Media – Working with Media – Tips From the Merton Center

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Some of us like to think of the media simply as a TOOL. They are not your friends: so don’t get too comfy – only tell them what you want to get out there, stay on your toes and your message. If you talk too freely/casually, you might lead the reporter down a road that you don’t want to be quoted on. But they’re not your enemy: they may print something you don’t agree with, but oh well. If there is a factual error, it doesn’t hurt to call them up and tell them so. But then let it go. That happens. Use the tools as best you can.

Press Releases: one page, plain and simple, relevant info (see below). Some of us have found that it is good to fax the press release a week before the event…then call to make sure it was received…then fax it the day before the action and call again. If you have the time it is good to call as many times as possible. This greatly increases your chances of coverage. And when you call, don’t take a quick “yes, we might be there” for an answer. Find out WHO is going to cover it! They might take your event a little more seriously and think about whom to assign it to. And then, once you have a name, you can directly contact the assigned person so you can be sure to provide them with anything else they need.

It might also be helpful to draft a Call To Action which can be longer, more flowery, and rally other people to your event (you can send this around all over the internet and put it on flyers to hand out too). Familiarize yourself with all the different outlets you could advertise in and how and when (many places have deadlines) to go about submitting your event to them. It’s often helpful to create a timeline for yourself to get all this stuff done on time.

At the event: have press releases to give to media people (they may not always get what comes through their fax machine). If your event is a rally or press conference, have a schedule to give them maybe with speaker bios and quotes that can be used (sometimes reporters get lazy and would rather have their quotes handed to them, so do that – literally!). Have a flyer with contact info to give them. Maybe a little blurb about your group. Have fact sheets. And have people to WELCOME THEM and thank them for coming and be there to give them anything they need or to direct them to people who may want to talk.

Building relationships with individual reporters can be helpful. Outside of event-specific stuff, complement them on articles (especially not about you). Pitch articles that you think their audiences may be interested in. Ask if they’re covering a current event then give them your/your group’s message on it. Give them heads up about upcoming occurrences.

Know your media. Are you familiar with all the corporate media outlets (and even individual writers) in your area? Do you know how they slant/ what their differences are? This could help depending on who you send to them for interviews.

Practice quick sound bites and do some role-playing! Do it in the shower in the morning – great acoustics (!) and it helps to get you in a good mind frame before the event. Run your “message” by dear mom (assuming she’s not involved in your campaign) to make sure you’re able to reach people who may not be as familiar with movement jargon.
Repeat the information and points you are trying to make. The media seldom airs the questions only the answers. Politicians do this all the time.

Other miscellaneous media ideas some of us like to keep in mind:

1. To not be fixated on having everyone relay YOUR message. There’s no such thing as a monolithic experience and no one, right way to represent a group, an organization or a movement.
2. That people who are most affected have the space to speak out…and that may not always be the one who put the hard work into organizing an event.
3. Refrain from attacking those who choose approaches that may, to you, seem ineffective, and instead focus on what missing elements we can add to make others’ efforts effective. We like to always reframe the question of strategy in terms of personal responsibility! This ensures that the question is never what somebody else should be doing, but always what we can do.
4. Media may not always be your goal. Sometimes there are conflicting goals when you are working on a strategic campaign so just pursue those instead.
5. Be aware of perceived leadership – rotate roles! This helps strengthen everyone’s skills AND cuts down on perceived “leadership.”
6. Continue to make your own media! You can get YOUR message out there that isn’t censured by corporate sponsors. And sometimes, reporters don’t have camera people – you can offer your photos or video footage which helps build rapport, and again, you can give ’em what your group wants out there and raise the chance of more accurate reporting.
7. In television interviews, mainstream media seldom airs the questions asks. Take lesson from smarmy politicians by not being distracted by questions and repeat your soundbite.

It’s good to keep in mind, you can only do as much as you can do. There is no MAGICAL MESSAGE. And media is only ONE SMALL PART of the large amount of work being done to achieve our goals. Be prepared (do your prep work, have press releases on-hand, have people welcoming the media reps, keep in touch with them to wrap it all up, etc.). And then let it go.

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