Most people won’t tell you this, but there’s one sure-fire way to ensure your story makes it into the media. And it hasn’t got anything to do with how well written your media release is, or the strength of the accompanying photo.

The secret recipe is having something newsworthy to say. That may sound obvious but as someone who has been on both sides of the fence, sending media releases on behalf of clients and being pitched to as a journalist, I assure you many fail this important test.

So what makes something newsworthy? It usually boils down to a few key ingredients. These include how unique the story is, how it relates to topical issues, whether there is conflict or controversy, and whether well-known personalities are involved. The location of the story and how timely it is also matter; there’s no point phoning a journalist in Canterbury to pitch a story about the amount of money raised at a Tauranga school fair a month after the event. And of course, it’s critical that you’re saying something new – the clue is in the name, “news”.

The weighting for each of these factors will differ by publication, radio station or television programme, but the primary consideration for any editor deciding whether or not to run your story is this: “Why does this matter to my readers, listeners or viewers? Do they care?”

Of course, writing well is important, as is providing strong supporting photos or videos, but the foundation for any media release or pitch should be the news value of the story being told.

There are a few other things you can do to give your story pitch or media release the best chance of success.

Make sure you get to the point quickly and address the “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, “why” and “how” of your story in the first few sentences. If you’re making your pitch via a media release it’s important to grab attention with a strong hook and grabbing headline, but keep in mind that a story that stands on the merits of its facts will always have the best chance of success.

While some media releases you send to a journalist will run word for word, it’s still critical to provide contact details in case the recipient wants to request an interview or further information. Make sure you are available for interviews if anybody calls. Don’t send your media release on the day you are heading away on holiday, or at the start of a week when you are fully booked up with high stakes business meetings.

The way you distribute your release matters too. Make sure you are sending it to the right journalists at the media outlets that are likely to have the most interest in what you have to say. If you are announcing a new smartphone app for home owners, there’s little point in sending it to the chief photographer at Horse & Pony Magazine. There are a range of online services offering databases of New Zealand media and relevant contacts at each.

Lastly, it can also be valuable to follow up your media releases or email pitches with a phone call. Many newsrooms are short staffed and a lot of news gets missed due to the sheer volume of emails journalists receive. A polite phone call that doesn’t start with “I’m just calling to check if you received my email” provides an opportunity to develop some rapport and explain why your story is relevant and should matter to the audience the journalist is writing for.

Getting your story into the media can make a major difference to the success of your business and how your reputation and brand is perceived by customers. With a few smarts and the right approach, even the smallest businesses can compete with the big boys for media space.

Want more ideas? Read our FREE Media Opportunities Cheat Sheet or contact us for media advice tailored to the needs of your business or organisation.

This column first appeared in the June/July edition of Bay of Plenty Business News.