Communicating Effectively with the Media

We’d like to thank Kim Perkins, Community Development Coordinator at the Burnside Gorge Community Association for writing the following guest blog post about her learnings from attending our recent media communications workshop.

On October 7, 2010, Volunteer Victoria hosted a half-day workshop called Media-Wise: Communicating Effectively with the Media. The session was facilitated by Ian Parker, former journalist and TV anchor who shared insights into gaining – and making the most of – media opportunities.

According to Ian, most media wounds are self-inflicted and easily avoided. Having a plan and knowing your key message can go a long way in turning encounters with the media into an opportunity to advance your organization or cause. Here are some of Ian’s recommendations:

Build relationships.

Establishing and maintaining good professional relationships with the media will go a long way toward gaining air time and ensuring accurate coverage for your organization. Answer the phone, return calls, respond to emails and understand that the reporter has a deadline.
 
Find out which reporters and media organizations cover your field and connect with them. By making yourself available to the media ahead of time, you can become a source to reporters on issues in your field, which will result in residual media coverage for your organization.
 
Get noticed.

There is a lot of competition for coverage and getting attention is a challenge. By paying attention to what else is being covered, you can determine what the media likes to cover and whether now is a good time to pitch your story.

Determine what makes your story newsworthy. Is it new, different, or relevant to society today? The media will not cover stories that are the same old, same old or too complicated. They will cover human interest stories, especially easy feel good or feel bad stories with lots of human emotion. Stories of tears and redemption dominate in the media.

Good stories contain conflict and strong characters; these stories come through your clientele. Ideally, the media wants to talk to your clientele, to tell their story. When telling the story of a client, make sure the story comes from an individual who typifies the organization, the work and the story.

Identify two key people in a media establishment to submit your story to. This will likely be the person responsible for assigning stories and a reporter who covers your topic.

Be prepared.

When the media contacts you or your organization, get the details – before the interview starts. Find out why they are contacting you, what the story is about, what the focus will be and if they will be speaking with anyone else. Establish if  the interviewer has any background knowledge on the issue or your organization.

Prepare the journalist and yourself. Provide the journalist with your website and any relevant fact sheets about your organization and/or the issue. Find out the deadline. Tell them you’ll call back and create your plan. (And make sure you DO call them back!)

Have a plan.
 
Media is an opportunity to promote your organization or an issue, clarify or – if necessary – express concern. When you have a situation, make the best of it. Set an agenda for your sessions with reporters. Your agenda may be as simple as getting information out. Have a communication plan in place to meet that agenda.

Remember that the reporter will have an agenda that may not match yours. Researching the reporter’s background can help determine ahead of time what their angle may be.

In a good media interview you will communicate your point, not just answer the media’s questions. It is not the media’s responsibility to meet your agenda; it’s yours.

Know your audience.

Reporters, like you, are pressed. They are facing deadlines, tight budgets, fewer staff and competing stories. The interviewee and the reporter share in the responsibility of getting the facts straight.

Determine who the audience will be for the story and decide what you want to tell this audience. Ask yourself, what is the most important thing you have to say? What is the evidence? What is the best way to say it? What do you want them to do? (Donate, volunteer, understand, vote, etc.)

Know the message. Repeat the message.

Before the interview, determine your key message. During the interview, be succinct and stay on point. Providing too much information is a common cause of inaccuracies in the media. Your key message should resonate in every response.
 
You don’t have to answer every question as long as you give a valid reason why, such as “we’re not authorized to speak on that issue”, “that issue is still in process” or, “it’s a personnel issue”.

Bring the conversation back to what you want to talk about by using phrases such as, “We tend not to be a political organization but our focus is…” “I can’t answer that because… I will get the information for you. But I can tell you that…”
 
Get it right, right away.

If the media publicizes information that is inaccurate, move immediately to follow up and clarify. If a reporter provides inaccurate information, correct it immediately before getting into the subject. Clarify where clarification is necessary, deny where denial is necessary and refocus where refocus is necessary.

Do’s & Don’ts.
When speaking with the media, keep these tips in mind:

Don’t
Use lingo
Stray from the topic/message
Share information “off the record”
 
Do
Use plain language
Stay on message
Repeat the message
Have a plan
Know your audience

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