Having your success stories covered in the media is one of the most effective and cost-friendly ways to give your brand-awareness and reputation a huge boost! What’s more, media coverage puts weight behind your work and can help you seal the deal with potential supporters, funders or clients. It’s evidence that you’re making a difference and that your work is worthy of recognition.
In today’s competitive media landscape, it can be a challenge to get noticed, but there are several methods you can use to give your story the best shot. These are the techniques we use to help our clients achieve media coverage that will make an impact.
1. Identify a strong story
The media are interested in stories that are truly unique and ideally a little out-of-the-ordinary. You need to offer them material that no-one else can. Topics that are more likely to get covered include:
- Anything unique or different that hasn’t been done before, such as a brand new event, a new social enterprise initiative that is making waves in the community, a new fundraising campaign your organisation is running or a new partnership with another organisation.
- Big results – a huge fundraising success, a milestone of helping X number of people through your organisation, a significant award you’ve won or interesting research you’ve conducted (which needs to be robust).
- Real people’s stories – an example of how your organisation has helped a person, whānau or community to overcome a challenge and achieve a goal. These stories connect on an emotional level with the reader.
- Responses to current issues – sharing your opinion on a topic currently being covered or sharing a story on a similar topic. With this angle, you need to very quick to respond - ideally within 24-48 hours.
- The quirky and cute – kids, animals and unusual events are usually a winner in the local media, particularly if you have quality photographs to support your story.
2. Back it up
A good story on its own is a starting point. To maximise its potential, you need to ensure you include relevant comments from a leader at your organisation and ideally from the person or group you have positively impacted.
Quality photos that you can supply to the media are absolutely crucial. When sending your release or pitch, mention that you have photos available on request so that you can monitor interest in your story. Avoid attaching photos to your original email to ensure it isn’t blocked by the spam filters in a journalists’ inbox. Make sure you give credit to your photographer.
If you have it available, video will increase your likelihood of coverage hugely. Include a link in your media release or pitch and also have the original file on hand in case the media would like to use it. Make sure you give credit to your videographer.
Unless it’s a public event, it is crucial that you have the written permission of anyone featured in your photos or video before you share these with media, particularly for minors (under 18-years). Always document and save your interview, photo and video release permissions - just in case.
3. Prepare to respond
Who will the spokesperson or spokespeople be for media interviews? Are they prepared? Everyone who may be interviewed should have a list of key messages to refer to and some media training.
We suggest prior training for any possible spokespeople at your organisation. It is good practice to organise media training, even if your organisation is not proactively seeking media attention. It may be that you have one person trained to respond to operational issues and one person available for big-picture comments. We can help you work out who is best to comment and then prepare them.
Before contacting the media you also need to consider your stakeholders. Are there any stakeholders that need to know before you send your release or pitch? This could be your partners, funders or people the release may impact. In some cases, it might be better to send a joint release or to include comments from partner organisations.
Finally, before kicking off any media activity, it is vitally important to consider any risks, potential issues or fallout that could happen as a result of sharing your story. We can help you come up with a plan to mitigate and respond to any risks.
4. Develop a targeted media list
The more targeted you can be with your media outlet and reporter choices, the better. Identify industry publications and reporters who cover the topic you’re talking about and online publications that cover similar stories or issues. Create a spreadsheet of contacts and their interests and be sure to mark any ‘champions’ who have provided favourable media coverage before.
If you want to feature in magazines, on the radio or TV, you’ll likely need to pitch via email and phone to each chosen journalist in order to have a chance of gaining coverage. If you've done your research, you will be able to contact them with a well-thought out and personalised message such as:
"I have noticed you regularly cover stories on X topic. I am doing X that will make a difference in this area by .... Attached is an exclusive overview of this story. I have photos and/or video available. Would you like to arrange an interview?"
5. Pitch early
Journalists are busy people, so don’t just send your information through the day before – give them time to respond and attend your event or activity.
Aim for two weeks before your event for magazines and TV and 3-5 days before your event for newspapers, radio and online coverage. The more lead in time journalists have, the more likely they will be able to schedule time to attend your event, or arrange a balanced story on your issue.
If you’re making a big announcement, send out an embargoed release to your key media contacts beforehand. This means they can’t mention it until the day you specify in your embargo, but still have time to prepare.
If you’ve had a huge success, make sure you follow up with a story and photos the day after. A thank-you email or phone call also never hurts and can go a long way in establishing a positive relationship with media outlets.
6. Don’t forget your own channels
A missed opportunity we often see is organisations just sharing stories with media. You need to think about your staff, partners and clients too. Put your media release up on your website once it is sent out, share it on your social media channels and distribute it to your staff and stakeholder lists if relevant. Invite partner groups to share it on their channels too.
7. Document your coverage
Keep track of where your stories are covered so that you can make more targeted pitches next time. Update your media champions in your media list. Use your coverage in key reporting for your organisation.
8. Ask for specialist help
Seeking the support of a public relations and communications specialist will ensure you maximise opportunities in the media. At The Word Lab, we live and breathe stories and spend our days looking for ways to profile the good work of community-focused organisations.
There is a lot that goes into successfully achieving media coverage and we’d love to help you. Contact us for a free chat about how we can maximise your media potential.