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The Life Cycle of a Story

Cassandra Ward

The Life Cycle of a Story by Cassandra Ward on November 6th, 2018

At the beginning of my career I was once told that a story is a living thing. The seed of a story needs to be planted, then nurtured, then tended to in order to ensure maximum exposure and longevity. It is an analogy that I firmly believe holds true today, perhaps even more so in today’s changing media and social media landscape.

One of the biggest misconceptions in public relations is that it’s really easy to get a story – all a publicist has to do is pick up the phone, call one of their contacts and boom the story is in the next day’s paper. The reality is that a story can sometimes take upwards of six months of planning.

First, it all starts with asking the client the right questions: what new products are they launching this year, what makes those products “news-worthy” (that in itself is a whole other discussion), what is their timeline, who is their target demographic, and what are their end goals for the product and subsequent media coverage? Once all that information has been received, the publicist can then begin work on the strategy and crafting the perfect pitch.

Once the strategy has been created, then comes the practical tactics that take it from strategy to reality. Publicists always have their ear to the ground to stay on top of what brands are making the news and who the journalist is that’s writing it. This is an on-going process. It’s the job of the publicist to identify which journalists and outlets are best suited to our client’s needs and who speak to the target demographic. Being able to do that helps us build a media list, which if done properly, is the backbone to any successful campaign. If you’re not sharing the story with the right journalists, your target audience is never going to hear it.

After the media list has been developed, then comes time to plant the seed and get pitching. In this step timing is crucial. A publicist needs to know what the timelines and editorial calendars look like for each of the outlets they’re pitching. Believe it or not if you want that coveted spot in a holiday issue of a national magazine, you’re pitching Christmas in July. Some print outlets plan their content three to six months in advance. With broadcast and online there is more flexibility, but in any case if you’re pitching too late, then you’ve missed your chance.

When a story idea has taken root in an interested journalist, the publicist then becomes the gardener. We have to nurture the story to ensure that it comes to fruition. This means providing the journalist with anything and everything they could possibly need to write their story – quotes, images, fact checks, interview and/or photo opportunities, the list is endless. And it needs to be done in a timely manner. Journalists are busy people, receiving numerous pitches a day. They don’t have time to chase you down. If they don’t get what they need, the story dies before it even began.

Then comes the day when your story blooms and sees the light of day, finally having been published. But the publicists job doesn’t stop there. We got the story, now we have to make sure it grows bigger through leveraging the brand’s social media channels. After all, sharing with your followers is caring for your followers.

Repeat this process for multiple story angles and by the end of the year your final media report will look like a beautiful bouquet of media hits.