What is on this page?
- What do you use media for
- Important things about media liaison
- Working with journalists
- What is a good story
- How to get your story to the media
- Press statements
- Press conferences
- How to use radio effectively
- Phone-ins and talk-shows
- How to use events and photo opportunities
All organisations have to deal with the media at different events and as part of their outreach and campaign work.
Advocacy is a key part of the work of most organisations. If you are trying to mobilise people behind your cause and influence public opinion then publicity and marketing is very important. People must know your organisation, who you are, what you stand for and why they should support you. A successful organisation needs to build a profile that people relate to. Newspapers and radio reach thousands of people and if you use the media effectively your organisation will become well known and respected among the people. Also, using the media will make you more transparent and accountable to the public and will help to build your reputation and influence.
Most organisations have their own rules for who may speak to the press and their own policies for dealing with the media. Policies should include issues like:
- Who acts as spokespeople on specific issues
- Who issues and approves press statements
- Who may be interviewed on behalf of the organisation
Make sure you develop and understand clear policies within your organisation and get guidance and help from your organisation’s leadership structures when you need it. Most organisations have three types of people who speak to the press:
- A spokesperson who stays in regular contact with reporters, briefs them, issues press statements, deals with questions and queries and organises interviews
- Leadership who are interviewed or asked questions or are just quoted when they speak in other forums like public meetings.
- Spokespeople on specific topics who have special knowledge and experience on that topic
How to work with journalists
Personal contact with journalists is very important. The best way to get publicity for meetings, events or campaign action that you participate in is to build a good relationship with journalists, especially political reporters. Get to know them, feed them information and be friendly and helpful whenever they want to do a story. You need them and they need you to become better journalists. It is very important to always have a friendly and open attitude to the press and to make sure that you use every opportunity to make publicity for your work and for issues you feel strongly about.
Try to develop an ongoing relationship with specific journalists so that they also develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of your issue. This will help them to write better stories that spread your message rather than just advertise your events.
Many organisations treat the media as the enemy because they do not get the coverage they want. Remember that individual journalists are not to blame for how a story is used. The media is your way of reaching the public and you should work hard to win them over. If you have a professional relationship with the media and an open attitude to them you will be much more successful than if you treat them with suspicion and hostility.
In areas where there are few newspapers try to get publicity through the local community radio stations that people listen to.
- Never be rude to journalists – they will not give you good publicity unless you make a good impression on them.
- Never blame journalists for not getting your story in the paper – remember that they have news-editors and sub-editors who can decide not to use the story or who can rewrite it so that it comes out differently.
- Always return calls quickly when journalists phone you and make sure that you respond fast to requests for interviews or information.
- Never lie or exaggerate to journalists and always be sure of your facts. If you lie you will probably be caught out. If you are not sure or are not the best-qualified person to be interviewed, refer journalists to your organisation’s media structure.
What is a good story?
We often get upset that stories we think are good ones, do not get into the news. For journalists "good" stories are stories that are interesting, newsworthy or unusual. Newspapers will not cover every speech we make and every meeting or rally that we hold, but, if there are serious or controversial issues involved, or if it is an unusual event, we will get publicity more easily. If you have a good relationship with journalists you have a much better chance of persuading them that your story is important.
The media is also interested in stories that have a human-interest element. Try to organise interviews and visits for reporters to people who are affected by the issue or cause you are taking up. Find ways of telling the big story through the eyes or experience of someone who is directly involved. Stories are more interesting when there are photographs and words from human beings rather than just press statements from organisations.
The media will also cover events attended by high profile people like ministers and premiers, celebrities and popular personalities so it may be good to invite someone like that. Unfortunately the media may leave as soon as this person has spoken and often only the high profile people will be quoted in stories.
There are many different ways of getting your message across and getting information to journalists. Here are a few of them – press statements, press conferences and interviews. Study them, and then decide what is the best way for each event. Decide what you want to say, choose the most effective method and then get the information out. Do not overdo it by using all the methods at the same time.
A press statement is used to give information or comment on an important issue or event to the media. Remember that news goes stale very quickly so get your statement out as fast as you can. For example, if you want to comment on something your local council said or did, do so immediately – by the next day it will no longer be newsworthy.
Follow this recipe for a press statement
What – who – when – where – why
What/who: Mayor Dorothy Ndlovo will open a new Rape Crisis Centre in Grobelaarsdal this weekend.
When/where: The launch will take place at the centre next to the Community Hall from 10am until 1pm on Saturday May 6.
Why: For the last 3 years the Grobelaarsdal Women’s Forum has been raising funds to provide a service for abused women in the area. Grobelaarsdal has one of the highest rates of violence against women and has almost no services where these women can be sympathetically and supportively treated. The Rape Crisis Centre will be a one-stop centre where women will be able to get counselling, medical treatment and police investigation should they wish. Both the doctors and the police will come to the Centre and the woman will be able to stay in one supportive and comfortable environment until her needs have been attended to. The Women’s Forum has worked tirelessly on setting up the Centre and has enjoyed a huge amount of support from the local community, the Grobelaarsdal Town Council, and the local Pick and Pay which is sponsoring the Centre. All members of the public are invited to attend and to help us celebrate the opening of this much-needed service for the women of Grobelaarsdal
Build up a list of phone and fax numbers for the press and always send the statements to all of them.
Always keep your press statements short (3 – 6 paragraphs) and put the most important information first. If you don’t they will only use part of the statement and perhaps leave out the most important bits.
Press conferences should only be called when you have a big story for the media that the public will be very interested in – for example, the launch of a project or comment on an important issue from leaders. You should have some speakers at a press conference who will attract the media, copies of press statements or briefing documents and people who can explain the issue clearly. A press conference should be about 30 minutes long.
You call a press conference by sending an invitation stating the topic, speakers time and venue to all the media on your contact list. Fax it through and follow it up with phonecalls to confirm attendance. Try to invite specific journalists rather than just sending an open invitation to the editor.
You should never have more than 3 speakers at a press conference and if there are many people who have to be accommodated let them sit at the main table but only respond to questions. Make sure that there is a strong chairperson, who can stick to the time, keep the conference orderly and direct the questions to the best person for response.
You can often get media coverage by offering journalists interviews about an interesting news event. Simply phone them up if you are part of a newsworthy event or know something about a newsworthy event and give them the information. They may then ask you few questions and quote you in the newspaper story. You may also get requests from journalists for interviews about something specific – especially if you have developed a good relationship over time with individual journalists.
The SABC and some newspapers have a list of experts that they consult or interview on specific topics. If your organisation specialises in a specific area try to get on these lists by sending them your details and your area of expertise.
Whether you are being interviewed for newspapers, radio or TV, there are a few key things to remember. Most importantly, make sure you are well prepared and can handle the topic of the interview – otherwise get someone else to do it.
Here are some general tips for interviews - they cover press, TV and radio.
- Keep your responses very short – very little of what you say will be used and it is better not to give them so much information that they can pick and choose which parts of your answer to use.
- Be sure of your facts and of your organisation’s position on that particular issue.
- Be confident and answer questions clearly – keep your sentences short.
- Don’t avoid difficult questions by talking a lot and not actually answering – rather say "I am not sure about that; I will check and call you back." Or, "I cannot comment on that; please contact the our national office."
- Be polite, helpful and friendly and always come across as warm.
- Never lie or exaggerate.
- If a number of your members will be acting as spokespeople, draft a briefing or speaker’s notes on complex issues as a guide for them.
There are about 90 community radio stations in South Africa and many regional ones. Community radio is the best way of communicating with local people. Radio journalists will use 2 main methods:
- Phone-ins or talk shows
Phone-ins and talk shows
You may be invited to the studio to participate in a debate or discussion with each other or to answer questions from the listeners. You can also contact your local radio station and try to persuade them to organise debates and discussions.
Here are some tips:
- Prepare properly and make sure that you have about 3 key points that you want to communicate clearly. Whatever else is going on try to keep focussed on these points and get them across.
- It is important to be firm and strong so that you get enough time to speak but it is equally important that you do not come across as rude or aggressive.
- Keep your answers short and to the point and keep your language as simple as possible.
- Never give lectures but speak the way that you would to older respected members of your family – always remember that you are speaking to the listeners rather than to the interviewer.
- Listen to what other people are saying especially the interviewer or callers who phone in and respond to them as personally as possible.
- If it is a caller, try and remember the person’s name and use their name when you respond to their question.
- Never humiliate or undermine a caller; even if they are hostile be as polite and friendly as possible. This does not mean you cannot disagree with them -–just do not get personal or aggressive. Focus on the issue not the person.
- Don’t interrupt or lose your temper with people who oppose your views; rather remain cool and calm and leave the hysterics to others
- Never be defensive or refuse to answer questions in an aggressive way. Stay as positive and open as possible. Regardless of how other people on the show are behaving you have a duty to be transparent, accountable and to show that you have confidence in what your organisation stands for.
In some cases radio journalists might interview you directly in the studio or outside a meeting or event. A live studio interview gives you a chance to talk for longer and means that nobody will edit what you are saying. You should still try to keep your responses as short and crisp as possible and avoid giving long and complicated explanations – remember that you are talking to people who may be listening with only one ear.
An interview outside a meeting or event is usually much shorter and only one or two sentences that you say may be used. When a short piece of what you say is used it is called a ‘sound byte’ and it is very important to deal with sound bytes properly. Keep all your sentences short and always say the most important thing that you want to get across first, immediately after the interviewer has put a question to you. When they edit the story they will very often take their question and the first sentence after it and not much more.
Avoid waffling and justifying or explaining things before answering the question. Say something as strong and as clear as possible. For example if you are asked what you think about crime in the area, do not say:
"Well, our organisation has been discussing this for a long time, and we are also talking to business and other leaders, but you must understand that the causes are complex and we cannot really change things overnight, you know this is a problem we inherited from the apartheid days – you know there is poverty and unemployment that we also have to look at and well, I think we all know that there are also problems with the police and the courts ..."
Rather say something like this:
"We have had enough of crime in this area. Getting rid of crime is now our most important task and the council has started the job. We are making our streets and taxi ranks safer and working with the police to clean up dangerous areas. We need the help of every citizen – work with us and the police. Without the community’s support we will not get rid of criminals in our midst."
Many events that you will attend may not be newsworthy but may at least get a photograph in the local newspaper. Make sure that you use photo opportunities like this properly and try to set them up where possible and to contact the press beforehand.
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