Monday, November 26, 2012

Holidays are ideal..for stories

The Thanksgiving weekend proved once again in my belief that long weekends are the perfect opportunity for feature stories about your client or issue.

A thorough scan of stories in print and online from Thursday through Monday, Nov. 26 suggest many missed opportunities for my profession. New cycles are shorter. Consider that the elections - and all the accompanying attention - were long over.  Stories about Sandy were fading.  Even the "fiscal cliff" is barely dictating huge amounts of coverage (although it should, given what my taxes may look like  next year). Hard news did not rule the day on Page One.

As I have sounded many times before, a long holiday weekend means reporters are required to fill multiple editions of news.  They are forced to "pre-write" a ton of stories just to fill the pages and airwaves that are Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  Editors and news organization owners have not and will not carry a full staff on a holiday weekend. This extra duty on reporters typically means they want to crank out easy features. They simply don't have time to be choosy or to do in-depth reporting or investigative journalism. They may have just three days to fill seven days of news.

The evidence is clear.  Go back to your papers and TV websites. What I saw  were multitudes of stories that have been lingering for a while - features that likely would not make it any other time of year.

What a few enterprising PR pros did is this: Right after the elections they pitched a story that is important, but not immediate. They usually add the line: "You've got some time to work on this." If you provide the complete package and not force a reporter to make a lot of calls, it makes their lives easier. They have a couple of weeks to work on it and file it way before the holiday.

What kind of story fits this bill?  Obviously, holiday-related ones rise to the top. People (including reporters) are sentimental this time of year. They want the "human angle."  If you represent non-profits, now is the perfect time to develop the story about the plights of non-profits during the holidays (or how changes in tax law will hurt).  If there is a story you've wanted in print for a long time, now is the time to re-examine the angle and figure out why anyone would care today?  Do you have an issue or project/product in development that will rise (good or bad) to public attention in the first quarter of 2013?  Now is the time to set the "mood" for the debate and bring out the first one or two building blocks to what likely will be a complicated or ongoing issue.Look at trends: What is different about Christmas in 2012? For instance, no big-ticket kid movies are opening between Thanksgiving and Christmas. What does that mean to toys and other products that depend on big movies?

Always find the "real" people of your story, too.  Many stories are told from the individual in the center of the news.

Our next opportunity is a big one.  With Christmas and New Years falling on Tuesdays - that means reporters have a total of 12 days of news to fill in advance.  Each week it starts with Saturday and goes until Wednesday.  That means any story development must begin this week and pitches concluded by Dec. 7. (do it by Dec. 5 or the following Monday since some reporters will still do Pearl Harbor day stories).  Right now, reporters are starting to develop their 2013 trends pieces.  How are businesses gearing up for the new year?

Of course, a few of my colleagues like to surmise that a story published or broadcast during this period is meaningless - since "no one is reading or watching the news during the holidays."  But most ratings and surveys suggest otherwise. And, with stories remaining "alive" via online, it's easy to repurpose these to your heart's content.