The equal and opposite action of reacting to trending news and then coat tail riding the story of the day with your expert opinions – is the seeded or placed story. This is where you set your own news agenda in the form of a bespoke narrative.
News reaction through parasitic means and its opposite, News procreation, really do work together in harmony to steadily build and maintain media profile.
They go together like a hand in a glove. Or a hammer and anvil, the military technique involving the use of two primary forces, one to pin down an enemy, and the other to smash the opponent.
You certainly don’t want one without the other in terms of the long-term building of a robust profile.
You see a number of faces on ITV This Morning or GB News that appear as experts regularly whether it’s Medical or to do with the Construction Industry. But then that’s the only place you ever see or hear about them. They’re not outputting any of their own native content into the public domain whatsoever. Just take take take in the form of grabbing an existing story breaking in the news and having a strong opinion about it, on either side of the narrative divide.
Former Channel 4 Chairman and CEO of Risk Capital, Luke Johnson, is an example of someone who has got a healthy mix of news reaction and news procreation in terms of his public persona. With his regular ‘The Maverick’ columns over the years for the Sunday Telegraph, these all got turned into a book, The Maverick: Dispatches From An Unrepentant Capitalist. Now he’s in the Sunday Times with a weekly column, only paused briefly in 2019 when Patisserie Valerie, which he chaired, went down, to let the dust settle. His new book Start It Up: Why Running Your Own Business Is Easier Than You Think has put him back in the author stakes. Twitter acts as one big news reaction opportunity for Johnson, where he risks his own reputation for what he believes in with regards to his extremely strong views about the wiping out of our freedoms. On the back of this, bookers from news channels cherry-pick what he’s saying about Covid, Climate, our fundamental freedoms and the Economy and book him regularly to discuss his views on breaking stories.
Toby Young, head of the Free Speech Union, keeps working the two techniques. He’ll write books like How To Win Friends And Alienate People but also regularly stands up for Freedom of Expression rights of people right across the political spectrum and attacks trending stories in this space as an expert.
While parasiting is a ‘quick hit’, the procreation bit can often be a bit more involved, just like it is in real life!
No matter how well-intentioned and thought through your proactive grand announcement might be, backed up with tonnes of field research, the paid-for PR Newswire release to 100,000 or 1,000,000 contacts can so often go into a vacuum. Often with no rhyme or reason. It just misses completely. You send out your wonderful communication and the world seemingly falls into total silence.
Any journalist will tell you that press releases so often miss the fundamentals of narrative.
When they’re sent out, so often all the juice has been drained from them, in a diluted, bland form. A shadow of their former selves after edit after edit by a committee.
Journalists field between 300 and 1,000 press releases every day.
That’s an awful lot of well-thought-through releases wanting to fertilise a very finite number of eggs.
There is a very finite quota of stories pertaining to a particular Subject area in any media outlet including radio and television just like there is in a national newspaper.
This breaks down into National news subdivided up into Crime, Health, Environment, Consumer etc. Lifestyle which includes wellbeing, fashion and cooking. International news. Local news. Opinion. Features. Entertainment such as TV, cinema and travel. Business. Sport.
There’s only a quota of 2 or 3 stories in each of the categories that will ever see the light of day each day. The rest will fall by the wayside.
All the releases swimming like sperm have to not only prove to be the strongest, but also pass a full MOT test.
Is there evidence provided for the claims made in the story? If not, it makes the media outlet liable to be sued. Does the story fit a typical preordained story-genre that journalists are familiar with so they recognise it as a story in the first place?
But then ironically, does the outer edge of the story seemingly explode and shatter pre-held beliefs or norms?
The fresh, breaking story is generally the collision of two fundamental opposites – a hostile act – to create a new.
A newspaper is full of hundreds of these ‘mini deaths’.
The French call an orgasm la petite mort. This means “the brief loss or weakening of consciousness” but most importantly, “the sensation post orgasm as likened to a mini death”.
Stories that get across the line are essentially the collision of opposities, or ‘deaths’ which creates the new realisation.
Interestingly, if you take a look at a Thesaurus, the definitions of ‘Collision’ and ‘Creation’ are antonymous, having the opposite meaning. The Collision Noun means the forceful coming together of two things.
But importantly, it’s through the Collison or Destruction, that comes the new Creation.
But fundamentally, it needs the Collision first.
That is the whole basis of the news agenda, and how and why your proactive content can form a part of it.
The leveraging, placing or seeding of the story so often occurs with just one particular journalist ‘taking the punt’.
In the spirit of the news being a ‘mini death’ and hostile act, placement often requires a bit of force, persuasion and a ‘firm handshake’ which might sometimes turn into an arm wrestle – never a brawl!
Always be polite. Have a sense of humour. But also be firm.
You’re in the process of casting off hundreds of other me-too similar stories that all seem rather similar. But in your case you’re proving yours wins in the Survival of the Fittest Hunger Games.
The placement with a single journalist can then be followed up, when the story finally breaks in The Guardian, Daily Mail or Sunday Times, with a mass send out to a BCC or personalised Mail-merged list of thousands of journalists who might then pile in with their own versions of the same story – because now it has currency in the form of the story running somewhere else.
I’ve done this the other way round quite often as well. A general wire out of the story has gone out to a broad list of contacts first, but where seemingly no one is biting.
In actual fact, no one wanted to be first off the block and were simply waiting and watching who else would go first and break the news.
As soon as just one outlet ran the story, with a bit of manual prompting and pushing in by me, the entire global media was ablaze writing the same story.
This is what happened when, during the 40th anniversary year of the Sex Pistols single Anarchy in the UK being released, I said that the son of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, the late manager of the Sex Pistols, was going to burn his £5,000,000 punk memorabilia collection in protest about the way that the corporate world had appropriated punk. There was a Virgin Punk credit card. McDonalds had done punk McNuggets.
So this was widely released first. Single placement second.
Generally, its single placement first, then wider release second.
PR advice: Seeding a story is equally important to news reaction