Recently CNN presenter Soledad O'Brien talked about what she looks for when someone approaches her with a story. She was speaking at the 2011 Public Relations Society of America International Conference.
O'Brien's most important question is "where is the character" in this story?" Who is the person who best represents the issue? What situation are they in? What challenges do they face? And how are they rising above their circumstances to break through and succeed?
The veteran CNN journalist points out you might have loads of statistics but the rest of us may find them dry and boring. For her stories she wants an individual who can put a real face to those facts and figures.
My 20+ years in media relations suggests there is an order of people to choose from when it comes to presenting your issue in the media.
The very best individual you can select is someone you are helping or who benefits from what your organisation does. They might be a client, a customer or a citizen. People on the receiving end of your efforts provide authenticity and powerful testimony. Yet sometimes these individuals may be shy, anxious about privacy or disinclined to be profiled for cultural, religious or other reasons.
Steeping down, the next best person to represent your story in the media is someone from your organisation on the front line directly involved in bringing about change. It could be a staff member or a volunteer doing something that improves the lot of others, solves a problem or in some way builds a better world.
For example the most powerful figure to emerge in wartime news reporting can be the "strategic corporal." A junior serviceman or woman, carrying out their mission, can tell you more about the conflict around them, and do it better, than any statesman or diplomat.
The least effective people to represent your cause just might be your boss, CEO or chairman or a politician. Why should that be so? Journalists and the public expect authority figures to say good things about their programs. That's their job. They get paid to do that along with all the privileges of their position. Besides prominent figures can sometimes muddy an issue and their past deeds, statements or performance can detract from your story.
The take-way from O'Brien's presentation: offer the media a real person. Their situation may be humble but their story is often powerful.