6 Core Factors for Deciding if a Pitch is Newsworthy (A Guide for C-Suites)
You’re a CEO of a company. You’re humble, you’re a builder, you’re an entrepreneur; you’re not in it for the fame or the clout of being a big deal.
You’re gritty. You want to create quality products or offerings and make a ton of money doing it. And of course, work alongside people you like. And - lo and behold - people like you, too.
Then you get “the call.” Your board, or your largest investors, tell you that they want to see your company in the press more. They’re saying your competitors are more prevalent in the public eye and your company needs to catch up. You’re not doing anything wrong; they just want more.
Now that’s one more stressor to add to your plate—lucky you.
Your company has a lot of great initiatives and partnerships, but you’re not sure which of those has news value. How can you know what will actually get mentioned or featured in top-tier & trade media alike? What’s a better fit for Bloomberg or for American Banker? Are those even the right publications for the stories we want to tell?
To help you figure this all out, you hire a PR firm that your CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) was a big fan of during the RFP (think “pitching”) process. Let’s say you hired Prosek Partners.
You chose Prosek because we have a bounty of news industry knowledge. We have not only former journalists on staff, but pretty much all of our pros have read hundreds of thousands of news articles. We’ve built good relationships with journalists, and we know what they care about. We’re also competitive and get the job done.
You’re going to bring us, over a year, maybe about 50 different items that we could pitch to the press. We’re going to counsel your team on what will actually cut through and could get covered. We will help differentiate between what is just an idea and what is a real happening.
After all, our job is not just to get you results, but to respect your time doing it. Buy-in from the client is always needed, but we’re your team.
We know what real news is, and we leverage this expertise to bring you value.
Six factors make up the lion's share of real news. When I give the thumbs up on pitching an initiative or announcement, it is because it hits at least a few of these core factors below.
Let’s run through them.
It’s a cruel world. Ideas, unless they’re from a Larry Fink-level figure (take his annual public letter), don’t make the news: cash does.
The more money an initiative or product launch has, the more likely it is to get covered (and the more likely there is at stake for it to succeed). I’m talking going into the millions, at least, and especially billions of dollars for getting into top-tier publications.
For example, if you have a VC-raise for series A/B/C, you’re going to need to hit a certain dollar figure. Also, it only gets higher the greater your ambitions for coverage are.
Let’s say you’re a Web3 startup wanting to announce your Series B raise. You decide to pitch TechCrunch.
Checking their latest coverage, you're going to need at least a couple million to get covered.
But perhaps your team really wants The Wall Street Journal. The Journal doesn't publish as frequently and communicates to a less tech-focused audience. You're likely going to need a lot more than a couple million. You will also need to explain, in realistic terms, why your company is important on a society-defining scale. AI is having a good moment for this.
A Series B raise announcement is typically not difficult when it comes to securing coverage because it almost always involves a high-dollar value ($1M+) attached to it. But what if you want TechCrunch to cover a new initiative you’re launching with a couple million backing it?
TechCrunch may not cover it if the initiative is solely specific to your company's platform and products. They may more likely be inclined to cover something that is more so a public offering/contribution to the entire industry community.
In this case, a reporter could see your initiative, with only a couple million behind it, as more of a trial balloon—and less newsworthy as a result. If you’re not in the top two to three of competitors in your space, you’re likely to hear a no from TechCrunch or another outlet for this pitch.
That said, if you raise a couple million to $100 million, you might get coverage. However, the story behind that coverage will be more so about why your company is putting a big ‘bet’ on a new project—or why someone’s betting big on your vision.
If money is a gravitational force that draws reporters to cover you, so is power. If a dominant player in your industry does something that isn’t completely self-serving and propagandistic, then it is news. Same with your local politician or governmentally empowered regulators as well. Power produces coverage.
If you’re still on the rise, this matters a lot for your partnerships team.
Say your team secures a big announcement with a major established player that you want to announce. Collaborating with powerful players is a great way to raise your profile as the leader of a powerful business in its own right.
While you may get covered because of the partnership, an important comms consideration to remember is how to keep your company from being completely overshadowed by that bigger name.
Perhaps self-explanatory: reporters almost always want to cover something that is new. And by new, I mean freshly new. If you have a press release, a reporter likely needs to receive it, read it, and interview you on the day you made the announcement. If not, it will be hard to get coverage (but not always impossible).
And of course, not every “new” initiative or announcement is real news. Think more of, for example, critical “firsts” or groundbreaking innovations. This could be the “first person on Pluto” or maybe the advent of a new AI-powered crypto exchange opening to the public.
Not everything has to be 100% brand new though to get covered. If you have an impactful initiative that has been around for a couple months, a reporter may want to do a retrospective on it.
Beyond initiatives, you could instead release a study of a topic with new, salient information important to your sector. Take recent research on the tokenized securities market released by Citi. It found that the market for tokenized securities could reach $4 trillion by 2023. It should not go unnoticed that many well-covered research findings are about money in some way or another.
Or gossip. Or negative speculation about something. Fear can move markets, can move national political debates. Fear may or may not be fact-based.
Not everything said by someone in an article is true. This does not mean that the reporter has not done their job or due diligence as much as possible on the facts. At a certain point, though, a journalist and their editor have the license to make a judgment call on which quotes make it into the piece, and which do not.
Entire pieces can be based on speculation. Anyone who works in politics knows this. These pieces feature sources quoted on background (meaning their words cannot be directly attributed to them) and the entity facing speculation declines to comment. They've chosen not to argue their case in the forum of the article.
But with something important to the national interest on the line in a rapidly changing moment, it can be hard for an outlet to not publish something. This typically happens in a far hastier manner than normal. This is the same for clients in breaking news situations who want to say something but may not have the right thing to say.
There are even articles, you’ve seen them before, where reporters directly ask sources to speculate. A headline for this could be: “The market is in a downturn. We asked experts what is next.”
Sources with skin in the game have an incentive to cast doubt on competitors. Rumors are inevitably spread as people try to influence the results of elections or the ebb and flow of a particular stock.
I do not advise clients, especially founders and their companies, to use fear to get their way in the press. It will lead to them being viewed less credibly as a future source.
If you want good news for you or your industry, do good work and then effectively show it to others.
But the temptation remains. So be vigilant.
Lightning in a bottle. We are humans and we live in an unpredictable, unautomated (as of April 2023) culture.
Logic can be obliterated in tiny moments when the collective world chooses to obsess over something. Especially now in the social media era as we share item upon item with each other.
It could be just a really adorable puppy that inexplicably can play the piano. It could be one of the greatest dunks in NBA history. A viral news item elicits strong feelings from us whether that is joy, laughter, empathy, awe…
…Or fear—take caution. Sometimes fear, disinformation and viralness go together quite well.
I would not normally advise clients to pursue viral moments, especially at a great cost to the budget. It can be infuriating when a 20-second video shot for $5 gets more coverage than a $5M PR stunt.
You might strike gold once, but in the long run it will almost always be more fruitful and sustainable to focus on promoting the real value-add of your organization’s work via the press, social media and directly to your stakeholders (both current and aspirational).
Even worse, what if you become known for one viral moment? And then it is hard to move on from it when you want to rebrand or launch a new initiative unrelated to your core business?
What if that viral moment is so potent that consumers cannot “see you” being adept at providing another offering than the current one?
6. Dolly Parton
If Dolly breathes, it is news. If you partner with her, it is news. That’s just how it is.
Dolly Parton is not one viral moment as the Roman Empire was not limited to one decade.
Look at the title of this article Dolly Parton got earlier this year in THE WASHINGTON POST!, the paper of record in our nation’s capital, a cutthroat political town!!
Free, effortless positive press like this only happens for a handful of humans on the planet. Dolly Parton and other beloved celebrities of the highest order, like Beyoncé, are institutions in their own right. It is not just that reporters are interested in covering them; they are excited to meet them, too. Because Dolly Parton is that likable.
When Dolly or another megastar activates their PR team, it is almost always because they want to stave off a possible controversy or to influence the inevitable tidal wave of coverage concerning them.
In Dolly’s case, her PR team is working hard to give the people more of what they want: Dolly.
On the bright side, my CEO friend, while competing with Dolly Parton is virtually impossible, competing with your industry rivals and making your board happy with more earned media coverage is a far more manageable endeavor.
We can help.