If you’re familiar with the content marketing side of our agency, you know we love original research. It’s a great way to present clients as industry leaders and offer something informative, rather than promotional, to the media.
But we want to let you in on a little secret about original research: You don’t need to spend months on exhaustive studies to create “newsworthy” research-based content. News coverage of data-based content tends to center around one or two data points. In fact, focusing on a few key data points can be the difference maker that sees your content going viral.
Powerful, standalone, statistics make the best types of news headlines. You can gain a competitive advantage by highlighting your strongest data during media outreach. By creating a clear narrative, you’re more likely to earn coverage for your digital PR campaign by making it easier for journalists to find the story they’re looking for.
Identifying data points that grab the media’s attention takes some practice. But if you’re a savvy news consumer, it’s not hard to pick out statistics that could lead a news story.
If you were given the following five data points, all from an actual survey we conducted about Americans’ news consumption habits during the Covid-19 pandemic, could you identify the likely headlines?
Which data points stand out to you? While they’re all interesting in their own right, some are “supplemental” rather than “leading.”
The first point, while informative, is not shocking to journalists or their target audiences. Similarly the statistic, “65% feel overwhelmed by media coverage” is not all that surprising given today’s climate. While neither of these statistics are likely to lead a news story, they do offer solid supplemental data.
The two statistics about social media, on the other hand, are new, compelling, and controversial. We ended up pitching these stats to journalists and found tremendous success.
These were the most common headlines by media who shared our research:
We were able to leverage just a handful of powerful statistics from our research to secure media coverage. Rather than summarize our report in a lengthy press release, we led with the data headlines. From there, journalists read the full content piece and snuff out the rest of the details if they were interested. Usually, the rest of the details never make the cut.
How do we know – or guess – what journalists are looking for? Keeping up with current events: our outreach team always has one ear to the news cycle, from Twitter feeds to checking the news coverage of each subject before strategizing outreach and thinking through how to write newsworthy headlines.
Any content piece will have tons of possible angles and data within it, but thinking about how to structure your content piece will make outreach – and therefore, your ability to turn data stories into news headlines – easier. If a piece has a few standout statistics, put them towards the top, and downgrade the page position of more contextual information.
Journalists – if they make it to your content page – are already interested. Make their lives easier by starting your content piece with your most newsworthy statistics placed prominently at the top. Barring that, include some anchor links – links that, when clicked on, ‘jump’ to a portion of the page – to help save your journalist some scrolling.
With regards to the actual content, to pitch newsworthy data, you need to have newsworthy data. Luckily, newsworthy data doesn’t have to be exhaustive.
When we developed the content piece on Americans’ news consumption, we broke the survey results into sections of likely headlines. This helped us organize our research so that we could easily flag the most newsworthy statistics from a sea of information.
It’s not that we’re not proud of our research in its entirety, however, to get media attention you can’t bury the lede with tons of statistics.
Reporters and editors are bombarded with thousands of pitches every day. They don’t have time to go through an extensive release summarizing a report, so we spell it out for them in a simple, direct pitch that showcases just a few key data headlines we think convert well to news headlines.
Here is a statement about current events/human nature that relates to our research. But did you know, “x” new data point? We did a survey/analyzed databases/scoured the internet and pulled these newsworthy stats for you.
Have we gotten your attention with these potential headlines? Read the full research report here.
Digital Third Coast
Now, this is not exactly what we include in our pitches, but it’s a rough template that’s proven to work well for promoting our research-based content!
To better understand how you can sell your data to journalists, you have to understand how to write a news headline.
There are different types of headlines, but the best news headlines have several qualities in common: they’re succinct, they are accurate, they must connect to the ordinary reader, they attract attention, and they set the tone or expectations of the article.
Unlike writing a paper or a blog post, writing headlines requires a sense of storytelling and a nose for what makes news. A great headline captures attention rather than summarizing something in its entirety. Oftentimes, the best headlines highlight only the most captivating element of a story.
Look critically at the various elements of your data. Which ones can stand alone, and which ones are supplementary? Once you separate out the “winners,” you can more easily pitch them clear, headline-worthy angles.
We created a study about how job seekers “scrub” their social media profiles for a client of ours who specializes in employee background checks. This particular topic was both relevant to our client’s services and newsworthy in its universal familiarity.
The survey consisted of 25-plus questions, which yielded dozens of combinations of statistics. Ultimately, we curated the data for our graphic visualization, and even further for our pitch.
Here’s what it looked like on our client’s original blog post:
After evaluating all the statistics produced in this research, we primarily highlighted just two in our pitches. We pitched, “82% of job seekers keep their social media private,” as a possible headline, and included data points that supported that revelation as supplemental information. In many ways, our pitches function as a rough sketch of a more in depth story.
The content campaign earned more than 65 linking media placements. Of which, 38% used the exact statistic “82%” in their headline, and an additional 39% used a version of the statistic as their headline.
In a separate consumer survey for a market research client, we focused on the topic of package theft. While the survey produced dozens of newsworthy statistics, it was clear that the leading data point revolved around the universality of package theft: “36% of Americans have had a package stolen, and more than half know someone who’s been victimized by package theft.”
When we check this stat against the requirements for good news headlines, it meets all the thresholds. It’s easy to explain, it’s something the audience at-large can identify with, it attracts attention, and it sets the tone.
The content campaign earned more than 250 placements, many from local news. A large portion of local links stemmed from syndication across television stations, newspapers, and radio. Nearly all of the local placements featured this statistic.
Our analysis found 15% of the data headlines directly referenced the “36%” statistic, while 48% used a more general headline about porch piracy, which was also leveraged in our media pitch.
Not all easily leveraged data comes from surveys. We’ve found great success analyzing and leveraging information from pre-existing databases. We just take the data and frame it in a way that makes it more likely to generate newsworthy headlines.
To do this, we package the data in a format that is easily digested by local media and feels important to their audiences. A perfect example of such analysis is a content campaign we created about cities with the most Airbnbs per capita.
We analyzed Airbnb rental data for the largest cities in the country. We then compared the number of rentals to the city’s population size and created a simple ranking.
In this case we only had two data points per city: Airbnbs per capita, and total number of Airbnb rentals. Some content creators might think that it was an insufficient amount of data, but we disagree. Our experience taught us that you only need one or two powerful statistics to earn media coverage. So, why spend more time and client dollars on lengthy research, when you can produce more succinct data campaigns that produce just enough data to leverage media coverage?
This campaign earned more than 80 media placements. Of them, 53% bore a headline with the local statistics we pitched to the media in each community from the ranking.
An additional 20% used a more generalized headline for their articles, but ran a story entirely based on our local statistics.
Why does this localizing data strategy work so well? Reporters often don’t have time to identify databases and do the hours of research it takes to synthesize and manipulate data. When information is pre-packaged with a ready-made local headline, it’s hard for journalists to resist.
Beyond that, it’s a way for communities to contextualize a data story. It’s much easier to grasp something that is already familiar; localized data brings the story home to the audience. Rather than focus on how many Airbnbs there are in the US, analyzing data on a city-by-city or state-by-state basis contextualizes it for local audience and adds key elements of direct relevance and familiarity to an otherwise abstract story.
Does their community have an abnormally high number of rental properties? Or, are there very few? What does that say about their tourism or attractiveness as a community? All of these questions make for a great news story any reporter would want to run with.
At the end of the day, local news loves content and data headlines that are locally relevant.
We hope you walk away from this blog with two main takeaways about data storytelling and the importance of a good headline:
Be proud of all your data, but be critical enough to decide which data has the power to carry the show, and which data is just part of the ensemble cast. If you’re looking for guidance, do a simple Google search for phrases like “new study reveals,” and “according to new data” to pick up on trends in how the media covers data-driven stories.
For more insights into how we leverage data for media coverage and focus on local media placements, check out some of our other blog posts: