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That’s not news! Telling the difference between news and advertising

Today’s overwhelmingly online communication environment presents society with many challenges, not the least of which is determining what is genuine news, in the true sense of the word. In a time when the self-publishing of content by both organisations and individuals is simple and prolific, there has emerged a real challenge to achieve understanding about what constitutes real news, ie that which will be of interest to professional news organisations and of value to their audiences.

Many would say that companies and commentators are saturating journalists with pitches that are frankly, unpublishable. According to a survey published by Fractl, 43 per cent of top tier publishers receive between five and 50 pitches per week, and the remaining 57 per cent receive between 50 and 500 pitches. In order to ensure your story stands out from the deluge of corporate content, you need to know the difference between a real story and a marketing message.

While different media outlets exist to appeal to different audiences, some more niche than others, there are few news organisations (industry or mainstream) whose audiences are interested in the minutiae of your day-to-day business. It is harsh perhaps, but true that what may be exciting to you may not be even of passing interest to others. And herein lies the skill of journalism and, in fact, public relations.

News media simply do not want to know about every appointment, every new product, or every minor deal that a company has done. Just like the child who switches off to the constant demand for chores done by their parent, journalists will switch off to your company’s message entirely if you continue to pepper them with what they consider to be irrelevant or uninteresting to their audience. What do you do when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the radio? You turn the music off. That’s what journalists will do if you are pushing boring material day after day. When they begin to feel overloaded, they will simply stop reading and block your emails.

This presents a challenge for organisations because while some company information can be easily identified as “not news”, it may be not quite so clear with other information.

Here are some things to think about …

Are you announcing something boring?

This is the first question you need to ask yourself, and it’s a hurdle that many stories struggle to clear. While it may be hard to step outside of your business and look at stories from the perspective of the general public, it’s an important thing to do. While a new product or a new appointment may seem like a revolution from your perspective, you need to think about how these things will be perceived by people outside your business.

Ask yourself, “So what…”. So, what will this mean for people in the street? So, how many people will be affected by this product/service/announcement? The more people affected/impacted the more newsworthy your announcement may be.

Are you leading the story with a sales pitch?

While you may be using media to push your latest product, it’s important to remember that an advertisement for your latest product isn’t a news story. Think about why a news organisation (and their audience) should care about the product. Is it innovative? Is it the first of its kind? Is it being made locally? As any journalist will tell you, if you want advertising in the newspaper, call the advertising department.

Are you talking like a marketer?

While it’s tempting to try to insert all your brand language and marketing messages into a story, the reality is that if you want to deliver this sort of message, you need to pay for it. Any journalist or editor worth their salt won’t just give up valuable space, in print, online or during a broadcast, to advertisements. Your story needs to read like a news story, with facts and insights, not slogans.

With the deluge of content being published every day, with advertising features (which look like news but aren’t), and content streams on social media, the lines between editorial and advertorial are blurred. It’s very easy to lose sight of the fundamental differences between a news story and, well, something else.

However, by starting with a clear understanding of news values and an appreciation of the role of journalism, you can make sure that your stories get told.