Last month on Cohousing-L, a timely topic was sparked by the sharing of Courtney Martin's excellent New York Times article mentioning cohousing, Modern Housing with Village Virtues. How do cohousers get journalists to care about the topic? To really put in the research and get the facts right? To ensure the human element is carried through in quotable, relatable stories?
Some excellent advice that emerged from Cohousing-L contributor Tiffany Lee Brown.
As a sometimes journalist, I might be able to offer some helpful hints:
1) Be timely. When you are trying to get media to pay attention to your project, frame it in such a way that there is, or appears to be, a time factor. For example, "people like cohousing" is not a story the journalist can sell to her editor. However, depending on the market in question, "Baby Boomers entering retirement seek community in housing in record numbers in 2016" is a story. "We are having another cohousing conference this year" is not a story. "Kanye West tweeted about one of our cohousing members this month; we will discuss this and more at our annual cohousing conference" is a story.
2) Creatively contextualize the role of cohousing, or your particular event or community, in the larger culture. This can take the form of blatantly trying to ride on trends; it's really best to have very little shame about things like this, if you want to get ink for your project. The Boomer retirement issue is a long trend that will need lots of fun, new stuff to cover. Tiny house TV is popular; if your community offers something for tiny house dwellers, lead with that in your PR. For local stories, go with something timely and remember that the media likes good pictures. So your community is having a booth at the local street fair? OK, yawn. How about: your community is sponsoring free face painting for the kids at your booth, and you get someone good to do it, and photograph their work a few weeks ahead of time so you can include an adorable, face-paint kid photo with your PR...? Now we have a story. Integrate your PR efforts with the rest of your community outreach and activities.
3) Target your journalist and their markets (writer-speak for the publications for whom that writer writes). Do your research. Most of the PR I have received in my 25-year writing and editing career has been inappropriate for me. It is a waste of my time. Show that you care enough about your story, and the journalist or publication, to pitch something relevant to them. Sending PR to the AARP? Quote Joan Baez in it, use statistics relevant to retirees. Sending PR to a local alternative weekly? Open with a snarky paragraph and quote a local DJ. And build relationships with these writers. Don't expect them to magically find your press release among the 4,000 they received in email today.
4) Format things the way your targeted media outlet likes them to look. Go find out what that format is. Always include the essential who, what, where, how, and why within the first two paragraphs. Do not make your journalist sweat to find information! Most of the time, most of us are not on deep stories with a research budget. Most of the time we are cranking out random stuff. Take advantage of this. Make your PR very easy to turn into a "story."
5) Hire a professional. Some folks build their own houses; most of us hire a contractor. A lot more people attempt to do their own marketing, communications, and PR...but they're about as qualified to do the job as I am to build you a house.
Hope these are helpful!
Writer, Editor, and Sometimes Marketing Hack