Is it News or Just a lot of Hot Air?

For the past 30 years, I have worked in the public relations profession. All of these years have been with colleges or universities from Pittsburgh to St. Louis, and a few places in between. Prior to my career in PR, I was a reporter/editor for a small newspaper in northern Indiana.

Working at that newspaper has proven to be one of the best training opportunities for my PR career. I may not have realized it at the time, but in hindsight, I gained so many transferable skills from the newspaper. Working in the media is a great way to develop media relations skills!

One of the skills that I developed was the ability to assess what makes for a news story. You see, not all stories are created equally. 

Just recently, I was talking with a colleague from Cedarville University about a recent interview she did for a Dayton-area radio station. In that conversation she said, in passing, that her grandfather was buried in a casket that was made by inmates from a Louisiana prison. When she told me the prisoners also made a casket for the Rev. Billy Graham, who passed away one day earlier, I instantly knew I had a unique story that could play well with national media outlets. And, it would be a great connection to Cedarville University.

There are several reasons why this story was newsworthy to me, but let me highlight a couple of them.

First, the information involved a world figure (Billy Graham) and a natural connection to the university where I work. Media always tries to localize national news because it wants to connect these kinds of stories with their local audience. How often do you hear of inmates building a casket for Billy Graham and a colleague’s grandfather?

Local and national media loved this story. It’s been reported in print, online, national radio, and TV.

Second, the story also had a measure of emotion. Anytime I can connect information with an emotion, I know that I have a story that has merit to tell.

With Billy Graham being known as “America’s Pastor,” and seemingly one of the few religious leaders to avoid a crisis during his ministry, people seem to embrace him as a leader—whether they agree with his biblical message. This emotion of love, adoration, and respect injects credibility and warmth into the story that draws people into the news.

Therefore, when you are looking for the next story to share, think about how the information you have connects to you, your organization, or where you live, and look for any emotion. If you are able to weave these elements into your media relations, you will secure more media success than the person who believes writing news releases is the way to build effective media relations.  

Mark D. Weinstein, PRSA President-Elect/Awards Co-Chair
Executive Director of Public Relations, Cedarville University


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