How National News Decisions Are Made

by Dean S. Goldman, president, Goldman & Associates Public Relations

Few news broadcasts are as coveted by public relations professionals for exposure for their executive clients as the Marketplace program. Produced by Minnesota Public Radio and distributed by Public Radio International to more than 330 public radio stations nationally, Marketplace attracts more than 7.6 million listeners each week. Recently, we had the privilege of asking the Marketplace news team about how they decide what to put on the air.

Goldman & Associates: From a broadcaster’s perspective, what are the key criteria that make for a good story?

Marketplace: There are a few key questions to ask when you’re looking for a good story. Is it a timely topic? Is it a new angle on a topic that we haven’t heard before? Is there an obvious narrative thread? Does the topic touch the listener in a real and human way? Although a new book can be a good hook into bringing an author in, the book’s contents must fit the criteria above. It isn’t worth an interview JUST because it is new.

Goldman & Associates: What are some guidelines that companies – or their public relations firms -should follow when pitching a story idea?

Marketplace: Try to put together a short, descriptive, engaging pitch that you can e-mail to a Marketplace editor. Tell us the idea, who’s available to talk about it, and what their background is. We do read all pitches, and try to respond to all of them, but the sheer volume of pitches we receive on a daily basis makes that very difficult. The shorter the pitch, the tighter the story idea, the more likely it is to be read.

Goldman & Associates: How important is it that the story idea be recent and must it be of international or national relevance?

Marketplace: Since Marketplace is a daily show, one of our highest priorities is to ensure that our news is topical and timely. Our audience is principally U.S.-based, so stories of national relevance typically take precedence over international ones, but we do have substantial foreign coverage. International stories should be relatable to national topics or have an impact on the U.S.

Goldman & Associates: What are the worst faux pas that public relations firms or companies themselves make when contacting you and pitching a story idea? What are common errors that should be avoided? What are some really smart things to do?

Marketplace: Receiving multi-page pitches for a single story is the worst faux pas one can commit. The best idea? Put the important part of the story right at the top of your pitch. Don’t bury it in the 4th or 5th paragraph, or leave it in the attachment. Keep your pitch short and to the point, and if it relates to a current event or upcoming news hook, be sure to include that as well.

Goldman & Associates: How many stories are pitched to you by PR firms and companies on a given day and how many are selected to be produced?

Marketplace: We probably get about 100 pitches a day. Maybe one of those would be selected to be produced.

Goldman & Associates: What are some tips you can give CEOs when they are interviewed by Marketplace?
Marketplace: We know that our audience is intelligent and largely well-educated, but we don’t know in what field. An audience member might be a businessperson, but he or she might also be an anthropologist, or a classical pianist. So be yourself – but remember that many members of our audience won’t understand complex business-speak. Also, an overwhelming stream of numbers doesn’t translate well over radio. Leave the P/E ratios at home and just tell us in real, practical, down to earth terms how you manage your business.

Goldman & Associates: What do you feel are the inherent and different qualities required for a good business story in radio as opposed to television and the print media?

Marketplace: A great story translates across any medium. But in radio, it’s essential that a story have a human dimension. Complex theoretical language doesn’t translate well over airwaves. But if you can describe a story in engaging, human terms, anyone who tunes in can be turned on to your topic.

Goldman & Associates: What stories and individuals are among your best interviews and why?

Marketplace: A good interview could be about anything. We just did an interview about a fairly esoteric bit of securities law that was just fascinating. Why? The guest was able to break down the ideas into real, human terms that everyone could understand and appreciate, which is the meat of any great interview.

It’s clear from what the Marketplace team told us that good radio business news stories – and, in fact, good business stories for any news medium — are more about people than about dry numbers and theories. Work with these clearcut ideas, and your chances of hitting the media relations lottery will go up dramatically.