Working effectively with the media
Take practical steps, be available for interviews and use photos and images to help get your story picked up by the media.
Tips for working with local media
Create a media relationship database
Creating a media relationship database will help you track:
- your media contacts
- notes from your various meetings
- coverage of relevant alcohol and other drug (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 is responsible for updating the database and does this regularly.
Identify a media spokesperson (or people)
You’ll need someone to speak for the group so decide who that is. It’s generally best to have just one spokesperson. Having only one spokesperson may mean they become the face of the group, but it also helps keep 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.
Sometimes you’ll have different spokespeople to cover different topics. For example, your LDAT might have one person who is more comfortable speaking about the Community Action Plan but not the research and data. You may consider another spokesperson who can cover different content.
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 your story to different audiences but stick to your core message.
Be available and supply relevant stories and content
Newspapers will always want a photo and radio will need someone to talk to. They’re looking for the spokesperson and often the participants involved in your program. So, make sure you have people who are willing and available.
Approach journalists with all 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.
Due to the nature of their work, journalists are under enormous time pressures, so this preparation makes the process easier for them. The less they have to do, the better. And the more likely your team 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 also automatically use it on a Facebook page. it’s best to create a release form that covers all usage. Children cannot be included without parental consent.
If people are feeling uncomfortable with their photo being used, there are creative ways for photos to be taken to protect their identity.
Getting your story ‘picked-up’
Don’t send out a generic, blanket media release. These are more likely to get lost in overflowing news inboxes or overlooked by journalists under the pump.
Competing outlets generally won’t cover the same story unless it’s front-page news.
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’re interested, 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. Make a note of this in your database.
Before an interview, think about what you’re going to say and prepare ahead, particularly if it could be controversial or ‘live-to-air’.
Top three local media messages
Write down the top three messages you want to get across and always try to bring the interview back to these points no matter what you’re 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, join your group or read and share information on Facebook.
A picture tells 1,000 words for local media
Make sure the photos you provide to media outlets are appropriate. For example, don’t send in a picture of you at the pub when you’re talking about alcohol prevention.
Ask the media outlet for a copy of the final story and save them. 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.