9 tips for engaging with the media
However, participants will be required to employ the lessons learned. The simplest lessons are the most useful, so if you want to get the most out of your time on the programme, we suggest you apply these nine tips that will help you develop an outstanding relationship with the media, and get the most out of the opportunities on offer.
1. Set a time limit for responding to enquiries
Journalists are operating to tight deadlines. If you get an email or a phone call from a journalist, aim to respond to their enquiry within a set period of time. Thirty minutes should be the goal, but on rare occasions an hour is acceptable. Whatever the timescale is, make it a policy.
2. If you don’t have the correct answer in front of you don’t feel you have to give one there and then
Most journalists are professionals and are trying to put an informative or interesting program together. In doing so, they will rely on you to present your expertise, which gives you the opportunity to promote your organisation and its work. It’s ok if you don’t have the answer to a question in front of you. Take a note of the question and get back to them.
3. Always give quotes by email
If a journalist is looking for a quote, it’s better for all concerned if you write it down. It works for you because you can see what it looks like in print and make any amendments you need to before sending it. It also makes the journalist’s job easier.
4. Have policies about the information you disclose – especially if dealing with sensitive information
You should be mindful of your other obligations, both to your beneficiaries and to data protection law. Lots of organisations refuse to comment on individual cases but go on to explain their processes elsewhere.
5. Be available
If you refuse to put yourself out for journalists, or are unobtainable, then the chances are that you won’t be asked again. Building a decent relationship with the media will involve a certain amount of being reliable.
6. Think, prepare, condense
Whatever programme you’re appearing on or article you’re contributing to, you will not have much time or space to get your point over. Its important that you have one or two consistent messages that the average reader or listener can process while going about their day-to-day lives.
7. Don’t say anything you don’t want published
Most journalists aren’t trying to catch anyone – especially charities – out. But that said, it’s important that you get into a habit of only saying things that are broadcastable, whether the cameras are rolling or not. And try not to sing between interviews!
Statistics are the best way to communicate with impact. Use them where you can to avoid sounding just like someone giving their opinion – especially if you’re trying to raise awareness of an issue you’re campaigning on.
9. Sympathise and remediate
Negative stories happen. When they do it’s important to sympathise with any affected party and instantly remediate the situation. Putting right whatever has gone wrong should be your first priority, especially in a sector which relies so much on trust. Following this simple rule will minimise the damage to your brand and possible even turn a negative story into a positive one.
Neil Wilson has been working with journalists on behalf of various organsiations for a decade. Before that he was one.