Creating content using original research can be an effective way to earn media coverage for any business. But how do you capture the media’s attention? One easy way is to create newsworthy content that resonates with the news cycle.
When we say “news cycle” we’re talking about the period over which the media covers stories. Whether it’s from broadcast to broadcast, or print edition to print edition. But the question remains, how long is a news cycle?
In today’s digital age, publications have the ability to publish news online at any given time. Which is why we often hear it referred to as the “24/7 news cycle.” The 24-hour news cycle gives journalists and media outlets alike enough time to cover a variety of stories, many of which would have been ignored for the sake of saving time or fitting into a narrower news cycle.
The main requirement for journalists and editors when filling that news cycle with stories is “newsworthiness.” Which, in layman’s terms, is an assessment of how relevant and interesting a piece of information is to their specific audience.
Tip #1 for producing newsworthy content: know your target publication’s audience, and make content they’d care about.
Relative to the actual story, and thus the audience, the term ‘news cycle’ refers to the pattern of a story’s rise and fall from public interest. The American Press Institute refers to this as the ‘personal news cycle.’
How do you curate your content so that it hits the news cycle at just the right time? We’ve found that topics that are not only timely and new, but also impactful, resonate well with journalists. That seems like a tall order, but the topics aren’t as hard to nail down as you might think.
In creating our own research, we rely heavily on five types of topics: evergreen, data, ‘Unicorn Events,’ seasonal holidays, and local events. Let’s break them down.
Cycles are, well, cyclical – and the news cycle is no exception. Certain topics are guaranteed to play well year after year, especially those that speak to the human experience. Their target audience is broader, and therefore the window of relevancy is greater. We call these topics “evergreen” because they don’t rely on an event, holiday, or news story to be relevant. As a result, evergreen story ideas can be covered whenever there’s an opening or a slower news day within the 24 hour news cycle.
In our own research and content creation, evergreen topics have lent themselves to some of our best-performing pieces of content. With that research, we’ve earned placements in high-DA publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
Here’s the proof:
Because package theft and porch pirates are consistent and common worries around the holidays, we explored the theme two years in a row for two different clients. For the first, we used search trend data to analyze the cities searching for stolen package-related terms the most. For the second, we surveyed people across the country about their experience with package theft and the lengths they go to in order to protect their packages.
Another common complaint, no matter the time of year – and thus the perfect evergreen topic? Robocalls. We recently created a series surrounding the topic for a client by using two datasets: one to determine which states get the most robocalls and a set of survey results to determine how often Americans receive them.
All of these pieces tapped into the news cycle and played extremely well because of their ability to be localized, their relevance, and their evergreen timeliness.
Consumer studies also offer incredible insights and data to take advantage of. You probably see dozens of consumer studies each week, but they don’t dawn on you as sources of content marketing creations.
Take, for example, this consumer study we conducted on monthly subscription budgets. After asking 2,000 Americans about their monthly spend on things like cable television, media streaming, and subscription boxes, we assessed the accuracy of those estimates through getting a detailed inventory of those costs. In the end, we found that 84% underestimated their monthly subscription spend.
That study earned more than 130 media placements, including in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, NBC News, Forbes, and Business Insider.
Consumer research identifies preferences, attitudes, and behaviors of customers on a wide variety of topics across both the country and the globe. Those insights? Priceless. It’s never been easier to make the connection between a topic and an audience and put a human interest spin on it in order to make it relevant.
What’s another foolproof way to tap into the news cycle? Using hard data to craft quality content campaigns. Data opens the door to boundless content opportunities, including year-over-year comparisons and year-specific pieces. But with so many data sources out there, finding one that lends itself to newsworthy content can feel overwhelming.
Journalists love data because data is hard to dispute. News consumers want to see cold hard facts. When you use data and analyze data in your content and pitch it to journalists and editors, you’re taking much of the legwork needed to produce their stories and handing content to them on a silver platter.
Bonus Tip #2: Tap into the news cycle by making journalists jobs easier with data-driven stories.
If you’ve never used data in a content setting before, start simple.
Use easily accessible tools such as Google Trends and Data.gov to get a feel for navigating datasets. Some of our favorites include Google AdWords, U.S. Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Another great, free resource: Pew Research Center. Based in Washington, D.C., Pew is a fact tank constantly surveying the American people and conducting research and analyses about every topic imaginable. These topics include U.S. politics, journalism, religion, and demographics and are released both annually and, when it comes to timely topics, on a rolling basis.
We’ve relied on the Center’s data (including their State of the News Media report and Covid-19 research) not only to help shape our ideas, but to enhance our work with reputable research.
Once in a blue moon, something we like to call a “Unicorn Event” occurs. In a nutshell, a unicorn event feels like a once-in-a-lifetime happening that you didn’t see coming and thus newsworthy.
Because of their newsworthiness, these events lend themselves to your content strategy if you can determine a unique approach to the topic. And that uniqueness is key here: without a doubt, a unicorn event will be the talk of the town. You’ll have no choice but to figure out a way to make your coverage stand out.
We’ve had a major unicorn event recently: Covid-19. Since March, Covid-19 has dominated the news cycle both nationally and locally. We took advantage of this and created two content campaigns that earned media placements in Healthline, Adweek, and more.
So how did we create content relevant to this once-in-a-lifetime event and how did we make sure it stuck out?
First, we identified holes in the coverage. Which angles were being talked about, and which weren’t? How could we take advantage of that? We identified three key places: how Americans consumed news during Covid-19, where people were looking to get involved with relief efforts, and how the media was covering the pandemic.
We then conducted our own research in analyzing Google search trends, surveying Americans about news consumption, and utilizing the Wayback Machine. In the end, we produced three relevant, timely, and newsworthy content campaigns: How Americans Consume News During Covid-19, Waking Up to Covid-19: An Analysis of American Media Coverage, and Covid-19 Crisis: Where people are looking to help.
Covid-19 didn’t just change Digital Third Coast’s content plans. We were able to use the event to our clients’ advantages, too. By conducting research about the ways in which Americans were impacted by Covid-19, we made their content even more timely and newsworthy, with topics such as IRS stimulus checks, pet adoptions, and emergency funds.
Nothing lends itself to the cyclical nature of news coverage quite like a holiday or seasonal event. To tap into that angle of the news cycle, you’ll need to cater your content specifically to events that happen each year – whether they’re as silly as National Dog Day or as traditional as Thanksgiving or Christmas.
There are almost as many national “holidays” that lend themselves to content as there are days in a year. Planning content around days as nonsensical as National Donut Day (June 5) or as important as tax day (April 15) or election day (November 3) gives your business a unique vantage point when it comes to the news cycle.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to this type of content. You can even take into account holidays such as Black Friday, Labor Day, and Memorial Day and use them to your advantage. Which stories are relevant? What type of data can you gather that will play well in a local news market?
We’ve tackled this sort of day for a number of clients with great results. Most recently, we took advantage of everyone’s least favorite day of the year: tax day. By analyzing search volume of terms related to tax filing in cities across the country, we were able to determine which cities were home to the biggest procrastinators. This played well because the topic was both local and timely.
But there was more to it this year, though. While the tax deadline is usually April 15, Covid-19 delayed the filing deadline to July 15. By using year-over-year data, we were able to incorporate an additional angle to the story and speak to the difference in the number of people who filed after tax day in 2019 and 2020. In the end, our research on tax procrastinators earned more than 100 media placements.
Content focused on more-acknowledged holidays are sure to play well in the news cycle. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are some of the major holidays that we’ve seen earn a lot of media attention, most often when the topics are directly related to the holiday itself.
Last Halloween, we analyzed search trends to determine each state’s favorite Halloween candy. While some states agreed and some vehemently opposed our findings, journalists ate it up (pun intended). Thanks to the research’s timeliness, localization, and relevance, the piece went viral and secured more than 570 media placements, including BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and the New York Post.
When it comes to holidays, stay close to the topic and consider a variety of data sources to create the most compelling story. Resources that have year-over-year data, surveys, and search trends on related topics are great places to start.
Identify how your specific business or industry relates to the holiday and produce content around that. Sticking with the Halloween example, you may be wondering “what content is relevant to my business and Halloween?” Are you in financial services? Look at how people are spending money.
Maybe your business is in the healthcare sector, you can explore topics around health of candy or over-consumption. The possibilities of tangential research topics are out there if you just get creative.
It doesn’t matter how great your content is – if you don’t understand the holiday news cycle or don’t know how and when to pitch around the holidays, it’s dead on arrival. It’s best to get in front of journalists early, about two or three weeks out from the holiday. Once your pitches are out, don’t be afraid to follow up! We make a practice of sending multiple follow-ups in the days leading up to a holiday, especially for local news outlets.
Have you noticed a theme in how to tap into a news cycle? It’s all about angles. Journalists and readers alike love to look at stories that mention their region and audience specifically – think things like maps and city rankings.
These pieces also lend themselves to syndication across high-DA websites, thus amplifying total coverage. In Layman’s terms: The more localized your content, the better chance you have of tapping into the news cycle.
In 2018, we began to shift our content creation and outreach strategy to cater more to local news. In 2019, half of our total media coverage was earned in local news markets – altogether, we earned more than 1,500 placements in local publications in all 50 states and 477 cities.
When it comes to creating content that plays well in a local news market, it’s not as difficult as you might think to access regionally-specific data. In fact, it can be done any of the ways you’d go about getting national data: through search volume analyses, social media scrapes, surveys, and government data.
Like their national-level cousins, these datasets provide boundless opportunities for human interest stories – just on a smaller, more specific scale. They, too, lend themselves to stories focused on the who, what, when, where, and why of life. Plus, a city-specific pitch is far more likely to grab a journalist’s attention than a general one.
We recently analyzed search trends to determine each state’s favorite Super Bowl recipe. Not only was this research local and timely, but it also answered the question of “who is making what” – and it worked. When partnered with a local pitch, this research was used by more than 170 media outlets across the country, most local, in their own reporting.
By now, you know that getting your name out there is the best way to build consumer awareness. You also know that aside from word of mouth, the best way to do so is to break into the news cycle and earn media coverage. How do you do so? By conducting your own research on newsworthy topics – because the media wants new insights on things that matter from a reputable source.
While identifying topics deemed as newsworthy may not seem intuitive, it’s far simpler than you might imagine. Focus on the big things: topics that always matter (cyclical, evergreen, and holidays), research backed by data, “Unicorn Events,” and, most importantly, localized data. In doing so, you’ll see more media attention and, in turn, more name recognition and increased visibility.
Want to learn more about earning news coverage and increasing visibility for your business? Check out some of our other articles on digital PR: