By: Bri Olson (@brii_olson)

On September 21, members from our parent chapter, the West Michigan Public Relations Society of America assembled at the GR Community Foundation. The chapter welcomed two local journalists to speak on what they’re looking for when PR professionals send them press releases. Shandra Martinez, business reporter for MLive, and Beth Dornan, who leads content strategy for Amway North America showed up prepared with an activity in which members, including myself, participated.

For the activity, members were prompted to open an envelope that had a series of different headlines to different stories. We were encouraged to rank these headlines from most engaging for our target audience to least engaging. Although some of the results were a little shocking, the guest speakers explained why they ranked the way they did.

​Following the activity, Dornan and Martinez began their lecture. The quote they said during their introduction really stuck out to me, “We’re not just looking for content to go somewhere we’re looking for people to do something with the content,” said Dornan. They went on to present the rest of their information by making a list of 20 tips to create more compelling content for your target audiences:

  1. Think about how your content will either educate, inspire, or entertain.
  2. A headline makes or breaks a story.
  3. Use “first” in your headline if your story is truly unique.
  4. Use “best” in your headline but tell us who says it’s the best and why.
  5. Use “only” in your headline when your story is exclusive to Michigan or Grand Rapids.
  6. If you can prove a point with numbers, do so.
  7. What is trendy to the time? What is relevant, what is news – is it new?
  8. News organizations aren’t charities. It’s not their job to publish your client’s story.
  9. Exclusive stories don’t mean much to readers anymore unless it’s a groundbreaking story so use “exclusive” sparingly.
  10. Don’t tell people how great your story is, show them and explain them why.
  11. Showcase interesting details – interview different people for the same story to get a wide variety of information.
  12. Don’t beg, threat, or bribe a journalist.
  13. Ask good questions don’t just provide good answers. Readers don’t want to know the fluffy information, they want to know the personal information.
  14. Don’t send a press release without a photo – the right image with right copy holds 65% retention and 95% retention with videos.
  15. Give the facts and all the facts. Do a google search on your industry, look at what they’re doing and what they’re criticizing.
  16. Dig deep, find out what others may have missed
  17. Keep it simple – don’t use jargon use relatable language.
  18. Your audience – are you thinking about your client? Or your client’s audience? Address why they should they listen and if this is even the information they’d be wondering about.
  19. Think snack size with your content – be direct, don’t use too many adjectives – select the ones that paint the picture.
  20. It’s not just your visuals, it’s the right visuals. Sometimes you need an infographic to break down complex ideas.

During the event, these tips were explained with scenarios and personal experiences. Dornan and Martinez mentioned that the measures of success for journalists were different in the past than they are now.

“I used to be measured by whether or not I could get a front page story. Well, now I’m measured by finding impactful stories that will change laws or lives,” said Dornan. “Every 3-6 months our editors are changing what we’re looking for so don’t just assume the pitch that worked last time will work again.”

Attending this WMPRSA event taught me something new and expanded upon my existing knowledge of storytelling, pitching press releases, and creating content that connects. Be sure to look out for upcoming WMPRSA events in the future, for they take what you learn in the classroom to another level (they also provide lunch and discounted rates for students).

Bri is a senior at GVSU majoring in Advertising and Public Relations with an emphasis in PR. She is also passionate about photography and the creativity behind it. One of Bri’s favorite aspects of PR is media relations. She is an eager, motivated, and curious student that is excited to serve as President  of GVSU PRSSA this year.