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Does your story pass the 'so what' test?

By Alistair Wilkinson, Founder of The Media Room Ltd.

For three years, before I started The Media Room Ltd, I was Director of News at Sky News NZ. It was a fancy title for a straightforward job. I got to decide which stories should make it onto the news.
That meant I got a lot of pitches from PR folks. Media releases, phone calls, invitations, and even deliveries of boxes filled with cupcakes.
To be honest, it alarmed me how much time and money was spent on pitching stories that were never going to get to air. Of course, it wasn't up to me to make comment on the business decisions of these companies, but I did often wonder if they realised what a waste of time their efforts to get attention were.
Now, clearly I'm biased but I reckon that disconnect stems from the professionalisation of the PR industry. It used to be, most PR people started out as a journalist. These days that has all changed. I'd often ask people making the the most outlandish pitches if they'd ever worked in a newsroom. The answer was invariably 'no.'
That was no surprise, because everyone whose worked their way up the ranks understands a good story has to pass the 'so what' test to make it on air.
It goes something like this:
Reporter: "Company A has an amazing new product"
Editor: So what?
Reporter: It was developed right here in New Zealand!
Editor: So what?
Reporter: They're also manufacturing it here!
Editor: So what?
Reporter: It is the first one of it's kind in the world, and Richard Branson is flying the investor to New York to meet him!
Editor: Now, we're getting somewhere.
OK. I know. The example is lame. But you get what I mean. And my point is this; make sure your story passes the 'so what' test before you pitch it to journalists, because no matter how many cupcakes you courier across town, your story is not going to make it past any self respecting editor if he or she thinks readers are going to ask 'so what?'
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