Working effectively with the media

Take practical steps, be available for interviews and use photos and images to help get your story picked up in the media.

Practical steps

Create a database

This will be critical to tracking your media contacts, notes from your various meetings, and references to coverage of relevant AOD issues over time. It will also help you track the amount of time you spend on media and make sure you don’t double up on pitching stories. It’s best if one person from your team to be responsible for updating this database, and does this on a regular basis.

Identify a spokesperson (or people)

You will need someone to speak for the group – decide who that is. It’s generally best to have just one spokesperson. Yes, they will become the face of the group, but it keeps the message consistent. It’s not about being a star, it’s about who’s the most effective in engaging both the media and your target audience.

Be clear about your objective and stick to it

For example, “This group has been created to work with the local community to prevent harm from ‘ice’ by working with young people and connecting them with mentors. The evidence shows us this is the best approach.”

You may need to tailor the story to different audiences, but retain your core message.

Be available and supply associated content

Newspapers will always want a photo and radio will need someone to talk to: both the spokesperson and generally also participants involved in your program. So make sure you have people who are willing and available.

Approach journalists with all of this organised – be able to say: “I have someone you can talk to, and I have also arranged people for a photo opportunity.” (Preferably, they will be available over an extended period of time.) This makes the process easier for the journalist, and is incredibly important as they are increasingly under enormous time pressures. The less they have to do, the better. And the more likely your group will ‘get a run’.

If you commit to doing a story, you must follow through. Never leave a journalist with a blank space or ‘dead air’.

Be aware that people in your photos or videos will need to sign a release form giving their permission as to where and when their image can be used. If you’ve said it’s for a poster, that doesn’t mean you can then also use it on a Facebook page, so it’s best to create a release form that covers all usage. Children cannot be included without parental consent.

If people are feeling uncomfortable about being identified, there are creative ways for photos to be taken that ensure people’s anonymity.

Getting your story ‘picked-up’

Don’t send out a blanket media release. These are more likely to get lost in the overflowing news inbox, or overlooked by journalists under the pump. Competing outlets generally won’t cover the same story (unless it’s front-page news) as they don’t have time to come up with their own angle on the information a media release provides.

This means talking to outlets individually, starting with the one you think will be most interested and most likely to run your story. Journalists will let you know if they’re not interested. If they are, send a brief email and give them several days’ notice. Follow up, and if they decide not to cover the story, thank them and move on to the next outlet. Document this in your database.

Prior to an interview, consider what you’re going to say beforehand: particularly if it’s controversial or ‘live-to-air’.

Top three messages

Write down the three top messages you want to convey and always bring it back to these points no matter what you are asked. You control the interview not the other way round. You obviously don’t want to come across as ignoring the journalist’s questions, but always try to weave your message in the answer.

Remember, you can’t take back your answers in live interviews, so be sure of what you want to say. If in doubt, talk it through with someone you trust and practice with a mock-interview. If it’s a pre-recorded interview for radio or television news, don’t feel like you can’t ask the journalist to start your answer again. This is normal practice, even for those who’ve been in the game for a long time. And if it’s a radio interview, and you’re not in the studio, have your key messages in front of you. Nobody is going to see, but try not to sound like you’re reading from a script. A common trick for people is to visualise that they’re talking to a friend or colleague.

Be factual and honest

It’s virtually impossible to re-establish trust. If you don’t know the answer, say you’ll have to check and come back to the journalist. Be careful using statistics or quoting other people – double check your source, don’t just repeat what you’ve heard.

If you can, include a ‘call to action’ for the audience. Even if it’s simply to visit your website or join your group, read or share information on Facebook.

A picture tells 1,000 words

Make sure it’s appropriate. For example, don’t send in a picture of your day at the pub when you’re talking about alcohol prevention.

Ask the media outlet for a copy of the interview, and save each. Take the time to review your media coverage and consider changes if it didn’t go as you wanted it to. Log all the information in your database.