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How to make friends with the media - Part 1

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    Effective communication is vital to any charity’s chances of survival. After all, few people support causes they know little or nothing about – and why should they?

    Charities use all kinds of channels to tell their stories – from websites, social media and email, to newsletters, phone calls and meetings. Yet, despite their best efforts, many small groups find their messages fail to reach far beyond an existing supporter base. Fortunately, this is where formal media – newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and media websites – can help.

    Community-based charities often sit on news that local, regional, specialist and sometimes even national media would love to run, if they only got to hear about it.

    The first trick is to spot when you have a potential media story. After that, the ABC of dealing with the media is to tell the right people your news, in the right way, at the right time.

    So first, check whether your story is really news:

    • News stories must be new. “Teen addiction helpline takes record number of calls” is news. “Teen addiction helpline exists to support vulnerable young people” is not news. The launch of an appeal to keep a toddler group open may be news. An “ongoing” appeal is not. And neither is a launch that happened three weeks ago.
    • News means that something out of the ordinary has happened. “Young offenders grow veg for homeless shelter” is news. “Community gardeners get busy sewing marrow seeds” is not news. A decent picture, if you have one, creates extra interest.
    • Remember that any story you are aiming at the media must resonate with a target group of readers, listeners or viewers beyond your charity. “Sue Brown wins volunteer of the month” won’t qualify.

    Then go about things properly:

    A. Tell the right people

    Get to know your target media so you can aim your story at the right slot and the right journalist.

    A regional newspaper might split its news into: Business, Health, Education, Community and other areas. An ethical gardening magazine might have a Local Groups page. Approach the relevant section editor with an email, by name.

    B. In the right way

    Having familiarised yourself with your target media, tailor your story to the appropriate slot.

    If you are holding a barn dance in your village hall, a small notice will suffice to help you attract punters – and aiming for anything bigger would be unrealistic. Check the usual notices format, and email a couple of lines, in the correct format, to the notices editor or contact person.

    Similarly, try to recognise when your story is, say, not so much news as something for a letters’ column or listeners’ comment slot. Again, learn the formats for those slots – lengths, tones and types of piece – and stick to them.

    For news stories, the best approach is a press release (I will look at this in detail in 'How to make friends with the media - Part 2'). This is straightforward to write, but you need it to be perfect.

    Don’t follow up your press release with a “just checking you got my email” phone call. You will only irritate a journalist. They will contact you if they are interested. If you really need to follow up, send an email with new material – links to related photos, a reminder to RSVP if press are invited to your event. That way you get to issue a gentle prod, without becoming a pain.

    C. At the right time

    • If your harvest story misses the September issue deadline for a community magazine, it won’t get saved for the Halloween edition. Too often, a great story gets wasted because a press release arrives too late to fit a production or programming schedule. Bear in mind that copy deadlines for a monthly publication will often arise two months before the publication date.
    • News isn’t news for long. If you are targeting daily or weekly media, report on what has happened within 24 hours if you can.
    • Where you want to invite the media along to an event, give at least two weeks notice.
    • Exercise timing restraint. There is no point firing off press releases every five minutes. You will make it harder for a journalist to notice when a newsworthy item finally lands in their inbox.

     

    Look out for How to make friends with the media- Part 2- coming soon! This will look at how to write an effective Press Release.

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    Kay Parris is a freelance journalist and editor with substantial experience of the voluntary sector. 

     

     

     

    Found this Blog useful? You may also like: 

    How to make friend with the media (part 2) by Kay Parris

    How to write a communications strategy by Kay Parris

    The Power of Storytelling: Six Top Tips by Mike Zywina 

     

    Image copyright of Lewis Clarke