How to be the Local Angle for National Stories
Offer yourself as an expert. For example, a consumer credit agency that sees a story in USA Today about the increasing number of college-bound freshmen who are already in debt from credit cards can call local TV stations, tell them about the USA Today story, then offer their experts for on-camera interviews. Offer to do the interview anyplace but in your office. Suggest that they film you at a local shopping mall or anyplace else where high school students spend a lot of money.
Create an experts directory. If you’re a larger organization such as a university, or a company or non-profit that has a wide variety of experts who can be contacted by the media, create and distribute an experts directory. It can be as elaborate as a spiral-bound directory or as simple as a two-page list of experts. Many colleges distribute these directories every year or two to local and national media. The experts are listed by alphabetized subject categories. Each category then lists the names of faculty and staff members who have agreed to be interviewed, along with their title, phone and fax numbers and cellphone or beeper numbers. It’s helpful if you even include home phone numbers. When a skirmish breaks out in the Middle East and a local newspaper wants commentary from someone in their community, they can simply dig out the directory and find a professor who is an expert on the Middle East. Post your list of experts at your web site.
Offer a tip sheet. The consumer credit agency mentioned above can offer a list of 8 tips on how high school students can get out of debt.
Create a tip sheet with an enticing headline. Then simply list the 7 or 8 tips, and close with a paragraph that lists the name of your agency, contact information and web site URL. Tips sheets are frequently used by print media. But even TV stations often flash tips on the screen after a video segment. Be sure to include your phone number where people can call for more information. (See Special Report #16: How to Write Tip Sheets That Catch the Media’s Attention”)
Offer the people angle. If you or someone in your company or neighborhood is the local angle to a national story, contact the media immediately. If the national media are buzzing about a new fashion trend, such as the return to hip-hugger blue jeans, and a Baby Boomer you know has been wearing hip-huggers ever since her hippie days and has a closet full of outlandish hip-hugger outfits, the media might be interested. This would be a particularly good story for television because of the interesting visuals.
Be a contrarian. The media love contrarian viewpoints and usually go out of their way to present both sides of a story. If you disagree with results of a national study, for example, and can explain why, you might be “the other side of the story.”
Present results of a poll or a survey. That's what BuyCostumes.com, a costume shop, did in September 2001 when it asked visitors to its web site whether they would wear a Gary Condit mask at Halloween. Fifty percent of respondents said it’s good idea but wouldn't buy the mask, 23 percent said they would buy it and 16 percent say the whole thing is a bad idea. Eleven percent had no opinion. Jalem Getz, chief executive officer of BuyCostumes.com, said he put the poll on the web site after the Connie Chung interview with the controversial California representative. About the same time, customer service reps began getting requests for a Condit mask. The story received coverage in local newspapers in Wisconsin, where the company is located, as well as in national publications.
Be part of a trend. If a local restaurant sees a story in a national food magazine that explains how lettuce is the trendy new wrap for sandwiches, and they have lettuce wraps on the menu, the local food columnist might be interested. If you’re part of a trend, pitch the media quickly, before the trend becomes nothing more than a fad, then disappears.
Offer commentary on budget and legislation stories. If Congress or your state legislature has just introduced a budget that will harm you or help you, let the media know. This is a chance to promote a particular cause or issue.
Write letters to the editor and opinion columns. Sometimes it’s much easier to get a letter or a column into print than it is to pitch a story idea to a reporter. The difference between submitting something for the editorial page and pitching a story idea for a newspaper’s news pages is that a letter or column should be very opinionated and come down hard on one side of an issue. It also must follow the newspaper’s guidelines for word count. So check that before you write.
Submit a quiz. Magazines, in particular, love offering quizzes to their readers. They’re fun, they’re short and sometimes they help fill odd-size holes on a page. I saw one recently that caught my attention. It was a quiz on whether married couples are compatible financially, which piggybacks onto the national story of the skyrocketing divorce rate. If you can devise a quiz that ties into a national story, it can bring you far more exposure than a paid ad.
Write how-to articles. Every spring, the media offer lots of free advice to people getting ready to prepare their income tax returns. CPAs, accountants and financial planners submit how-to articles that pass along helpful tips to readers. If you have a topic that helps people save time, save money, be healthier or feel better—and you can tie it to a national story—pitch the media with your idea before you begin writing. If writing a column, ask if you can also submit your photo.
Piggyback off census figures. The U.S. Census Bureau releases a wide variety of census figures that the media love. For example, results of the 2000 census show a huge increase in the number of Hispanics. If your company is targeting the Hispanic community, your story could be a perfect local angle to this national story. You’ll find a wealth of information at http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/BasicFactsServlet, where the Census Bureau has demographic profiles, state-by-state results, and information on the economic census. You can even enter your street address and find Census 2000 data for your neighborhood.
Don’t forget follow-up stories. The media love to follow up stories they already have covered. If you missed being featured in the original story, your story idea might be a good follow-up. For example, a hospital that wasn’t mentioned in a local story about how fewer women in their forties are getting mammograms might be the perfect “follow up” if they start a series of free classes on healthy breast care for over-40 women and learn the classes are one of the most popular they have offered. You can refer to the original story in your pitch.
This article originally appeared in Don Crowther's 101 PublicRelations.com.
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