What Constitutes Real News?

What’s news? These days, it’s hard to tell. In the rapid-fire day to day of the new economy, companies distribute news as fast as they burn through venture cash. Under the cause of market leadership, information of dubious distinction is disseminated frequently, creating a virtual avalanche of information heading directly at an already jaded and overworked press corps.

And like the townspeople in the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” the media turn a deaf ear, desensitized by the constant harangue from companies that lack maturity in their news-filtering process. How is the media supposed to discern between what is important, different, and, might I even say, news, versus the run-of-the-mill space filler? I know, it’s tough to beat back a determined CEO who demands something be sent out every week, regardless of its worth. I’m here to tell you that while that type of enthusiasm for the business is an admirable trait, it makes for bad press relations and usually results in little, if any, coverage across the board. The press just doesn’t know what to believe.

I’ve touched on techniques for media relations’ success in prior columns. Today, I want to focus more on news judgment – just what is real news that is truly of interest to the media and their audience. Here are some things to think about:

Is big money involved? The media loves numbers, especially big ones. When announcing partnership deals, mergers, acquisitions, or sales or licensing deals, the first big question is always how much. Here’s the rub: Most start-ups are closely held private companies and are highly reticent to release numbers. Quite the conundrum, isn’t it? My advice – if you are not ready to provide the digits, keep it under wraps.

Are big players involved? Deals with or between 800-pound gorillas seem to generate a lot of excitement, even without the numbers. (They are still preferred but not as needed here). Important here is the ability to show how the deal is key to a core strategy to the gorilla. Work with the partner to make sure the message is focused and clearly articulates the strategic purpose of the deal and why your company is the best provider.

Do I smell a trend? Media folks love trends, especially the front end of one. If your news or announcement is a harbinger of things to come, sell that angle hard. Show why others will follow in your footsteps, even if it requires using competitors as an example. The trick here is to position your company as the leader of the band of an emerging trend – hard to do if no one wants to listen to what you have to say.

Time for a new strategy. Like trends, a move in a new strategic direction, like entering new markets or adding revenue streams, will raise the antennae of the media. Again, this can be dangerous ground as you don’t want to position a current or previous strategy as having failed. If it’s a complete change of direction, you may want to get some success behind you before you alert the media. If it’s strategy that works in parallel with your existing business, make sure you delineate the differences without positioning your original strategy as second tier.

Are you first? No, I mean really first. Are you unique? As written here in the past, the words first to market, unique, etc., are so frequently used that if you took them away from PR practitioners, they would become speechless. Truly being first is a huge advantage that should be leveraged aggressively at every turn. Just remember the media and analyst community know if you speak the truth.

It’s somewhat incongruous to think that the less you say, the more you are heard. But if you look back to your own personal experience, you can think of the many times you turn off the person who always has something to say about everything. Similarly, when the quiet person speaks, everyone seems to listen. To be heard in the marketplace by the media, the same principles apply: Less is definitely more.

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