Beyond PR

Jan 15, 2015

How to Turn Your Data Into Stories


Have you heard that including numbers in your media pitch will attract journalists’ attention? Apparently, so has everyone else.

Over the holidays New York Post business reporter John Crudele published an article sarcastically “gifting” coverage to a select handful of PR people whose pitches had originally gone unanswered.

Why these pitches were unsuccessful is explored in-depth on the Bad Pitch Blog, but a common thread among them was using—and assuming—an unusual statistic or trend was enough to get Crudele’s attention.

As evidenced by Crudele’s blunt reaction, numbers alone aren’t enough to get media coverage. What journalists are really looking for is the story behind the number that is relevant to their beat and the interests of their readers.

Knowing what makes a good story and how to find that story within your organization can help you refine your media pitches and engage customers more successfully.

The following tips from storytelling experts Rachel Zarrell, reporter and weekend editor of Buzzfeed, Ginny Pulos, founder and president of  Ginny Pulos Communications, Inc, and Marcia Stepanek, president and founder of Brand Stories, can help you uncover the stories within your business that connect to customers.

Answer the “so what?”

According to Pulos, a good story is:

  • Brief
  • True
  • Engages an emotion
  • Ends on a high point
  • Is told in the present tense

In a nutshell, the story must get to the heart of why people will care.

Use nut grafs.

As defined by The Poynter Institute, the purpose of a nut graf is to “tell the reader what the writer is up to; it delivers a promise of the story’s content and message.”

Pulos suggests using nut grafs as an exercise in how to tell your business story effectively and concisely to journalists.

“I was on a panel about social media and learned that a company’s about page should have a two-line description, 50-word description, and a longer piece. This way if a journalist needs to grab something or tweet about you, they have something short they can use, something longer they can use if you are a speaker at an event, and a full-length description for your clients,” she says.

Incorporate figurative language.

Pulos also recommends using metaphors to tell a story, and refers to the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs as an example of a great storyteller who coined the phrase that an iPhone is “a life in your pocket.”

At Buzzfeed, Zarrell reveals that hyperbolic words such as heartbreaking, heartwarming, awesome, and amazing tend to attract the most clicks.

Visualize your story.

I won’t write anything that doesn’t have a visual element to it. When I am creating a story, I build it around the visual,” says Zarrell, “The way we narrate things around the visuals when telling a story is getting to the thing people care about very quickly, because people don’t want to waste their time.”

Stepanek agrees, arguing that visuals are “the fastest way to get an emotional impact along with information,” as well as proving the credibility of a story with tangible evidence.

For B2B companies with intangible products, videos and infographics are an opportunity to measure impact or prove that the company is able to do what it says it’s doing.

Check out Intermedia Boosts Campaign Visibility with Award-Winning Video to see how animation transformed an IT research report into an engaging video about “the ex-employee menace.”

Bottom line?

Numbers are just numbers, and they aren’t always easy to remember in the first place. What journalists and their audiences will remember in the end is how your story made them feel.

A version of this article appears on written by Polina Opelbaum, editor of ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources.

2 Comments on Blog Post Title

­ Rivers Agency 09:25 EST on Jan 23, 2015

This is an amazing article that I especially appreciate coming from both a news and PR background. As a reporter I received hundreds of press releases, some better than others. The releases I actually paid attention to were the ones that made me feel and enticed the senses. You also have to keep in mind that most reporters at a local news station cover ONLY local news with the occasional state story. So, if your story is in Texas and I am in North Carolina, it doesn’t matter what you say, I will not cover your story – unless there is a significant tie to NC. Pictures and numbers are always great, but they do not make the story. Ordinary people with extraordinary stories and emotions make the story. Like you said, “In a nutshell, the story must get to the heart of why people will care.” This is a great statement to live by in PR. Always ask yourself, “Why do I care and why does anyone else care?” If you cannot answer that, then you do not have a story. I also appreciate this statement, “visuals are ?the fastest way to get an emotional impact along with information,? as well as proving the credibility of a story with tangible evidence.” You have to think from the mind of a reporter. In TV news, visuals are EVERYTHING! Imagine what you would like the story to sound like and then imagine what visuals you can see going along with the story. If you do not have good visuals that they can shoot, you must provide your own videos, products, pictures, and infographics.And finally, provide the reporter with all the information and details they need in writing. This makes it much easier when they are down to the wire and need a last minute tidbit of information. It also makes writing the story easier because then they don’t have to listen through the entire interview several times to pick out the important information.Thanks for a great article! -AlyssaRivers Agency PR Executive

Shannon Ramlochan 13:54 EST on Jan 23, 2015

Thank you for reading and commenting, Alyssa! I really appreciate your insight – thinking like a reporter is a skill that takes time to develop and your statement really puts things into perspective. I’m glad you enjoyed reading it!

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