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
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
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.