When corporate communication professionals (or their PR agency) propose a particular story (e.g. in the form of a press release) to a journalist, they engage in two separate but related processes.
First, they are soliciting interest in the story.
Second, they are making sure that the story is framed in a way that is consistent with the organization’s preferred framing (i.e. how the organization would like that story to be told).
Essentially, conversations between the PR professional and journalists are a negotiation about how the news is framed.
It’s our opinion that framing theory is something that many PR pros don’t spend enough time on. Let us explain… Framing theory focuses on how messages are created in such a way that they connect with the underlying psychological process of how people digest information and make judgments. Framing involves processes of inclusion and exclusion of information in a message as well as emphasis.
PR pros frame a particular corporate decision, issue or event in such a way that furthers and promotes the interests of the organization. This corporate frame can be in the form of a press release, corporate report, their web site or through a spokesperson. The corporate frame is provided to the media and general public.
Journalist, on the other hand, may interpret and represent the same decision, issues or event in a different way. News framing refers to the way in which news is selectively portrayed by the media in an effort to explain the news in easily understood terms to a broader audience. And how that happens is largely dependent upon the political views and ideology of individual journalists and their news organizations.
In today’s news dissemination world there are two things that need to be highlighted.
Firstly, while often considered less reputable, many news (and particularly online) outlets really don’t change the framing of a story – allowing the corporate frame to dominate. While the media hit may not be as valuable in this outlet, a certain amount of this coverage is positive as it sets the overall tone for the total frame of a story and can balance out undesirable news framing.
Secondly, different news organizations have different political views and ideologies, so the stories sent to them should be framed differently. Any agency that thinks a political news release that is sent to both Fox and CNN should be framed the same way need to have their head examined.
The ultimate PR professional needs to be very skillful to play on journalists’ knowledge and views to propose stories that follow dominant news frames, fit certain categories of content and resonate with a journalist’s notion of the expectations of their audience.
The secret sauce – align a story proposal (corporate frame) with a story expectation (news frame) which leads to a greater probability of the story being placed and reported.
The skill for a PR pro, in other words, is often in spotting the stories that can turn corporate news in to media news or bring a corporate story into a global news story. The secrete is in the alignment of corporate frames and news frames.