The past week I’ve been working on a news story that required contacting small Christian charities for their opinions. This took me back to days when I was doing this more often and finding the experience a tad frustrating. Anglican dioceses often had some particularly interesting media strategies… perhaps I’m impatient because I used to deal with large, well-funded corporate PR teams. However I thought of a few tips to help a small charity serve journalists better – which could lead, hopefully, to more awareness of the charity in the media and the wider community. If you’re doing something great, it’s worth trying to let people know about it!
- Respond to a journalist’s query as soon as possible, even if just to find out more, or to tell them that you won’t be able to comment quickly. Aim to reply within two hours and have any comment ready within 24 hours. If there’s only one person who can talk to the media, make sure there’s someone else who can take calls in their absence or when on holiday.
- If the only means of contact on your website is a contact form, general email address or phone line with an answering machine, make sure they’re checked regularly and the people who check them know they should pass on a media query quickly.
- It is probably wise to be cautious with journalists, before you know what they’re after. However avoidance is not the best strategy.
- If you are interviewed and you want to check your quotes before publication, be aware that some publications don’t allow journalists to do this. Check facts rather than trying to self-censor or change what you said into corporate gobbledegook. For example, if the journalist (accurately) quotes you saying, “I don’t like hymn books, they’re outdated,” don’t try to change this to “hymn books can be a wonderful addition to a multi-media offering in a dynamic congregation that is reaching out to all generations in the local context, though complementary digital vertical offerings can best serve some sections of our situated population.” Journalists, and readers, tire of double-talk – if you don’t want to say something clearly, best not to say anything.
- In other words, statements are best given with as little corporate speak as possible, saying what you mean as plainly as possible.
- Don’t say anything ‘off the record’ without checking what the journalist means by this. It usually means (to the journo) that the information can be used, but you won’t be quoted by name. It doesn’t mean the information won’t be used at all.
In a nutshell, there’s not much point in spending several days getting approval for a long, carefully crafted and nuanced statement if a) it’s not saying anything comprehensible or interesting or b) it’s too late. Either way, the journalist won’t use it.
But, the media can be a great way to get your ideas and your actions across to the wider public. You don’t need expensive PR agencies – some are terrible, anyway! Some of the best PRs I’ve known have been one-man bands – they’re just very good at understanding what journalists (and their employers) need, and supplying accordingly. And if you deal with one query well, it’s likely the journalist will come back to you in the future.
Media folk – feel free to comment with your suggestions…