Reverse Engineer Your Story-Telling

May 22, 2019

A couple of years ago, a client of mine who launched a health IT startup, marveled at the number of healthcare entrepreneurs who came up with a cool idea and then went in search of a market for it. In most cases, he told me, this approach found them struggling to find a toe-hold. The smart play was to study the market first, identify and understand the core challenges of the market’s customers, then develop a solution to overcome those challenges.

This very same problem afflicts many health IT companies when pitching the media. A company’s marketer or PR pro will identify a story about the company’s leadership, success with a client or the development of a new innovation then set out to find a reporter to write it up and publish it.

More often than not, the results leave much to be desired.

For sustained PR success, your content needs to fit the contours of whatever narrative or story journalists and editors are focusing on and that requires an ability to reverse-engineer those stories to match the priorities of the target journalist.

While you may believe that the story you want to tell is important, people outside of your organization probably don’t feel the same way at least, not without some modifications. It’s a hard lesson to internalize, I know. I have been fortunate to work with clients who I really believe in, but the inherent risk of that positive sentiment is an inability to look at a story from outside the four walls of the organization that wants to tell it.

While it’s tempting to jump right into the pool with a pitch, it’s often tactical and short-sighted. Even if you do generate a few quality media hits, they’ll be quickly pushed aside by the next piece of content and the one after that and the one after that.

When it comes to story-telling, I always start by asking my clients what results they want to achieve, then reverse-engineer a strategy to accomplish those goals. A friendly download will help set priorities and ensure that you are pursuing the right story-telling strategy.

For example, a company that wants to make a big splash at a massive conference like HIMSS should probably focus more on sponsored content buys for the main course, and use earned media as an extra side of gravy.

When earned media interviews and placements are the main prize, I like to start with a deeper, more granular narrative that aligns the client’s story with broader industry trends, research and compelling statistics and is collated into a pitch bible. This resource contains the main plot of the story the client wants to tell, but also includes a number of subplots and alternative narratives that allows me to cast my pitching net much wider.

It’s an extremely useful tool, because it allows you to quickly customize pitches based on a journalist’s priorities and beats. (You want to spend enough time on the front-end, so you can be quick and nimble on the back-end). It also allows you, as a marketer or PR pro, to see the forest for the trees; developing second and third wave pitching that will sustain over the course of weeks and months. This strategy also allows you to seamlessly align with other content developers, including marketers and social media managers for targeted outreach and creative amplification.

The writing of this broad narrative coincides with research into the target journalists and publications. What have they covered? Where are the logical places they will take their story-telling next? What specific hooks can I create that will convince them that my story is worth the time and effort to write?

Critically, how does all that research change they way I am telling my story and do those alterations still align with the client’s desired results?

In today’s environment, it’s no longer enough to have a story. Health IT is one of the most hyper-competitive industries around. Sustaining traction, much less enjoying inbound inquiries, in an ever-shrinking media environment is a constant challenge for all but the most well-known tech brands.

By identifying the challenges and desires of the media, you can reverse-engineer a story to meet those challenges and find enduring media success.

Matt Schlossberg

Matt is an award-winning journalist and editor with nearly 20 years experience in news and feature writing/editing; content strategy; marketing and brand journalism; book acquisitions and publishing; copywriting; digital content development; strategic communication planning; social media engagement strategies; multimedia presentation development; and editing on multiple platforms, including print, online, and digital publishing. He previously managed communications for HIMSS, and worked as a reporter.