Storytelling is all the rage these days. You’ve probably heard academics, scientists, advertisers and online activists talking about the power of stories and why they move people to connect, feel and act.
There are many ways for nonprofits and campaigns to tell stories – via emails to supporters, constituent visits with congressional staff, videos shared on Facebook. But what if you want to reach new supporters or show current supporters you are still relevant? Or maybe you need to convince politicians that real people (and voters) care about or are impacted by your issue.
If these goals sound familiar to you, then you could use an assist from the news media. The press gives campaigns and organizations credibility and a loud microphone for your story to be heard by millions.
So what is it that reporters, editors, and producers are looking for when they’re scanning their inboxes for stories to tell? From our experience pitching stories and experts to reporters, these are the qualities that make a story press-worthy:
• Personal: A person’s life is affected by a situation.
• Relatable: You can imagine being in the situation – and you don’t like it.
• Surprising: The situation is unheard of or opposite of what you’d expect.
• Relevant: The story adds to a conversation or is related to an issue currently happening in your community or state, on Capitol Hill, or across the country.
• Timely: The time to tell that story is now.
Let’s take gun control. Two years ago, Gabby Giffords was a little known Congresswoman from Arizona. That changed when a gunman at a suburban shopping mall propelled her into the national spotlight in the worst possible way, with Rep. Giffords gravely wounded from a gunshot to the head and six others killed.
This month, Rep. Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly used their story to launch Americans for Responsible Solutions and advocate for common sense gun control. The media narrative surrounding the launch of the campaign is a textbook example of how to use storytelling via the news media to build momentum and power.
Watching the Congresswoman fight for the last 24 months to recover from what doctors said should have been a fateful shooting has been a highly personal experience for millions of Americans. We can also relate to the experience of her loyal husband as we get sympathy pains thinking about our own spouse or loved one being hurt.
Finally, the campaign and its use of Rep. Giffords’ story are clearly relevant – and tragically timely – as the nation grapples with how to curb gun violence on the heels of the atrocity in Newtown, Connecticut.
True, the Gabby Giffords story was instantly famous. But as you start thinking about press-worthy stories for your campaign or group, don’t be deterred or discouraged. All good media stories – even the instantly famous ones – started off as needles in a haystack when it came to the cause they helped launch or push forward.
Recognizing these elements of a newsworthy story is only the beginning. Now you have to get, vet and tell your story. You can dig in further in this new whitepaper by M+R: Storytelling and the Power of Making Headlines.
Leslie Kerns is the Senior Vice President and Director of Campaigns at M+R Strategic Services where she helps position, message and gain attention for influential nonprofits, foundations and their campaigns.