Oct 2019

Spinning straw into gold: how to turn product news into a story

Written by Paul Maher

Spinning straw into gold: how to turn product news into a story

Your company is thrilled to announce the release of a new product.

Many teams have worked together for weeks or months to make it possible, your customers are starting to hear about it and can’t wait to try it, and serious budget has been allocated to its development. All in all, it’s great news for your company, and understandably you want to share it with the world – ideally, you want the media to cover it. 

Unfortunately, the media are often not inclined to cover this kind of news, especially in the UK where journalists are spoiled for choice. Unless you work at Huawei or Facebook, chances are that your product news is not, in itself, news.

This is a challenge all PR teams will encounter not once or twice, but very regularly during their careers. The product might be ground-breaking, and customers may benefit from implementing it. But does that make it easier for the PR to sell to the press? 

No, it doesn’t. Unless they know how to turn it into a relevant story for the media. 

A journalist friend once told me “I don’t care what the story is to you. All I want to know is why it matters to business”. 

So why does it matter to business?

It’s common practice, in tech media, to avoid covering a single vendor’s product – not only because such announcements are a dime a dozen, but also because singing a single vendor’s praises with no further context can be perceived as editorial bias. What journalists – and their editors, and their readers- want to know is, how will this affect businesses? How does this bring value to the decision-makers among their readership? 

Your PR agency should not lead you to believe that simply wiring your product press release will result in valuable coverage. If they do, question their judgement. Your PR agency should be thinking hard about how they will make journalists view about your story as a relevant piece of news for the wider business sector, and how they will make your news worth publishing. 

Spinning a yarn: What makes this news news?

If the new product is a fresh and exciting technology, then you’re in luck. Journalists in the tech space are always curious to hear about the latest advances, and if your company is the first to launch a differentiated, ambitious solution it will surely get some interest from the tech media. But even if it’s nothing especially new, the story around it can be, and it’s all about how it impacts business. Should a customer implement your product, what will they gain? Will they save man-hours or money? Will they eliminate a particularly nagging complexity in their operations? Will they avoid future errors stemming from human oversight? Will they be able to offer their customers something their competitors don’t? Ultimately, think about it in CEO terms: how will it impact the bottom line? A good pitch will give journalists the news boiled down so that the important business issues become clear, concise, and don’t stink of product placement.

The news industry does not work in a vacuum

Consider what the journalist needs. They might be working to a deadline, swamped with news they need to cover by the end of the day, or they might be manning the desks all on their own because everyone else is on holiday. They might have another pressing assignment, or they might be on their way to a conference. Almost certainly, they will not have time to pore over your press release and extract the relevant news, never mind write a full article about it. That’s where PR swoops in to help. Will a contributed article on the business issue the product solves make life easier for the journalist? Would your announcement’s relevance be best explained through a short phone interview? Or is the journalist so swamped they’d rather send a list of questions, and receive your answers back in writing? PRs should work with journalists so your announcement becomes content that they can publish, with minimal fuss.

Timing isn’t everything

The journalist is not as sensitive to your company’s timelines as you are, of course. It might not be convenient to publish your news today, even if your PR agency does their best. Do not be disappointed by this: what matters is not the date under the article, but the fact that it reaches its desired audience. Your PR agency should keep you in the loop as to publication dates and clear up the big picture. Some announcements are time-sensitive, and those might be expected to yield coverage in a day or two. Others, not so much, and you may expect coverage to trickle in through the next weeks. Others might keep resonating in the news in the months to come. All of those are just as valuable, and should be seen as part of the ongoing PR cadence. While product news is not automatically press material, this doesn’t mean it lacks value, as long as your PR knows what the press wants, and how the announcement will fit in the news agenda. After all, no one will ever believe in your news story as much as they do.

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