Everyone in PR has a story flop at some point.
It’s the nature of the beast; we can’t possibly sell every story that comes our way, but it’s still a shock to the system when we get a “no” instead of a “yes”.
When this happens, it’s time to re-evaluate what you’re selling — and be honest with yourself here: is it really a good enough story?
A failed sell in doesn’t mean that your story is dead — far from it, if you handle the situation correctly. If your sell in is getting crickets in response, these tips will help you turn it around.
Double check the basics first…
If you’re not sure why your sell in isn’t working, it may seem obvious but asking yourself these questions might help shed some light on the situation:
- Am I targeting the right publications?
- Have I got the right person at the right publication?
- Is the angle of my story right?
- Am I summarising the story effectively in less than two minutes? A good way to test this is to try out selling your story to a colleague that doesn’t know about it
- Is the email subject line interesting enough? I.e. would you open the email based on the subject line alone?
- Does your sell in read like an advert? If so, can you change it so it sounds less branded?
If you have followed the above and you are still not getting anywhere — try these 5 suggestions…
1. Bring the Story to Life
Case studies help people put themselves into a story and showcase real-life results. If you’ve been in the PR world for any length of time, you know that human interest stories really give a pitch a fresh new angle because, let’s face it, everyone loves a heartwarming story.
The human angle can help you reach new contacts to reach out to and it opens your piece up to features desks as well.
The key is finding the right narrative.
You can do a bit of digging by reaching out to your social networks where you might have a lot of long-time lurkers that are harbouring the perfect story for this particular sell-in.
If you need a chunk of time from your case study, be prepared to pay them for it. And, before you begin, make sure they know what’s involved and what your story will be about before you pitch the story out. The last thing you want is them getting cold feet.
Make sure you have a printable picture from the case study, too, as not having one can often be a dealbreaker for bigger publications.
2. Change the Angle
PR people know that a good story needs a great angle, but when a sell in isn’t working it’s time to look at whether you’ve chosen the right angle — and you’re not always going to have.
Two heads are better than one — and a whole team is better than two — so it’s worth getting your team together and using the brilliant power of brainstorming to gather as many angle ideas as you can.
Before you sit down and brainstorm, think about some ways you can inspire creative ideas in the rest of your team:
- Think about additional collateral — if you’re selling in a video and it’s not going anywhere, can you offer the props used in the video as competition bait?
- Look at the news — are there any new developments in this vertical that your story is relevant to or is there something on the horizon?
- Can you give it a showbiz angle — is there a celebrity who has been through what you’re talking about that you can mention?
- Make it more inclusive — can you create a roundup with a selection of products from other clients at your agency?
- Carry out more research — can you find any additional research, stats, or data that can further back up your story?
3. Break It Down Into Niches
Just because the mainstream media aren’t biting on your sell in, it doesn’t mean that it won’t do well in niche markets. Think about whether it’s relevant to a certain job role or hobby — you’d be surprised at how many niche markets there are and the media outlets they have.
Breaking up your sell in down to niche markets often opens up tons of new publications that are far more relevant which, as a result, means more outlets will run it and the reach will add up to more than one hit in a bigger publication.
Think in geographical terms here, too. Your story or stats might be particularly relevant to a specific area, making it a better fit for local press. Targeting smaller publications like local newspapers means less competition compared to traditional nationals so it can be easier to gain traction.
Remember to tailor your pitch to the niche or location you’re targeting. Don’t expect journalists to read through a generic press release and pick out what’s relevant for them. If you are looking at stats, pull out the ones for that location or hobby or if you have case studies, again make sure they are relevant for that niche.
4. Pay to get the ball rolling
If your story is too branded, that’s fine if it’s good enough, but you may need to put your money where your mouth is and pay to start the seeding and, from there, it will naturally get shared.
There are lots of ways you can go about this, from paying to work with influencers, paying to boost social posts, to working with companies such as Outbrain to promote editorial. Really think about what channel your story would work best on based on who you are trying to promote and to who.
You can then go ahead and speak to the Paid team who have likely been waiting for a great piece of content to fall into their laps.
Branching out into the paid space can be a little daunting to begin with, but you’re not paying someone to run the piece — it’s part of the PESO model, a more integrated PR model that combines paid, earned, owned, and shared media, which the PR industry has started to embrace.
5. Put Your Piece On the Backburner
Sometimes the angle of a story just isn’t isn’t currently on-trend or is in competition but that doesn’t make it a bad story.
In this case, you can put it on the backburner and work on other projects for that client until something crops up that makes the story newsworthy or relevant.
In the meantime, you can set up some alerts or notifications related to your client’s product or story so you can be ahead of the curve if a relevant news story breaks in the future.
Keep your eyes peeled on competitor content, too, and see what kinds of stories they are promoting around similar products, events, or services.
If you find yourself with a failed sell-in and you don’t know what move to make next, here’s how to address the issue with your boss or client.