As you become more savvy with your advocacy efforts, your media relations program can be pivotal in telling your story. Media coverage will get the attention of legislators.
Get to Know the Local Media
The first step in telling your story is to understand the local media environment and start building relationships with reporters.
- Read the newspaper, online and off, and see who covers aging issues.
- Likewise, pay attention to talk radio and local television news and the formats of the shows.
- Save articles to understand what is covered on a regular basis.
- In smaller markets, the media may be accessible to you, for example, if you call, introduce yourself, and invite them for coffee. Develop relationships well in advance of ever pitching a story can go a long way in getting the coverage when needed.
What the Media Want
What is newsworthy is in the eye of the beholder. Sadly, in a celebrity culture, the latest gossip news sometimes can outweigh the most serious of issues. Nonetheless, with some creativity, you can match your message with popular trends and issues taking place in your community, the nation and the world.
- Media stories have certain characteristics such as: timeliness; news value; a local angle of a national issue; the human side of statistics; and appeal to a large audience.
- The media likes relevant statistics with sources noted.
- Television reporters are looking for stories with visual interest. Once for a hospital emergency room opening, we had officials cut an over-sized band-aid instead of a ribbon. That alone was enough to attract the media. Sometimes it helps to outline the visual possibilities for reporters.
- Radio stations seek short news items; public service announcements (PSAs); and topics for talk shows.
- Newspapers like feature stories with a news angle and human interest twist; timely and controversial editorials; calendar listings.
- Magazines like ideas for stories; exclusive coverage.
Reporters have tight deadlines. The general rule I have followed is that when the media calls, you drop what you are doing to respond. Because if you don’t they quickly move on to another source. Keep a record of deadlines. When reporters call, always ask for their deadline. If you call them, ask if they are on a deadline and a good time to call back. Don't contact the media close to deadlines or broadcast times.
If you are successful in your media relations efforts, you may from time to time be called for an interview. Some will have a longer lead-time then others. So ask for a general idea of the questions the reporter wants answered. Often interviews with online outlets with extended deadlines can all be done through email exchanges.
If this will be a live interview, think about the questions and jot down notes. It is OK to refer to index cards when answering for example. But also keep in mind that the reporter may totally deviate from the questions so anticipate related questions and tough questions and decide how to answer them.
Rehearse and refine your message. Have someone pretend they are the reporter and role play.
Always answer the question posed but then relate it back to how it affects your issue. Think about how the audience may respond. Ask yourself if they will be sympathetic to your cause after hearing your message.
You can influence a reporter especially if you have been building a relationship with him/her. Seek to educate the reporter about the issues in your industry. Send them interesting articles and refer them to others for stories too. That will have a positive effect on your relationship and unconsciously influence the tone of stories.
In terms of the actual interview:
- Dress nicely even if you are not being photographed or on television.
- Talk about the issues in simple terms as if you are having a conversation with a friend.
- Avoid industry jargon.
- Be brief and speak in 10-20 second sound bites, especially for radio and TV.
- Remember that nothing is “off the record.” Anything you say can be used.
- If you don’t know an answer or can’t answer something, say so and say you will get back to the reporter with information.
- Turn the negative question into a positive statement. If someone question elderly abuse in a facility, focus on the positive relationships that occur that far outnumber the small percentage of bad apples.
- A reporter may ask the same question or variation of the same over and over because he/she did not feel they got the answer they wanted. Stick to your message.
- Get a reality check with the reporter, making sure they really understand what you are saying.
After the interview, make sure to forward any additional information by the deadline. Or if you think of something important that you left out, call the reporter and share it. After the story is printed, send a thank you note and/or call the reporter. If you had some issues with the story, bring in up tactfully. Don't destroy the relationship. Your goal is to obtain ongoing coverage of your issues and to increase public awareness and support.