Maintaining the relationship

So, you’ve arranged the interview and the story is ready to run. But 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.

Tips for maintaining your media contact relationships

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 alcohol and other drug issues unrelated to your project. You don’t have to respond to everything – consider whether it promotes your work before commenting.

Never comment on something you know nothing about – at best you look foolish and at worst you could end up in court.

engaging the media
Remember, when building your relationship with journalists, be conscious of not wasting their time – and always respond to their calls!

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

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 important that there’s a fresh angle on whatever story 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 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’ll 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’re 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, base your message in real stories 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 can help you map this out.

You’ll want to space out your stories in terms of both time and media outlets and remember that some stories are best pitched before they happen and some afterwards. You could leverage the ‘national/international day/week’ that promotes your work (e.g., Mental Health Week) and time your story around 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:

When you’re feeling nervous about ‘pitching’ to 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:

  • create more community awareness
  • boost the success of your program
  • lead to additional funding or other support coming your way
  • bring about social change in your community.