Maintaining the relationship

So, you’ve arranged the interview and the story is ready to run. It may get postponed or dropped, depending on other news.

It’s not personal, and the journalist will usually do what they can to publish the story at the next opportunity. This is when having a good relationship is valuable, so there’s no misunderstanding.

Journalists have a job to do – they won’t just write or say what you want. They have their own professional responsibilities, which includes presenting more than one side of a story. You can’t tell them what to write, but you can present your work in its most positive light.

Once you establish a media profile, journalists may come to you; even asking you to react to any AOD issues unrelated to your project. You don’t have to respond to everything – consider whether it promotes your work before commenting. There’s also the chance that if you become a commentator, local journalists may be less interested in reporting on your project. Never comment on something you know nothing about – at best you look foolish and at worst you could end up in court.

Remember when building on your relationship with particular journalists is to be conscious of not wasting their time – and always pick up the phone!

Journalists are always on deadline, so if you’re someone who answers their call and gives a comment on the spot, they register you as ‘good talent’. This means they’re more likely to respond to you if you contact them.

If you want to get their attention, and keep it, you’ll need to be bold and offer them something different each time.

Ask yourself: “Is my story new?”

It’s so important that there’s a fresh angle on whatever it is you’re giving them. If it’s a story that’s already appeared in other media outlets they probably won’t touch it. They want to see new research or statistics, or at least a new take on an issue before they’ll report on it. When you’re framing your ‘pitch’, ask yourself: “What is the fresh take angle on this story?” What’s the point of difference?

Why should journalists care?

Have in mind the audience you’re trying to reach, and start with the question, why will people care? What is it about this issue that will connect with the average person? Getting your story out there is all about making a connection with people and getting them to feel emotionally invested in your message. They need to sit up and take notice – and to do this they will want to know what’s in it for them or the people they love.

Talk about real people. A pitch to the media that comes with a human face will always be more interesting to a journalist than a dry press release filled with figures.

The way you get people to care is to make the issue real for them. If you are releasing research, calling for funding or announcing the opening of a new facility, it’s not the statistics or the dollars or the bricks-and-mortar that readers and viewers will respond to, it’s the people this affects. So, couch your message in real stories – case studies of who is being affected.

Plan ahead: develop a media calendar

How do I offer a new story each time I speak to a journalist, you may ask? Creating a media calendar is a valuable tool that will help you do this.

You will want to space out your stories in terms of both time and media outlets, and remember that some stories are best pitched before they occur and some afterwards. Include the ‘national/international day/week’ that promotes your work (e.g. Mental Health Week) and bounce your story off this moment. Don’t time your stories to conflict with other major events or they will probably get drowned out.

Your calendar might look like this:

Date Story/message Target outlet Proposal Timing
10 Feb Your group receives funding, has first meeting, officially established The Daily Newspaper 15 Feb edition Interview with Darren; photo with entire team 9 Feb: approach with story idea
10 or maybe 13 Feb: interview and photo 10 or maybe 13 Feb: interview and photo 10 or maybe 13 Feb: interview and photo 10 or maybe 13 Feb: interview and photo 10 or maybe 13 Feb: interview and photo
3 Mar 10 people have now joined the project The Morning Radio 3 Mar 10 people have now joined the project
3 Mar community segment Interview with Darren and one of the new members 27 Feb: approach 3 Mar community segment Interview with Darren and one of the new members
3 Mar: interview 3 Mar: interview 3 Mar: interview 3 Mar: interview 3 Mar: interview
14-17 Apr Easter Long Weekend – no media / /
4 May Visit to Yellow Street Youth Group Community Radio –Teen segment Interview with Darren and Sue from Yellow Street Youth Group 21 Apr: approach
28 Apr: interview 28 Apr: interview 28 Apr: interview 28 Apr: interview 28 Apr: interview
10 Aug Your project has been running for six months Approach all local media including ABC regional station Interview with Darren and project participant 31 Jul: approach each
w/c 7 Aug: interviews w/c 7 Aug: interviews w/c 7 Aug: interviews w/c 7 Aug: interviews w/c 7 Aug: interviews
14 Sep R U Ok Day? Approach all local media including ABC regional station Interview with Darren and maybe project participant 8 Sep: approach each
13 or 14 Sep: interviews 13 or 14 Sep: interviews 13 or 14 Sep: interviews 13 or 14 Sep: interviews 13 or 14 Sep: interviews

When you’re feeling nervous about ‘pitching’ into the media, think to yourself: what’s at risk if I don’t?

Getting your voice in the media regularly is important. If you can establish a good relationship with them, it can lead to increased community awareness, boost the success of your program, lead to additional funding or other support coming your way and, ultimately, bring about social change in your community.