Dealing with the media
The training session of the South East Regional Meeting on 2nd July 2012 was devoted to working with the media. The presentations from Marie Owens and Nick Hiley can be found on these pages.
Marie Owens, Getting the best from the media
Marie Owens is the ARA's Head of Public Affairs. She is in charge of the Association's communication and external affairs and came to the role with many years experience in public relations. Her tips for effectively engaging with the media are below.
Before any communication consider:
• What do we want to happen?
• What therefore should we be communicating?
• Who to?
• What is the best communication tool to reach the right person/people?
• Who is best owner of the message? This will change depending on the story, sometimes the most senior person in the department isn’t the most appropriate.
• ...and what style/tone/look should we have?
The communication options
• The media
• Talk to someone
• Announce something internally
• Hold an event
• Publish something
• Write a letter/email
• Suggest/debate through social media
• .....or a mixture of the above!
Why use media coverage?
• High level of belief in what people see and hear in the media
• Decision makers often influenced by the media
• Pride and reputation boost
The four stages of communication
• Homework: who is my listener and what are they interested in?
• Preparation: writing, drafting, photographs, spokespeople, timings, logistics...
• Delivery: what they need when they need it, as promised
• Evaluation for next time: how was that, how to improve, keep in touch
The processes to go through in preparing a press release are the same as preparing for a face to face meeting:
• Facts, issues, pros and cons, what else is happening at the time of your release, who is to be quoted/appear, timings, decide which media to go for, what messages do we ‘want back’, what is ‘call to action’
• Draft press release, get quotes agreed and facts checked, alert some key press and talk it through
• Issuing, talking, checking, what else do they need? Delivery of extras including pictures, extra angles, answering questions
• Did it work? How is the relationship for next time?
What will you need in order to get media coverage?
• A one-line top message (newest, oldest, first, last, strangest, david-and-goliath, unique, controversial view...)
• A spokesperson
• You must work to their timetable
The press release
• ‘Read me’ title
• Succinct ‘in a nutshell’ first paragraph
• Promise of visuals or event
• Background information including who you are
• More information
• .....and messages....just like any other communication....
• Check every fact and every name in the release
• Check the photos are okay to use
• What’s NOT there? Get someone else to read it
• Can anyone possibly misunderstand?
• Timing – what else is going on?
• Talk to the journalist if possible
• Deliver, deliver, deliver
• Say thank you
• Remember to make the best of the coverage
....and if it goes beyond the simple?
• Is it really worth it?
• Create a written agreements of what you are prepared to do and not to do.
• Clarity and assertiveness
• Try never to say ‘no comment’
• Call in the professionals
'Lean forward a bit darling', Experiences of working with the media,
Dr. Nick Hiley.
Nick Hiley is the Head of the British Cartoon Archive. The Cartoon Archive Rapid Digitisation project digitised 14,500 political cartoons as well as 1,300 seaside postcards prosecuted for obscenity by the Director of Public Prosecutions. This latter collection caught the imagination of the media, and gave Nick exposure to working with newspapers and television on a local and national level. Here, he outlines the lessons he learned from the experience.
You want control of your message, but you can't have it. You will lose the power to define your message, except in its bare outlines. You won't be able to see the news item before it is broadcast, or printed, or put on the web. You won't be able to correct it afterwards. Your name will be spelled wrongly and pronounced wrongly, but you won't have to mind.
The media are dedicated to personality-based entertainment. You are going to have to provide them with a personality, who is going to have to perform if your message is to get across.
You need to divide your message into its constituent elements, starting with the absolute basics. You want to publicise your institution, so you want the media to get the name (and hopefully the location) right.
Prepare press releases, and if possible material on a website to which news media can be referred.
You may be part of a larger institution, and you may desperately want to publicise the funder of a particular project. Forget it - the media are interested in a single person telling a simple story, and they are not interested in the University of Kent, or the Higher Education Funding Council.
Prepare some images without copyright problems - either you own the copyright, or copyright has expired, or you have agreed with the copyright owner that these images can be used. This will help you to control some of the reporting.
Prepare some quotations that you know will be used. This may involve compromising your message from the start, but it will give you some measure of control.
Think hard about those aspects of the story which could be mishandled. Be prepared for the awkward questions - “why should taxpayers be paying for this?” - which might take your story in a different direction. These will often be dropped on you at the end of an interview.
You want the media to help you with your work, but try to recognise the point at which you start helping the media with its work. If you get asked for four images for a newspaper, that's fine and they are helping you. If the Daily Mail asks for twenty-five images for its website, you may think that it is wonderful publicity, but in fact you are helping them, and they are likely to give you very little credit.
You should also realise the amount of time which encounters with the media can take. They will not necessarily be very efficient at what they do, and a short TV item will take at least three hours. A single section of a TV documentary could tie up your entire staff for a day. You need to think about charging for the sheer disruption, and discussing this with the TV company before the cameras arrive.