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Randy Savicky

[January 21, 2004]

Strategy + Communications Column:
Lifting The Veil: What Is News?


In the previous Strategy + Communications column, we discussed how todays most successful companies know that their marketing and public relations programs are key strategic assets. These companies fully understand that to be winners in todays hyper-competitive marketplace they must have both sound business and marketing plans. 

These successful companies have developed marketing strategies and communications programs that target all of their key audiences, including: Media and analysts; customers and prospects; business and channel partners; government agencies and regulators; and employees and stakeholders. With these programs, they are ensuring that their key messages are heard loudly and clearly by the largest possible audience on a regular basis.

The result? A more visible company and more knowledgeable customer base, with greater awareness of what a company has to offer even before a salesperson initiates a single call. The bottom-line result is very clear -- shorter sales cycles, increased sales, more market share and more profits.

Your company, too, may have a great product or service, but unless you also make a strong commitment to marketing and publicizing it properly, you are severely limiting how many of your key target audiences -- particularly your customer base -- are aware of it. 

How do you get started? 

As we began to discuss last time, one of the proven methods is to develop a proactive public relations program as an essential element of your overall marketing strategy. Simply put, the objective of this program is to build a relationship with the news media -- one of your most formidable, but important, audiences -- as a way of positively influencing your customer base.

Because of their independent, unbiased viewpoint, it is critical to your success that you build a relationship with the media so that they write about your company favorably. 

The media -- daily newspapers, trade and consumer magazines, broadcast and cable television stations, radio stations and Web sites -- independently inform all of your other key audiences about your company. By influencing the influencers to give your company consistent and favorable news coverage, it is possible to create and then support an overall positive environment for your company to do business. 

But what is news? What makes some events newsworthy and others not? Why do seemingly routine occurrences merit extensive media coverage again and again? More importantly, how do you get your companys products and services in the press -- or conversely, keep them out of it? Why do some companies survive a media crisis that destroys others? And why do the same experts appear and re-appear in print and broadcast venues?

To start to answer these questions, lets begin by looking at the classic definition of news as defined by Merriam-Websters Dictionary:

1a: a report of recent events b: previously unknown information ("I've got news for you"); 2a: material reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast b: matter that is newsworthy.

Thats a good start, but doesnt this definition make it seem like any type of information released by a company could be news? Given the flood of information that editors and reporters must sift through daily in the form of press releases -- both paper and electronic -- story ideas, pitches and follow-ups that come in to them via telephone, mail and e-mail from company representatives and public relations agencies, how do print reporters make sense out of the information overload? Specifically, how do they decide what is a story and what isnt? What makes a reporter want to cover your companys story rather than another companys, including your real and perceived competitors? 

All editors and reporters base their nose for news on a simple litmus test in determining if something is newsworthy (as in the earlier definition) or worthy of coverage.  They ask: Why should my readers (or viewers) care about this information?  

To first determine if the information from any company is potentially newsworthy, they ask very specific questions like: 

  • Is it new? (Is this information that has not been heard and presented before, whether on a product or service, company development or viewpoint?)
  • Is it timely? (Is it something that is currently taking place, will take place soon or ties into something currently in the news?)
  • Is it interesting to my audience? (Will my readers and viewers see this as relevant to their business lives and careers?)

Once past this initial screen, for a company development to be considered for publication, editors and reporters then screen the data based on what is called journalistic style or the five Ws (which also adds the letter H):

  • Who is affected by this piece of information? (Does this news affect a lot of people or only a few?)
  • What happened? (Is the event interesting and dramatic or just nothing special or more of the same?)
  • When did it happen? (Is the information timely, occurring now or in the immediate past?)
  • Where did it happen? (Is the news happening close to my readers geographically or do they know the area?)
  • Why did it happen? (Can we explain the reasons behind this event to put it into a larger context or give it further analysis at a later date?)
  • How did it happen? (Can we provide more details about the event, including background leading up to it?)

Looking a bit more closely at this screening process, it is easy to see that news is very much in the eye of the beholder. Even though journalists pride themselves on their unbiased coverage, no two journalists covering the same beat (or area of concentration) for different media outlets see the same story the same way. 

Also, it is important to note that each media outlet will have different reporters covering different beats or writing different sections of a magazine or newspaper.  Each one is looking for news that will interest readers of his or her own specific section of the publication. (Asking: Why should my readers care about this information?) A new product editor, for example, would not be interested in a new strategic alliance by your company, but the news editor would be. On the other hand, a new faster, better, cheaper product from your company would be of great interest to the new products editor. The news editor would only be interested if it is a revolutionary or breakthrough product and if more of the why and how information is available for publication.

Not surprisingly then, much more information goes unreported by the media than can appear each day in print, broadcast or online; here the New York Times motto of All the news thats fit to print is very appropriate. Thats why its so important for companies to have a news section on their Web site and to keep it updated regularly by publishing your own press releases if no one else does. 

In the next column, well continue to demystify this mysterious news business by taking a look at our final tough questions:

  • What makes a reporter want to cover your story in the most positive light to you and your company?
  • How does a proactive marketing and public relations program help you gain consistent, positive media coverage?


With his unique "both sides of the editor's desk" perspective, Randy Savickys advice and counsel on public relations and marketing has been sought after by some of Americas largest corporations and best-known brands, including IBM, Motorola, Sony and Fujifilm. He is President of Strategy + Communications Worldwide, the complete outsourcing resource, which helps companies gain mindshare and market share by improving their communications to their key audiences: Media and analysts; customers and prospects; business and channel partners; government agencies and regulators; and employees and stakeholders.  He welcomes your comments and ideas and can be reached at (516) 286-7026 or [email protected].


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