. Remember that celebrities do this kind of thing all the time, so unless they are going to be doing or saying something interesting (think Angelina Jolie's human rights activism!) their mere presence at your launch event is unlikely to interest the national press.

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