A Lesson in Storytelling - Abridged

September 14, 2016

By Evan Kelly, Senior Communications Advisor for BBB Serving Mainland BC


Public relations can come in several forms. Even paid media and public facing events are considered public relations. However, for the purpose of this blog I will focus on what is called earned media. Earned media is when a news outlet picks up a story because they feel it is of interest to their viewers. Earned media, as you can imagine, is far more difficult to get than paid media. Let’s face it, anyone can buy advertising.

That means newsrooms are a tough nut to crack. Not just any old story will get through. If you can get through with your brand, then it can add a lot of credibility to your business. Why is that?

News stories go through several levels of decision makers. A news editor will receive dozens of press releases every day. Most have little relevance on an active news day. But if the editor thinks a potential story is there, they will then bring it into a news meeting. Before every newscast, be it radio, TV, or newspapers, newsrooms have a meeting to decide lineups and layouts. Broadcasting has a more immediate approach so if your story passes the meeting and is assigned to a reporter, you’re in the lineup...as long as you're not bumped.

In radio and TV, directors and producers have the ability to pull or include stories on the fly. What I mean, is if a big breaking news story comes down, it has the ability to bump other stories from the lineup. Newspapers can’t do that, online versions, of course, can. Let’s assume no big story comes down to push you out. The last line of defense are the news anchors. They can control the ship to an extent. As a former radio anchor, I could drop or pick up stories on the fly that I felt were better stories or at least better for our audience. Decisions can be made in between commercials. It’s that quick.

What does being in the news run tell the audience? News brings a serious amount of credibility to your brand when it comes to earned media. Numerous ears have seen your story, it passed the muster of a news meeting chaired by seasoned news veterans and made it into the lineup. The viewing public gets this, and if it’s on the news it must have some importance or at least entertainment value. Newsrooms pride themselves on developing a newscast worth watching. They want to write stories that matter to you.

So how does one get media attention?

Newsrooms are looking for a few things, but right off the bat, they ask this question: Why do I care? Any story pitch should have an answer right at hand.

Why newsrooms care, in a very general sense, falls into three categories.


  • Heart
  • Head
  • Wallet


Does it make me feel sad, glad or angry? Does it make me think? Does it affect my personal bottom line?

If your story can answer one or more of these then you have a better chance of getting into a news lineup.


But...what is my story? Great question. How does a plumber develop their story so that it’s palatable to the public? How does any brand get earned media without having some sort of exposed controversy?

When I was running my own small PR firm, my clients were generally small and start-up businesses that needed help getting the word out. Many people feel they have a great new business but don’t know how to tell their story. “I’m a new plumber, check me out!” doesn’t pass any news tests. On the other hand, maybe there is something entirely unique to what you do that could be of interest in a feature piece or weekender business story.

Often what I would try and do was align my client with something happening in the news that day or week. Sometimes it was just plain luck that something was in the public eye that could make my client the go-to expert for a comment. It can even be a reaction to a new study. The story is not so much about the new business, but about why that business could be potentially important to moving the story forward. That is where BBB’s storytelling becomes effective. Newsrooms trust us for comment as business and consumer experts.

For example:

One client I had was a career coach. We found a recent study that found more employers will be hiring full-time social media experts to check out potential new hires to see if there is a personal alignment to the brand, or, on the other hand, something offensive that a company would not wish to be associated with. We developed a story on the importance of personal brand management that newsrooms loved. Personal brand management and potential negative impacts on job hunting becomes a better story than companies hiring social media teams, and it moves the story forward.

Get the word out:

How does one get a press release to newsrooms without being connected to an expensive PR firm? Twitter is likely the easiest and most cost-effective way to get the attention of local media. They are ALL in this space looking for the next scoop. At the same time, they don’t want to be pestered with all sorts of brands looking for free exposure. They want real stories, not product placement.

If you have the ability to develop good stories, they may come to you again for comment on something else related to your business. Newsrooms always update their databases of experts. Having a website with a blog space for your press release is a must. Twitter is simply used to drive people to your release. Creating an account with companies like MarketWired can be of use. Press release dissemination companies generally charge by the word and reach, so make your message concise. Many have deals with online giants like Yahoo business pages so you automatically show up online which can help your SEO even if local news does not pick up the story.

Hope that helps!