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When Client’s News They Swear is News Isn’t News

And What to Do About It

Client Person: “We’ve got some big news. We’ve got to get it covered.”
Communications Person: “OK. Let’s hear it.”
Client Person: “Our CEO’s dog has been named the mascot of the local fire department!”
The above is a completely fictional conversation—and frankly, it’s a little extreme. But it’s to set a scenario; a scenario that actually happens a lot in the communications advisory relationship. Usually on the weekly update call, the communications person will probe for any client news items that might be worth acting on. Sometimes that probe yields goodness and sometimes it yields “Our CEO’s dog has been named the mascot of the local fire department!” non-news.
But it’s not so easy to simply say, “Nope. That’s not news.” This is especially true in the early stages of a relationship. So let’s continue the conversation to see what might be the right way to navigate and advise…
Communications Person: “OK. While that’s fun, I’m going to put my editor’s hat on here and ask,’What’s the news and how does it relate to and impact the company?’”
Client Person: “Well… It’s our CEO. Let’s pitch it to the people that have interviewed him before.”
Communications Person: “If we look back at our previous coverage and interviews, they always had a newsworthy element that related to either the company or the industry. Editors and writers need a news hook; a reason to write that, ultimately benefit their readers. So let’s ask ourselves: is this ‘news’ of value to the audiences we’re trying to reach?”
Client Person: “Probably not. You’re right. But it’s our CEO. This is something s/he really cares about.”
Communications Person: “Totally understandable. So let’s think on a few places where this ‘news’ can live. We do have a section on the company blog that features lighter, team news posts. Look at our last one about the company retreat. The local business reporter would never have covered that. But since it’s part of our company culture and we work to promote that, we posted it to the blog. The blog might be a great home for the dog news. What do you think?”
Client Person: “I like it. Can you tell our CEO why this approach makes the most sense and then draft the blog post?”
As mentioned, the dog news is an extreme example. This gets tougher when the “news” could be news, but really isn’t going to gain any traction. For example, say the client company is sponsoring a conference. It’s easy to think that that sponsorship is newsworthy. But it’s not. A journalist isn’t going to be wowed by a company throwing some cash at an event. However, as in the example above, a good communications pro is going to suggest alternative ideas rather than simply saying no. In addition to a company blog, a few alternative ideas might include…
  • A guest column, byline article or op-ed. If the non-news does have a sliver of relevance and there’s someone on the client side eager to pen some thoughts around that relevance, a good comms person can find a home for it. The key here though is that what gets written can’t be promotional. It can’t be salesy. No contributions editor is going to publish a commercial. 
  • Have an email newsletter? “Not-quite-news” makes for good fodder there. Just make sure it’s relevant to the community or recipients. They gave you their email address on the promise of receiving interesting, relevant content. Keep that promise.
  • Social channels are good places for almost-news too. The key though is variety. Your social feeds can’t be boring sludge rivers of non-news. Publish real news there. Engage with your communities. Keep things varied.
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