Try this proactive approach to finding stories—and shedding banal pitches

Rather than having the usual suspects lining up with tepid and torpid ideas, hand-pick a few key sources to spot new developments and events that would captivate your audience.

Do non-PR people invariably bring you lousy story ideas?

Maybe a client or someone in another department says, “Oh, we’re doing this thing, and it would make a great press release—news outlets will all want to know about it.”

You cringe because you know that nine times out of 10, the next thing out of their mouth is not going to be newsworthy.

That’s how most PR people get fodder for their outreach. However, if you want atypical results, don’t keep applying the typical approaches.

Ask them, before they tell you.

Of course, it’s not as simple as just saying, “What should I pitch?”

Let’s walk through the four crucial steps:

1. Select a few key people who have access to information and seem to be “in the know” when things change. These folks are often not your typical point of contact.

2. Arrange to talk with them—in person is best. Phone is OK, and email rarely works for this approach.

3. Don’t ask, “What’s going on that journalists would be interested in?” That typically bombs. Instead, ask a bunch of open-ended questions such as, “What are you working on? What changes in the marketplace have you seen? What extraordinary customers (or employees, donors, patients) have you heard of recently?” Don’t ask them anything that requires news judgment; that rarely ends well.

4. Most important: Follow up frequently. They probably won’t have much for you the first discussion, and that’s when most PR people give up. When you check back with them in a month or three, their minds will have been primed to notice the kinds of things you’ll ask about. When you check back a third time, they’ll see you’re serious and professional about this, and they will become more invested. Over time, they’ll start to yield useful nuggets that will make your job easier.

There’s a nice side benefit to this “ask them before they tell you” approach: You come across as proactive and helpful. Contrast that with playing defense when they bring you stuff they already have their hearts set on. When you try to explain why their fully formed “story ideas” won’t fly, they’re thinking you’re just not a “team player.”

Now, you might be thinking: There’s no way I have time to follow this approach with all of my contacts/clients; I’m overwhelmed already.

The overarching purpose of this approach is to save you time. Instead of spinning your wheels pitching subpar stories, you’ll find better material and thereby become more efficient and effective.

Also, narrow the field; choose three people inside your organization or from among your clients. Set a monthly reminder on your calendar. Talk to each source for 30 minutes, once per quarter; that’s one such chat for you per month—a whopping six hours per year.

You’ll see outstanding ROI for your time and effort.

A version of this post first appeared on PRsay.

Topics: PR

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