Pitching : Challenge the Narrative

What do I mean by that challenge the narrative?

There’s a general “narrative” around everything, everything that we do, everything we see in the media, and everything that we see in PR.

For example, “banks are boring”, “cruise ships are luxurious”, and “mobility scooters are boring”.

When you try to pitch a story to the media that is just more of the same, there’s no reason for the media to reach out to you. They already have a contacts book full of people who can say these things. So why bother coming to you?

Let’s say you took a different approach. You decided to say to the media that the way banking works is wrong. Maybe you say people can save 10% more money simply by doing something different. Or, what if I said, “my industry has been utterly wrong about something for 10 years, and I know another way”? How about a new airline that takes customer complaints seriously? Now that would be game-changing and narrative breaking!

What if I said cruise ships, are “not luxurious”, but they could be and you can do it for only a little more money? What if I said mobility scooters are exciting and someone’s just driven across the world on one and everyone is driving them these days?

The point is, all of these challenges the narrative. They challenge people’s perceptions of things.

We are saying that everything people thought was true, is not true……..and that is “news”.

If you are the only one saying it and you are the only one challenging the narrative, you and your organization become newsworthy. You become the person to speak to. Journalists will be wanting to find out more from you.

Some examples

A lot of people miss the opportunity to stand out. They just don’t think about it.

I remember being at a conference a few years ago. There was a dinner organized in the evening and I was invited along by a tech lobbying organization. There were some startups around the table.

This was a few years ago when lots of people were starting to develop electric car batteries and that was the narrative, “everyone is doing it”.

I found myself talking to yet another group of people doing this and they told me about the chemistry of the batteries thinking that was the interesting bit. I’m not a chemist and it went straight over my head.

As I was at the event and wasn’t going anywhere I started asking questions and after a while, we established that they were actually making a battery that charged, I think, double or triple the speed of any other battery at the time!

What?? There was the story!

At the time it was normal to think that car batteries took all night to charge. That was the narrative and here was someone saying, “no they can charge in a few hours”. They were instantly newsworthy.

In my experience, most people have a narrative challenging angle if they spend a few minutes looking for it.

Why did Airbnb get so much coverage at the beginning? They were saying you don’t have to stay in hotels, you can stay in people’s homes for cheap and safety. It challenged the narrative.

They were different. They were newsworthy.

Why does this work?

As a news editor, you learn that people listen and pay attention when their world changes.

Your audience listens to the news for reassurance.

We tune into “news” because we want to know if our world is the same today as it was yesterday.

When we know it is, we forget what we heard and we get on with our day happily.

However, when our world changes we notice. When someone comes along and says the things we thought were true, aren’t true, we want to know why and who’s saying it.

When we hear that narrative challenged with evidence, that’s almost impossible to ignore.

Journalists are no different. They like people metaphorically rock the boat.

Narratives often develop because the established players in that sector come to a common mindset in the market about what is normal. When some upstart challenges then we can’t help but be drawn to this potential conflict.

We want to know which side to be on. We want to make our own judgments. And, generally, people want to be on the easier and the newer side.

If we don’t like the established players (established players always have a harder time keeping up a good reputation) we get instantly drawn to the upstart.

Change the market to change the narrative

But what if you agree with the majority? What if you can’t challenge the narrative within your sector because you find things are indeed one particular way?

How about changing the market?

Ask yourself where else might my target market be. Accountants don’t just do accountancy. They also go to business groups. Maybe they play golf.

What is the narrative in that particular sector about what you do?

The further you move away from your own industry the more myths and misunderstandings there will be and that means you have a chance of challenging the perception that exists there.

I went on a math teachers’ podcast once to talk about the power of podcasting! Can you see the connection? Nope. But I worked one out, pitched it and I got on. Lots of teachers either teach podcasting or want to try it.

Think about different groups

Every country, every community, and every subculture has its own narrative.

It’s challenging the narrative of the group of people you are trying to reach that matters.

As I write this, Turkey has had a terrible earthquake killing tens of thousands of people. But how do you get the story to stick in potential donors’ minds?

There can be a perspective that this sort of thing just happens in “other countries”, that there are “poor building standards”, etc. Remember the point here is not what is true, it’s what people think.

The only way we are going to get the idea to stick is by challenging the narrative in these people’s minds.

We need to prove that the people suffering are just like them. We need to make them wonder what they would do in that situation. We need to bring it to life in a way they relate to and feel emotionally engaged and challenged with.


  1. Think about what it is that you’re doing.
  2. Think about the narrative around what you do. What do people generally say about that?
  3. What is the narrative of the media in this sector that you are approaching? What is the narrative of the people you are trying to connect with?
  4. What are you doing that is changing/challenging that narrative? Why are you different? Focus on the benefits, not the features. How does it help, not “how it does it”.
  5. What evidence do you have to back up this claim? Journalists have heard a lot of BS and wild narrative-breaking claims over the years. What are the key things you are doing that prove it works or that you are working on?
  6. Consider the evidence you choose to ensure it doesn’t reinforce the narrative. For example, I was speaking to a listener the other day who is working in an industry that has a stigma associated with it by certain types of people. But people in this very demographic also use this product! If you are producing a case study that matches their stereotype, you will only reinforce that stereotype. The goal then was to have case studies that would challenge the narrative. In other words, she needed to use people from the same demographic as the people who criticise the product.
  7. Ask yourself how challenging the narrative and doing things differently is going to help the people we want to reach. Focus on the core emotions. How will it make them feel more empowered, richer, happier, etc?
  8. Gather your three things a) The narrative challenge b) the evidence and c) What they’re going to get by challenging the narrative.
  9. Focus on those three things in your press release, your Twitter DM pitch or your email. Approach the target outlet with one clear narrative breaking point and the evidence to back that up.

Image credit: Photo by Derpy CG: https://www.pexels.com/photo/light-sea-art-space-7462340/