High and Tight: Pitching the Other Side of the Story to the Press

marianoOne of the more interesting aspects of public relations and media relations for me involves the idea of pitching a complete story to the press, including – when appropriate – the contrarian or other side of the story. Why would I provide/include something that could be perceived as negative to my client, company or cause?

Comes down to a couple of reasons:

– The media is supposed to tell a well-rounded news story (I know, that topic can be for another blog). I’m not talking about commentaries, editorials or the such, but for the “just the facts” side of the fence; all aspects of a story should be reported.

– If I can give them the “full story” I have a better shot of having it run.

– Whether it is providing third-party information, an analyst or trade reporter who covers my industry or the name of a spokesperson I know has a different view, I’m helping the reporter/producer by doing some of their homework for them (I’m also framing the story as best I can).

Sounds intriguing Andy, but do you have an example? Why yes, yes I do.

I cut my teeth from a media relations perspective during my time at Planned Television Arts (now Media Connect); where we specialized in promoting books through radio, television and print interviews. We worked with the big publishing houses on all matter of topics – – business, celebrity, self-help, lifestyle, etc. – – and it was all about determining what the compelling story was for the appropriate audience.

Now this took place sometime about 1994-1995, so please forgive me if some of the details are off a bit, but the thinking still holds true today and is a solid case study of sorts. Back in the day, we were working with a publisher and two authors (both doctors) on a book they had written about the different health benefits of drinking wine.

One of the chapters focused on the premise that if you were pregnant and routinely had a glass of red wine prior to being pregnant, there were no health risks to having a glass during your pregnancy (throughout the book, the doctors mentioned to always check with a physician before doing anything). This was the chapter we decided to focus on in promoting the book.

Compelling? Check. Controversial? You bet. Publisher and authors wanted to go after national television. To do so, we said, we would want to finish the story for the national press by providing them with the other viewpoint. We explained that for a national segment, the press will want/need to get the other side of the story and if we could give them that side, all the better.

Here’s the thing (there is always a thing). As a public relations professional, we need to know when it is necessary/appropriate to provide the other side of the story. We also need to be strategic in providing a contrarian view that is reputable but not so great in what they that they undermine your messages.

We asked the doctors what groups would have some strong feelings about their chapter. They mentioned an organization whose cause was Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and said they have had conversations with the organization’s spokeswoman.

To make a long blog short (too late), we reached out to the organization, provided their spokesperson with an advance copy of the chapter and got her to agree to make herself available for interviews.

Larry King Live and Today.

Both producers used our people exclusively for their segments because we did their homework for them. Larry King was first and Today was the following morning (we had the better looking doctor do both interviews and flew him into the Today Show from DC while the woman did the Today interview via satellite – – whenever possible I’ve found it better to do interviews, especially controversial, in-person). We didn’t spokesperson train their person or give her insights we came across from talking to the producers, etc.

Suffice to say, the segments went very well. Publisher and authors were pleased, producers thanked us for helping with the segments and the opposing organization was happy to be included and felt they got their messages across. Reality is, the fourth estate is strapped for time and resources. A good pitch including all sides of the story readily available is going to be a tremendous help.

What do you think? Does it make sense to include the contrarian side of things? In my next blog I’ll talk about responding to a press inquiry and completing that story in such a manner that best represents your client or company.

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4 thoughts on “High and Tight: Pitching the Other Side of the Story to the Press

  1. I definitely agree. When you show both sides of things from the start people are more likely to trust what you are saying to them and be more apt to be curious about the subject. They will also have a more rounded opinion on the subject rather than just believing the first thing that is told to them.

  2. As a junior public relations major, I found this post very insightful. It’s refreshing to know that there are other people in the profession that think this way. I specifically liked when you said “As a public relations professional, we need to know when it is necessary/appropriate to provide the other side of the story.” This can be tricky, but i believe it is always important to show both sides.

    1. Thanks, Bethany. We want to control the message as best we can which means telling the complete story and providing – when possible – all sides. If you believe/know that “your side” is right, any question/statement the oppossing side brings up is nothing more than a great opportunity to get your messages across. Good luck to you.

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