A few weeks ago, I was part of a panel discussion at an event held by the Media Trust, an organisation which helps charities and community groups develop relationships with media organisations so their work can be discovered by those who could benefit from it.
The theme of the session I was involved with was called ‘engaging the media’ and for an hour or so, led by Jon Snow of Channel 4, a group of us discussed how charities could improve their chances of coverage in the modern media world.
There was tough and thought-provoking questions from the ‘floor’ too, an audience made up (as far as I could tell) mainly of relatively small organisations which don’t have the sizeable marketing and media teams some of the household name charities can rely on.
The session gave me a lot to think about – not least around how charities can form meaningful relationships with local media. Here are some thoughts (with apologies in advance to anyone who reads them and thinks I’m stating the obvious!):
- Ask yourself: “Is this news?” Newsrooms are flooded with press releases and phone calls every day. While you might be under pressure to get information to the media, as yourself whether it’s something you’d want to read about if you weren’t doing what you did at your organisation.
- The killer fact: What’s the stop-them-in-their-tracks that turns going through the morning emails into a successful trawl for a strong story idea? Local newsrooms have to find great stories and also great ways to sell those stories to readers who take just a second to decide if a headline is for them.
- Assembling the story: Pictures, quotes, video will all increase the chance of a story travelling further if picked up by a newsroom. These elements are essential for getting things like the social sell of a story right when newsrooms begin pushing it on social media – and increase the chances of that story being pushed in the first place.
- But don’t take offence… if a journalist asks to film, shoot or interview themselves. It’s normally a good sign (and probably a good idea to brief you clients of this beforehand)
- Case studies: If at all possible, have these up your sleeve and ready to go. At the conference, several charities expressed disappointment that people only wanted them for their case studies. Case studies can put faces to the issues you’re trying to explain, and making sure those case studies are truly local is very important.
- If local, get to know how your local newsroom works: Not all newspapers and websites have newsrooms on patch any more, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t dedicated to getting local stories. Some newsrooms also have curation teams for community news, events listings and so on.
- Don’t cold call. Get to know local journalists in your area. Finding them on Twitter is a great way to do this, or posting comments under Facebook posts made by the brand explaining your charity’s view on a story.
- Know your geography: Where does a brand cover and where does it not? Journalists often share the stories of the press release aimed at Nottingham turning up in Newcastle, but it’s probably the single biggest killer of story ideas. Many of the newsrooms I work with now cover, online, larger areas than they used to, while others are more tightly focused than they were in the past.
- If your charity isn’t local to the brand, explain why the story is local … quickly.
- Look for brands wherever you can find them: Digital-only brands like Belfast Live reach huge numbers of people locally every day, and has an impressive track record of writing memorable stories involving charities. Hyperlocal sites across the country are also worth seeking out.
- Share, and share again: When stories are published, share them via your social accounts too – the greater the impact of a story, the better for you and the more likely newsrooms will remember your charity next time.
- Aim for the internet: One member of the audience expressed her disappointment that when the BBC turned up to film the good work her charity was doing, the video ended up on the BBC website, not the London regional TV news. If it was me, I’d mark up this up as a good result. Newspapers, radio and TV are all fleeting media for the majority, whereas a presence online has a much longer shelf-life and is easy for people to find.