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As an introvert who comes from an SEO and technical background, I approach publicity more methodically than traditional publicists. Many of them rely on relationships with journalists and bloggers to get article placements. Others use services through which reporters actively look for expert quotes for their stories. Finally, traditional publicists often blast out press releases. All of these methods have value, but there are a tremendous amount of people with similar backgrounds and advice competing to appear in the same stories. So, how can you or your clients get critical placements amidst all the noise? One way is by crafting and promoting data stories.
What is data storytelling?
A data story uses data, visualizations and a narrative to help readers understand a topic quickly and easily. Done right, data storytelling can communicate complicated information to a broad audience. The data-driven narrative is more compelling than an opinion piece, and the charts and graphs make it more engaging than plain text. Data stories resonate with reporters because:
They are fact-based, relying on data rather than a single expert’s opinion.
Their credibility transfers to derivative news stories.
They are unique and rare, compared to broad opinions.
These attributes make reporters and bloggers receptive to a good pitch. Let them know upfront that you created this unique set of data, and you’ll secure more placements.
Enterprise-level businesses often source data from giant market research companies like Nielsen, Gartner Research and Kantar. These options are cost-prohibitive to bootstrapped entrepreneurs. But you can contract a marketing consultant to create and promote data stories for far less. You can even produce them in-house. I’ve used the method below to create a variety of data stories:
Research a topic
There are many helpful research tools available. Start with a keyword search on Google News or Google Trends. See what’s trending on social media with tools like Buzzsumo or Ubersuggest. Or use a keyword research tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs to discover popular queries.
Choose timely, yet evergreen topics that will capture the interest of journalists while maintaining longevity. Expect that it could take 3-6 weeks to produce a basic data story and longer for complex datasets. Your final deliverable should therefore be newsworthy for several months or longer to give you enough time to create the content and pitch the media.
Form a hypothesis
After you aggregate your story ideas, take notes on the main points, data and opinions from existing content. Then expand on those points or fill the gaps with unique insights that shine a light on unanswered, but important, questions. Form a unique and interesting hypothesis. It should be something that you can test with an opinion poll.
For example, if your topic is “chicken soup,” your hypothesis might be, “Most people prefer to eat chicken soup on an empty stomach.” The answer to this question doesn’t require a lot of research — it only requires you to survey enough people to determine trends.
Create a survey
Make a list of questions, the answers to which will prove or disprove your hypothesis. Create context around your main topic with the questions on your list. This adds more data and variety to your story to draw readers in further. Additionally, the data you collect may reveal an even more interesting and unique angle than your original hypothesis.
Make this process manageable by conducting your market research with a service like Google Surveys, Pollfish or Survey Monkey. Set criteria for your preferred audience and pay per response. Keep costs down by limiting your poll to about five questions. Audience size affects cost, too. Generally, 500-600 responses will produce reliable data on five questions. However, reporters are not statisticians. So, aim for 1,000+ responses to trigger their interest (if you have the budget).
Analyze the data
Collecting your survey responses is easy. The hard, yet fun part is analyzing the results. Apply numerous filters to see how the different demographics and psychographics of your respondents affect their answers, due to geography, gender, age, profession or other criteria. Make a list of key insights around which to build your story.
Create charts and graphs
A data story wouldn’t be complete without charts and graphs to visualize the information. Choose your most important insight, and back it up with graphics that support each claim. Import your data into a free or inexpensive tool like Google Charts or Infogram to quickly spin up beautiful and interactive visualizations, and then embed them in your story.
Write the content and publish your story
Dive deep into each of your insights and report on what the data unveiled — and why it matters. Then expand on that content with questions and conjecture to trigger the reader’s emotions. Also, embed quotes from industry experts and a company spokesperson. Publish the story, and start promoting it.
Pitch the media
Write a short email pitch to send to reporters and customize it for different groups. Choose a subject line that highlights a key metric. In the body of the email, include more bullet points on your findings, and highlight the fact that this is unique data that exists nowhere else. Additionally, make it urgent. Tell them that they are among a small group of people who received early access before you promote it to the public. Tie your story to trending topics in the news, and you’ve got a winner. Be sure to follow up quickly when reporters respond to your query.
If you’re not the type of publicist who can rely on clients’ popularity and subject matter expertise to pitch stories, try data storytelling instead. Creating just one data story will level up your publicity game.