Tough times boost appetite for good news

With a few exceptions, the state of the beleaguered economy has dominated news reports in recent months. Media outlets are tempering that onslaught with a smattering of positive stories.

With a few exceptions, the state of the beleaguered economy has dominated news reports in recent months. Media outlets – including NBC News, which this month asked readers to pitch feel-good items – are tempering that onslaught with a smattering of positive stories. This lets agencies and their clients know that there is a market for upbeat stories on the air or in print during dour times.

Especially attractive to media outlets are tales of ordinary people enduring extraordinary pressure, says Ryan Richert, VP of media services at Edelman.

“We feel so helpless when we watch this drumbeat of negative news,” he says. “It's the average Joe who does something unique to counter the recession. That empowers Americans to say, ‘I'm not a helpless victim of this recession.'”

Among the best recent examples of everyday people exhibiting grace and consistency under fire are Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and the crew of US Airways Flight 1549. The now-world-famous pilot safely executed an emergency landing in the Hudson River off Manhattan on January 15, saving 155 passengers. Edelman assisted US Airways in managing media requests for Sullenberger and his colleagues.

“There was an extreme appetite for good news, and people were willing to wait several weeks to interview the captain and crew,” says Richert. He adds that while his firm didn't have to actively pitch the in-demand Sullenberger, a relevant news angle is often a key part of even positive recession-era stories.

“It has to be tied to the news of the day and people have to relate to it,” he explains.

Clients who can tie value and social responsibility to their brands also have a leg up. Weber Shandwick's beauty client Suave touts itself as a low-cost, but quality choice. The brand has been featured on Today discussing beauty on a budget.

Two other WS clients, PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving), a no-kill Chicago animal shelter, and pet-food company Pedigree, were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show after the host adopted a dog from PAWS, says Michael Schiferl, EVP and director of media relations for WS.

“If you have a client whose mission or brand essence is about [value or social responsibility], it's a more natural fit at a time when people are turning to it,” he notes.

Consumers themselves are also getting an opportunity to pitch positive story ideas related to the poor economy. On March 4, Brian Williams, anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, requested on the The Daily Nightly blog that viewers “tell us your good news.”

Williams asked for instances of people doing good in their communities or “a random or regular act of kindness in a cruel economy,” a request he echoed on-air.

The public responded strongly. As of March 10, the post received 61,000 views and 850 comments, far surpassing the numbers generated by the entries around it.

“We've heard from viewers, and Brian has been told by people on the street, ‘Just give me some good news each night,'” Bob Epstein, executive producer of NBC Nightly News, notes in an e-mail to PRWeek. The program has selected five stories to profile for its “Making a Difference” segment, he adds.

“The ‘Making a Difference' series has been part of the Nightly News franchise for years,” Epstein's e-mail continues. “This is just an extension of it that will hopefully cheer a few people up.”

In addition, the public always craves entertainment news, which is proving to be economy-proof, even when the Dow Jones is dropping on an almost daily basis.

“People still want their escape into OK! Magazine and [they] are still watching Oprah,” adds Schiferl.

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