How to turn “no news” to your advantage

Source: Thomas Schmidt, NetAction

Source: Thomas Schmidt, NetAction

“How do we get coverage if we don’t have any news?”

I bet almost everyone reading this has asked themselves – or been asked – this question at some point in their career.

Some would even say the true test of a PR professional lies in these moments. Agencies are constantly challenged to demonstrate how they will get results during the quiet times.  And why shouldn’t they be? After all, it’s their job, right?  

For a long time, I believed that too.

That kind of thinking has led to the usual parade of expensive tactics designed to create news. The customized (but risky) surveys. The flashy (and riskier) stunts. And so on.

It’s a lot of work. It’s also a deeply flawed process. 

The drive for coverage at all costs comes from a reasonable place. Organizations have stories or milestones they want their audience to know about in order to build and maintain their brands and reputations. And there is a time and place for that. The mistake is assuming that a steady stream of media coverage is a) realistic, b) the only answer and c) not damaging the brand in the long run by exhausting what is an increasingly finite resource.  

So, here’s a better question to ask: “How do we stay connected to our audience if we have nothing to share that’s truly newsworthy?”

The answer: take a page from marketing and become your own newsroom. Where many companies have become quite adept at using content to drive prospects down the customer acquisition funnel, far fewer have harnessed power of true brand journalism to tell meatier, impactful stories to strengthen their brand and build goodwill. Stories you get to create, tell and control.

Here’s how to get started.

Take the “medicine vs. dessert” test

I once worked with a client to promote and feature student science and technology projects from around the world. I tried to get more information on the projects themselves, but was told they weren’t of interest. What was of interest, apparently, was the client representative who was going to MC the event and talk about the importance of innovation.

Not long after I arrived, I learned one of the projects featured a powerful insight related to treating people infected with HIV. By high school students, no less! Years later, I still remember that. And even though it was my job to know the client’s story, it’s long forgotten.

One of these stories – the “let’s tell them we’re innovative” approach, is medicine. It’s what you want to audience to know, so you force feed it to them. The other is dessert. It’s what your audience wants to hear. You show, rather than tell, and they consume it of their own free will.

Step back and look at what you’re doing on your website and social channels and ask yourself – would anyone outside the company walls ever read this stuff? If not, it’s time for an injection of dessert.

Become your own editor

Great stories can live anywhere. Commission a professional writer or partner who has an objective sensibility and nose for news and have them create the story you seek.

And by that, I mean much more than a well-written press release.

Brands increasingly recognize the value of content beyond Top 5 lists. Food maker Mondelez recently announced it was sponsoring a journalism residency at the New York Times. Recognizing how hard it is to break through the cybersecurity noise, HP produced its own documentary (a Cannes Bronze winner) featuring Canadian ex-hacker “Mafiaboy.”

This kind of content dives deeper into the brand and builds a greater connection to audiences than the best news article ever could. It was in their control, and it added real value.

Most organizations lack the resources to pull off what these companies did. The good news is there are no shortage of ex-journalists and professional writers who can bring your story to life in a compelling, relevant way.

Find a partner

Yes, custom content in partnership with established media outlets can be a highly self-serving affair featuring articles with “SPONSORED” plastered all over it.

Or, it can be what Allstate did in partnership with The Atlantic – a site filled with compelling stories about doing good in the world, including pieces on survivors of domestic violence and the U.S. child poverty rate.

Again, good content costs money. But a strong content partner can work with brands to identify the right outlet and ensure quality content that doesn’t read like an expensive brochure.

Invite guests, and be a guest

No one likes to hear themselves talk all the time. The same is true for your channels. Blogs or social channels that rely too heavily on stock images, calls to action and links can start to feel too sterile. So, mix it up – invite partners, customers and employees to add their voices.

By the same token, offer up your people to post in relevant industry blogs. Share your knowledge with others, and invite others to do the same for you. Not only will you add more value, you’ll create more interesting, compelling content.

Next time you enter a dry spell for news, don’t waste time trying to force something that isn’t there. Instead, use your time and resources to take control and create an arsenal of content that will pay dividends far beyond its posting date.