30. Successful Media Coverage
Description and Purpose:
The following advice is in two sections. The ‘13 Steps to Successful Coverage’ contain advice on obtaining media coverage and the ‘Other Guidance on Contacts with the Media’ contains general advice on your dealings with the media.
Read the following advice, and apply it whenever applicable to your work with the media.
13 Steps to Successful Coverage
- Keep it short Strip your message to the bare bones. People hardly have time to read these days. Put any detailed information in a `fact page' at the end.
- Think headlines If the crux of your message cannot be expressed in a few impactful words (maybe a sentence) it's unlikely to be successful.
- Use consistent slogans/'sound bites' This is the best way to make your campaign instantly recognizable, especially over an extended period. Make sure these summarize the central points of your message.
- Do it regularly Regular communication is essential to build a loyal and expectant constituency.
- Be positive Do not use a message that is totally negative. Offer a practical solution to the problem. This can inspire people.
- Set the agenda Redefine the problem to fit your solution.
- Be visual Pictures are much more effective and memorable than words, especially if they reinforce emotions. Forget the intellectual high ground. You are more likely to attract television attention if you can supply plenty of visual material either in advance or at the time of the launch. Broadcast quality tapes can be used. You can also create an event that will provide good pictures for TV.
- Appeal to emotions in news stories E.g. conflict, fear, triumph over adversity (David & Goliath).
- Entertain Think of the media as theatre; it is primarily for entertainment. Recruit celebrities, leaders, or influential figures as a spokespeople. Devise creative ways of using celebrities for entertaining.
- Match the medium Tailor the message to fit the different types of media, and different publications where possible.
- Limit the campaign Keep campaign segments to less than three months, otherwise everyone forgets the message, people lose interest and the campaign loses momentum.
- Use events to boost your release Events can help to get media attention, but you need to think about them from the media's point of view. It can take a lot to get the press away from their desks! However with a little thought, you can make things interesting. A senior government minister or celebrity will interest the media - if they've got something to say. A huge pile of letters dumped on the lawns outside your parliament will make a good picture. But an unknown person handing a politician a petition is unlikely to get the cameras rolling.
- Develop your theme over time Try to get regular feature coverage with national magazines, newspaper feature writers, 'magazine' style TV programs etc. Journalists do not generally want you to write the stories for them, but they do like you to feed them story ideas and background information. This is best done on a one-to-one basis e.g. by e-mail or over the telephone. Don't harass them, but keep in regular contact.
Other Guidance on Contacts with the Media
- Only put forward ‘newsworthy’ items – consider news ‘angle’ carefully.
- Human/animal interest stories work well too (personalize – helps empathy).
- All quotes should be well rehearsed – even if made to look spontaneous.
- In all contacts with the media, ensure that you give essential information first – before the background and the detail.
- Always be factual and accurate.
- Never lie to a reporter. You will always get caught, and you'll lose credibility for yourself and your organization.
- Never use ‘off the record’ briefings!
- Think carefully before turning down media opportunities: Is there scope for mission achievement, new supporters or financial support? If not, you may decide to decline? Also, do not hesitate to decline if you have no real expertise in the subject, it is outside your remit or you believe the media are ‘setting you up’.
- Respond immediately to media inquiries. Media people live by deadlines. If they can't get your side of the story right away, they may opt to do without it.
- Acknowledge problems. Denial causes mistrust. Most people, including reporters, will be sympathetic to genuine problems.
- Reporters have to protect sources, so your need to protect a source will usually be understood.
- Always be helpful and polite. Thank them for their help, and for any good articles or coverage; don’t moan or complain when they don’t.
- Local media (newspapers and TV stations may be easier targets, especially if there is a local angle).