Media Relations: How We Landed
the Wall Street Journal's Front Page
by Brad Phillips
Media relations is a great profession.
On good days, I earn my living speaking to and learning
from knowledgeable experts who ask for help in raising
the profile of their cause through the media. In
the past few years, Ive worked with billionaire
philanthropists, a Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist
and a world famous actor. Mostly, though, I work
with unknown but equally impressive professionals
regarded as experts in their fields.
When I speak to them, Im always listening
for the story. Some of the time, the
story is immediately apparent. But the most gratifying
moments come when a story seemingly devoid of news
value suddenly leaps out and surprises me.
Two years ago, for example, I was doing media work
for a Washington DC-based environmental organization.
Scientists from the group would regularly contact
me regarding their latest field work, hoping I could
convince a reporter to shine a spotlight on their
One day, I met with a charismatic field biologist
to discuss his project while sipping coffee in a
depressing restaurant. As he told me about his project,
I quietly became more convinced that he didnt
have much of a story. I felt bad, but suspected
no reporter would bite.
The West African forest elephant, he told me, was
in trouble. The problem was largely one of capacity
no West Africans had been formally trained
in protecting the 7,700-pound mammals, which were
being killed by the farmers who feared them.
To help correct the problem, he said, they had established
a program three years earlier to train six West
Africans to conserve the majestic beasts. In a month,
they would end their training and begin working
to protect the animals full-time.
Thats when the idea hit.
I asked the scientist if we could call the group
the first-ever graduating class from Elephant University.
When he agreed, I knew we were in business.
I drafted an e-mail with a few highlights to a reporter
I had recently met from The Wall Street Journal.
The story pitch suggested that this story was the
perfect fit for the quirky daily front-page Column
Four feature. The reporter quickly wrote back.
Two weeks later, the reporter was off to Ghana to
report the story firsthand. When the story ran on
November 27, 2002, the words Elephant University
the ones we had happily stumbled upon over
coffee were emblazoned on the front-page.
This story worked because we didnt pitch it
head on. Remember the heart of
this story was that West African scientists were
receiving training not exactly front-page
material. But by giving the reporter an unusual
hook, he was able to convince his editors that the
story deserved to be told.
If youre speaking to an expert to assess a
storys newsworthiness and it doesnt
seem immediately obvious to you, keep talking. If
they say something interesting, stop them. Ask them
to slow it down and provide more detail. Paraphrase
their response into something resembling a headline
by asking, Would it be correct to say it this
way? Finally, look for the nuggets. Ancillary
parts of the story often jump out and become your
About The Author
Brad Phillips is the founder and president of Phillips
Media Relations. He was formerly a journalist for
ABC News and CNN, and also headed the media relations
department for the second largest environmental
group in the world. For more information and to
sign up for free monthly media tips, visit www.PhillipsMediaRelations.com.