MEDIA: How intruder revealed the world of story-selling

Selling a story to a wide range of media outlets is meat and drink to any competent PR person, which is why I wanted to share my experience of the process from a journalist’s perspective.

Selling a story to a wide range of media outlets is meat and drink

to any competent PR person, which is why I wanted to share my experience

of the process from a journalist’s perspective.



Last month an intruder walked into my house through an unlocked side

gate and french windows while I was in the garden. He was discovered by

my 12 year-old daughter, rifling through my husband’s wardrobe. As he

tried to run out of the front door with a stuffed bin liner I tackled

him. My children came to my aid but I was beaten up. My eldest

daughter’s boyfriend saved the day by hitting the robber with a pogo

stick. As the police said, it was an unusual case.



This is what happened next. That week I was writing the diary for the

New Statesman. Bruised and shaken, my original plan, to describe

schmoozing with media big wigs was abandoned. The incident formed the

core: it was the only material I had. As I sent the article in, worried

it was not as advertised, the deputy editor asked me if I was sure I

wanted them to have it. What she meant was it had legs.



On the day of publication, both the Daily Mail and the Telegraph wanted

the story, evidence of converging editorial agendas. The pogo stick was

the key eye-catching detail. The Telegraph reacted fastest. They wanted

me to double the account, adding more personal information, about my

children, feelings and (absent) husband, who’d boxed at Oxford

University. But they added a sensational image on publication: a

burglar’s fist smashing through a window. Our intruder walked off the

street.



But the presentation immediately caused Woman’s Own to request a

follow-up. The magazine won my respect for professionalism. It excised

references to my gardener (who’d been shipping compost to the back

garden via the open side gate) and Oxford. They took a sharply-focused

colour photo, on a Sunday morning of me and my daughter looking homely.

Kilroy also followed up the Telegraph; they focused on how my daughter

felt. And then Crimewatch ran the item last week: no-one bothered to

tell us it was coming on, a PR boob.



One moral is that a good story, told well, sells itself. The other is

that audiences are incredibly self-contained. The New Statesman only

sells 25,000 copies, but I now know it to be read by almost every

influential media type around: I’ve had spur of the moment sympathy

calls from some of the UK’s most powerful executives.



The Telegraph’s article reached my mother-in-law but few other

acquaintances.



I knew it had come out in Woman’s Own when the local newsagent’s wife

held up a huge queue talking about it. I only knew about Crimewatch

using it through my daughter’s friends. And the tale’s still running.

Although I wish it had never happened, it’s been quite an experience.



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