I recently responded to a request on PeoplePerHour from a brand looking for a PR specialist in B2B technology. The advert provided scant detail on the business but I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring anyway. The next day a note dropped into my inbox:

“How many interviews can you guarantee for £800?”

Before I answer that, I want to rewind and consider why it’s a question almost impossible to answer.

Gaining media coverage, interviews and profiles in any title – whether a national broadsheet, or a local magazine or trade newsletter takes preparation and consideration. When it comes to convincing time-strapped journalists that they should cover your product, your brand or your story you need to have rock-solid foundations in place.

What are the foundations of a good story?

A whirlwind tour of what makes a sellable story:

Is it new?

Quite simply, is there something novel or different about the story you are telling? You might not have invented an entirely new product, but what issue or need has driven you to improve on an existing one? Do you have an opinion on a social, or sector issue that no one else is voicing?

Sometimes you might think that you have an amazing origin story, or that your product speaks for itself. This may be the case. However, without researching the media landscape and refining your key messages you may be fooling yourself that others are as interested in your story as you are.

On the other hand, you might think you have nothing different or new to add. 99% of the time that’s not true.

Your stories are there, you just need to uncover them.

That’s where a PR professional can help mine the diamond stories you never knew you had.

Is it surprising?

This can be described as the ‘watercooler’ moment. I.e. will people who hear or read your story be compelled to tell their colleagues about it on their tea break?

Human attention spans are woefully short – and don’t forget, journalists are humans too! To convince them that yours is the story to invest in, you need to create a message that is so surprising or powerful that people cannot help but remember it.

Think of this as an elevator pitch.

It’s your goal to create an emotional response – whether that’s delight, disbelief, anger or laughter, we engage with stories that make us feel something.

This is where preparation is key. Honing your story into that one feeling, that one moment can be tricky. Especially when you are in the middle of it. Bringing in an experienced PR can help you see the wood for the trees, and get you to the emotional heart of your story.

Where’s the evidence?

If you’re basing your story on a claim, back it up with data or research. If you’re voicing an opinion, show why you’re qualified to talk about that issue. If your product is amazing, let journalists try it and if your business is booming, be prepared to talk figures.

If you ‘know’ something to be true but don’t have the proof to back it up, then go out and get that proof before you go to a journalist.

That might sometimes mean investing in research, but often the evidence is there in your business. Perhaps it’s sales data that demonstrates a new trend in customer behaviour. Or recruitment figures that point to the effects of political change. You may already have the evidence you need – you just need to know how to package it.

Who is the audience?

In the case of a media pitch your immediate audience is the journalist. However, don’t lose sight of the fact that they serve an audience – their readers.

That means thinking like a journalist and be clear about what readers will gain from engaging from your story.

For example, there are many businesses who ‘just want to be in the FT’. That’s a pretty understandable ambition – it’s a national paper, with a fantastic reputation and an engaged readership.

However, it might not be the right audience. It might not be the right time, or you may not have the right story. To land a profile in the FT you need very specific foundations in place (an architectural feat that could well make for a whole other blog post)!

Say you own an education technology company. Your customers are likely reading titles dedicated to the teaching sector, and use those titles to directly inform purchasing decisions. A detailed profile in Teaching Today or TES may be worth much more in terms of generating leads than a snippet in a national paper.

I’ve got all that. So we can guarantee coverage?

Sorry, no. It may sound brutal, but in short it is impossible to guarantee journalists will write about you. As I heard a PR say recently:

“guaranteed coverage is called advertising”

If you are dead set on being in the FT, and nothing else matters then you’re better off calling its sales team than one of its journalists.

You cannot force a journalist to cover your story. You cannot account for what others news might break that day. The variables on any given day, for any journalist, for any story are numerous.

All you can do is make sure you have the strongest possible foundations in place, do your research and have a strategy in place to foresee and mitigate those variables.

How many interviews did I promise?

You can probably guess the answer by now.

I promised none.

I knew too little about the story to provide an informed response, and in making any such a promise I’d be dishonestly picking a number out of thin air.

What I do promise clients who are seeking media coverage is that I will give them the counsel, insight and experience they need to build fantastic PR foundations. I’ll work with them to design, prepare and deliver their story, honing messages and spotting opportunities. In short, I will use my experience to try and control as many variables as I can, in order to give them the very best shot at landing amazing coverage.

Most importantly I’ll always be honest.

I am sure that someone responded to that request with a figure, and they probably got the job.

My honest advice to that brand – don’t hire them. Hire someone who isn’t afraid to be honest, who asks the right questions, even if they are hard ones to answer.

If you want honest PR let’s have a chat.