Communicating via the media
The media (newspaper, online, TV or radio) is probably the most effective channel for voluntary and community organisations to communicate a message to the outside world. The public gets much of its information on events and issues from the media, so it is influential in framing public perception and also setting the public policy agenda.
Community groups can use the media to:
- publicise forthcoming events
- make announcements e.g. a new key appointment
- support local or national awareness weeks/days e.g. international volunteers day
- comment on issues
- promote the importance of their role in the community, or
- publicise a new service
Some advantages of using the media include:
- the ability to reach a very wide range of people (i.e. good coverage)
- it's usually free
- it can be organised at relatively short notice.
Good relationships with the media
An ongoing relationship with the media, based on respect and professional integrity, will stand your organisation in good stead and help raise your public profile. Once such a relationship is established, it should make any future contact with the media easier.
Keys to good working relationships with the media include:
- Have one designated and mandated media spokesperson who can concentrate on building rapport with the media. Choose a person who has an in-depth knowledge of the organisation and an ability to articulate ideas clearly in an enthusiastic manner.
- Be honest and tactful. Never exaggerate or distort facts; people working in the media are savvy and check facts. Exaggeration and distortion lead to loss of credibility next time you offer a story.
- Approach the media only when you have something really newsworthy to offer.
- Don't keep people waiting, be prepared, be patient, don't hassle and don't quibble about small matters like appointment times. Journalists are busy people who work in a world of pressures and deadlines.
- Be welcoming and have a copy of your media release and a media kit on hand.
- Deal firmly but politely with media demands that you are not able to meet. Do not allow yourself to be coerced in any way. If you have checked and cleared your facts, you have nothing to worry about.
Pitfalls to avoid when working with the media include:
- Don't use the media as your publicity agents. They have strict codes of ethics and will not be manipulated. Their job is to report and interpret news honestly.
- Don't get offside with the media - you won't win, and you will lose future news opportunities for your organisation.
- Don't be fussy or pedantic. Everyone makes mistakes. Often mistakes are not glaringly obvious, except to you. Unless there is an obvious legal or financial reason for drawing a mistake to their attention, let it go.
News usually interests a general audience rather than just a few individuals. Generally speaking, newsworthy events are new events, but something can also be presented in a way that looks new. Timing plays a large part in newsworthiness, as does a link to some other major event or news. Ask yourself these questions to determine whether something is newsworthy:
- does your news item have human interest and touch the lives of many people?
- does your news have drama?
- does your news include people in high places?
- is your news fresh?
- who will read your media release?
Checklist for approaching the media
Your approach to the media should be well planned and executed. Some guidelines include:
- appoint the best media spokesperson you possibly can
- get in touch with media well before an event
- approach the journalist most concerned with your area of work or type of story. If you don't already have a contact, approach the chief reporter
- always make your approach in person but make an appointment first
- deal with only one journalist in each news organisation
- be obliging and helpful
- be completely honest about story content
- cover Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?
- be clear and accurate
- do not demand coverage
- do not expect repeat coverage unless you can offer something different each time
- supply a media kit (see following checklist)
- send a Notice of Event, or Invitation and if appropriate, supply two tickets to functions or events you would like covered by the media
- if a photographer is wanted, organise for someone to accompany them to supply information during the event especially the correct spelling of names
- approach radio and TV as well as newspapers, do not refer to them as 'the press'.
When the media comes to you
When the media calls you, do not respond with impromptu comments unless your group has already agreed:
- that you will be the spokesperson, and
- the key messages to be conveyed.
If the media call is unexpected or relates to a contentious or tricky issue take some time to compose your response:
- ask exactly what the call is about and what they want to know, e.g. "what questions do you have?"
- say you will call back as soon as you can, that you need to check facts or get an update
- ask about the deadline for
- your group's response, or
- the story as a whole is it part of an ongoing story?
- refer the request to your appointed media spokesperson. If you don't have one, and you want someone else to handle the request, don't give a reporter their contact name or phone number until you have checked with that person first. Then get that person to return the call to the media.
- if you promise to call back, always do so, even to say you don't wish to discuss the matter any further (give a reason). This gives you credibility.
- remember that a reporter is always taking notes. Radio and TV reporters will record the interview for their bulletins, and some other journalists record conversations as a way of taking notes. They should ask your permission first.
A media kit is a collection of printed information you have about your group. It might be a single page or a series of flyers and brochures of information about your group. Also have this information in document or PDF form to email to the media or available online. Include:
- your organisation's mission statement and/or philosophies
- the structure of your organisation with current contact details
- examples of the work your organisation does, including photographs
- a copy of your latest magazine or newsletter
- any up-to-date leaflets or pamphlets, and
- details of your website, blog or social media pages.
Media kits for events
Before an event make sure all the key people associated with the event have a copy of your media kit and are familiar with its contents. Send or email your media kit to the media, which could include:
- any relevant biographies (e.g. of a performer or invited speaker)
- details of the content or reason for the event
- copies of any reviews
- contact names and phone numbers for the event
- any relevant posters or newsletters, and
- tickets to any paid event
Make your photographs uncluttered and interesting. Take pictures of people doing something and being active. Have good focus, contrast and exposure and get close to the action. Provide a caption with the date, event, the activity and the names of the people if possible. Ask permission to use the names of people in the pictures.
Have digital photographs in high resolution so that you can use them in your own newsletters or supply the media if requested.
Write a media release for any event or announcement. The release can be sent out to media as a follow-up to a preliminary phone call. It is the key to building a successful relationship with any media and should accompany all approaches for news coverage.
Notice of Event
A Notice of Event is an invitation to an event you are organising; it is sent to media at least a week before the event. Explain what is happening, when, where and why, who will be attending. Give a summary of events so that the media knows if it is appropriate to send a photographer to your event. A Notice of Event does not require quotes from anyone, but it is essential to include a contact name and phone number so the media can arrange the best time to attend your event.
How to write a media release
A media release needs to 'inform' people, not sell them something. If you are new to writing a media release, grab the latest daily newspaper and read some of their articles or find someone to help who has the necessary experience.
Media release checklist
A checklist of things to remember when writing a media release are:
- head the release MEDIA RELEASE
- give it a punchy, succinct title
- date it
- state the source of the release i.e. who it is from
- use the first sentence and the first paragraph (the intro) to convey the main message i.e. the essence of what you want to communicate
- focus on what is unique and interesting about your story
- give as many facts as possible (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?)
- write in a simple straightforward style
- use active language e.g. write Large crowds attended the opening rather than 'The opening was attended by large crowds'
- make the release as short as you can (seven paragraphs is a usual maximum)
- remember that anything you say may be put at the beginning and used as the main point of your story
- have a spokesperson, preferably one of your group's office holders, use direct quotes
- format double-spaced with wide margins using one side of A4 paper
- write "ends" at the end of the media release
- give names and contact details for people who can offer more information, or might be interviewed at length or for a 'sound-bite'
- give media outlets (radio, TV, newspapers etc.) equal opportunity.
Sample media release
[Headline] Young people raising their voices
[Introduction or angle]
READ MY LIPS is an exciting one-day event, aimed at getting young people's voices heard by society's decision-makers.
[This paragraph answers the what? question, as well as giving an interesting angle or fact to get the reader's interest. It shouldn't be longer than 35 words.]
The READ MY LIPS event has been created by a group of young people from Wellington wanting to encourage more youth to speak out about the issues that are important to them. The event, on 15 May, at the Smith Hall in Wellington, aims to fire up their thoughts and passions and offer help with ways to get their voices heard.
[This paragraph has the when? and who? questions.]
READ MY LIPS secretary Jo Bloggs says the event offers training workshops for young people.
It's about how to write submissions, organise events, and other ways to get their voices out to the public. Young people will be talking about local and global youth issues, and encourage others to speak out on things that are important to them.
[This paragraph gives more information about the event and who will attend.]
Young people are often overlooked by our politicians and our voices aren't often heard. We are here to share the skills to make a change and get our message out there, said Jo.
[Quote from someone involved in the event, which also answers the why? question.]
READ MY LIPS
15 May 2017
10am - 3pm
Smith Hall, Wellington.
For more information contact: Jo Bloggs, Ph 123 4567, firstname.lastname@example.org
Who do you want to know about your event or group? Have a list of the media you want to contact. Is it local media, regional media or the whole country, or international? Have a list of all appropriate media and choose the ones you want for each media release. List the info@email addresses, or generic newsroom addresses, not individual email addresses because journalists might be out of the office.
Find out how each newsroom wants to receive information. Some do not like to have attachments to emails and prefer you to cut and paste your media release in the body of the email. You can follow up your media release with a phone call to newsrooms you particularly want to target.
Upload the media release to your own website and link from your social media and blog pages. Email links to your associate groups so they know what's happening.
You can opt to send your media release through one of the online news outlets. Websites such as Scoop (http://www.scoop.co.nz/ ) and Newsroom (https://www.newsroom.co.nz/ ) publish media releases directly at no charge.
Doing media interviews
For many people, being interviewed by the media can be a stressful experience. To get your message across clearly and make the most of an interview, it pays to be prepared.
General media interview checklist
Some general tips on interviews for radio, TV or print include:
- find out the reporter's name (ask for a business card)
- find out the context of the interview
- be on time for the interview
- do your homework, get the facts and have back-up data on hand
- know the main message you want to convey and how to weave it into every answer you give. That way, even if your answers are cut and spliced during the editing process, your message will still come through
- write down answers to any questions you think may be asked, you can use these as a prompt, which is really useful if you're feeling nervous. Know what you want to say and say it.
- speak clearly using short natural sentences, and take your time
- keep to your topic don't ramble
- ask for clarification if you don't understand a question
- if you don't know an answer to a question, be honest and say you don't know. You can say that you will get back to them with an answer later on
- don't let the interviewer rattle you. Keep calm and respond politely and firmly. Move or lean forward into the interviewer's space if you feel they're getting hostile
- if you think you've made a mistake or said something that's wrong, don't be frightened to tell the reporter or ask them to fix it
- relax and enjoy it as much as possible.
TV and radio interview checklist
Specific tips for TV and radio interviews are:
- remember that TV is radio with pictures. This means that, for TV, you need to appear as relaxed as possible smile when appropriate
- for TV, think about what you're wearing
- concentrate on the interviewer rather than any background technical processes
- if the interview is pre-recorded, stop and re-start if you want to change something
- for radio, because no one can see you, or read what you have said, this means your voice and how you use it is really important. Use a warm vocal tone and lots of inflection when making your points
- ask if it's possible to get a list or indication of the questions you'll be asked ahead of time but accept that the interviewer might change the question line according to your answers.
- for radio, even though there are heaps of people listening in, imagine you are talking to just one person
- it's good to have just one or two key messages to finish the interview on, so people go away with that in their minds.
Tip: For more tips on preparing for a media interview, visit: http://www.fullcirc.com/rlc/mediainterviewprep.htm.
Corrections and complaints procedures
If you feel you have been misquoted, your comments taken out of context, or that you have been unfairly treated, there are procedures for correcting or complaining about what the media has said. These include:
- If it is a matter of wrong fact(s), you can simply ask the media to correct it.
- If it's a matter of varying interpretation, weigh up whether you want to raise the matter again in the public eye. If you want to proceed, write a letter to the editor rather than demand a different version.
- If you have been misquoted or mistreated, go direct to the head of the news section and say so.
- Formal complaints should be a last resort. However, if you wish to proceed, there are formal procedures: