Once you start dabbling in the world of PR you hear the question “what’s the back story” quite a bit. In fiction the back story is the character’s history – it’s key to how much we identify and care about that person.
For news stories, and particularly for talk shows and feature ‘packages’ the back story is often more important than the actual product or service. Lance Armstrong is perhaps the best example of a great back story. Before he battled cancer, Lance was just another racer in a sport Americans cared little about. After winning his battle with cancer and subsequently becoming the Tour de France champion umpteen times we cared a great deal (as did the sponsors.) It’s the classic story of winning against all odds. We love it!
I had a client once that developed a beautiful card game based on the idea of teaching kids how and why to do random acts of kindness. Very nice product, but the reason behind that product was compelling. This woman had experienced the loss of a baby and was devastated. She finally was able to overcome her depression by practicing random acts of kindness. When she recovered she felt so strongly she created a way for others to learn about the powerful benefits of practicing random acts of kindness. Although sad, it’s an inspirational story, one that Montel Williams picked up on right away. Although she was hesitant to use it, people totally connected with her story.
It’s so important to put forth your STORY…editors and producers get tons of pitches on products and books and services all day long. If they fit into another story they’re developing you might get lucky. If you can create your own back story you’ll have a much better chance. Here are some steps to create a great back story:
Think about your own history. What obstacles have you overcome in your life? Illness, divorce, bankruptcy? What drove you to create your product or service in the first place? Be careful here…many people are quite humble and don’t realize how interesting they really are. Facing and overcoming a huge obstacle is always a great story.
Re-write your bio so that it covers all the struggles you’ve faced and your accomplishments, and make sure you include your volunteer work. Many journalists look at a bio first to see if there’s anything unique. Remember, news stories and features are about PEOPLE not THINGS.
Find research to support your story. For example, everyone knew statistically few survive Lance’s form of brain cancer. This made his story that much more dramatic. For the random act of kindness project, we found research that explained positive psychology. Editors and producers want FACTS to back up their stories.
Now write your pitch using the back story as the general theme, with supporting facts from reputable academics or foundations. Add the product or service as a footnote, not as the main idea. You might be surprised at what happens next!