Live from True Spin: Is Media Relations a Dying Art?
Live from True Spin: Is news irrelevant and is media relations a dying art?
GMT staff members are working from the True Spin Conference this week in Denver, Colorado. The following post is from Bobbi Russell.
Live from True Spin: Is news irrelevant and is media relations a dying art?
Panelists: Kimberly Larson, State PIRGS; Martin Kearns, Green Media Toolshed; Fernando Quintero from Rocky Mountain News.
We all know it’s increasingly difficult to get media coverage. There seems to be an incredibly shrinking news hole and slowly shrinking news staffs. Between national and international urgent issues and fewer reporters available to cover more issues than ever, we’re all wondering how we can make our issues visible and attractive. I attended this session and paraphrased remarks from the panel as well as feedback from the audience. Of course, I’m sprinkling in my own take on the issue here and there.
Fernando Quintero comments:
One of the challenges we face is that newspapers are going out of business and print circulation is decreasing. Outlets must rely on web presence and are now working on a 24 hour news cycle. Reporters are no longer working for tomorrow’s edition, but today’s website. Fernando stressed to the media folks in the crowd that it’s important to respond immediately to reporter requests in order to get into the same day’s news cycle. Fernando says this is one of the biggest changes in the print medium.
He also says we should call media outlets to task. That is, if you/your organization feels an outlet is covering just one side of the story, bring it to their attention with supporting facts. Know what the outlet has covered recently. Question the reporter/editor if the coverage has not fairly tackled the story from all angles. Be clear and concise and be ready to handle hard core questions. Offer to do a content analysis for the outlet of the issue that includes headlines, images and sources to identify a lack of representation.
Kimberly Larson comments:
Media relations isn’t dead but is a changing landscape. A couple of challenges that she thinks we face:
1. Bias. She suggests accessing the Fair and Accuracy in Reporting, www.fair.org, as the site looks at media bias throughout the years.
2. Media outlets are cutting costs. This means that there are fewer reporters and even fewer that cover certain beats. Most reporters are now covering two or more beats and working two jobs. They often get pulled to breaking news stories. They have less time to attend news conferences, so either make your event more enticing, or figure out alternative ways to release your news. Press conference calls are a great way to do this, as are pre-recorded sound bytes made available on your website.
There are also more freelancers coming on the scene, but that makes it harder for us, the pr folks, to track down the right person at the right outlet. Reporters, like all of us, are overwhelmed with work. So, what can we do to help? Make it easy for them. Cover your bases. It seems so simple, but there are really easy, low hanging fruit steps we can take to increase your changes of getting covered. So remember to: send timely news, abide by the reporter’s & outlet’s deadlines, include contact information, load all of your supporting materials (including photos & other visuals!) on your website and be available. Make your pitch concise and make sure it’s relevant to the reporter you’re contacting. Kimberly also recommends as resources the book The Future of Media and the organization, Free Press.
Marty Kearns’ comments:
Marty feels news is still relevant and proved his point by asking the audience a few questions:
--How many of you have clipped or emailed or clipped a story and sent it to a family member, friend, classmate – someone not involved in your organization?
--How many have received a story from someone in the same relationship chain?
--How many, when buying a new product, would rely on customer reviews, blogs and feedback from other consumers vs. relying on the corporate news site?
A majority of hands in the crowd went up for each question. So what does that prove? News is changing. Our job is to influence social networks to create change in policy and behavior. Media used to be the primary mechanism to do this, but now it’s easier to leverage the power of social networks to move a message and make an issue sing.
News is less predictable and circulations are decreasing. Competition is tougher and it’s harder to break through to reporters on your own. It’s possible that most of the people we’re trying to reach don’t read the news.
So, how to get the bang for your buck? How can nonprofits do it all with a small budget? Having access to so many tools and opportunities can possibly deter groups from trying new outreach efforts – choices seem overwhelming.
However, news feeds, RSS feeds, and content aggregators are helpful for reporters. Fernando says that since reporters have a limited amount of time and need to get enough relevant information to finish a story, it’s very helpful to have topics summarized and to have complex issues translated into common language. Salient talking points are extremely helpful.
One participant feels media relations is more important than ever. Even though information is getting out there in blogs and nontraditional vehicles, experts and spokespeople are still needed to confirm statistics and facts.
This was a great session with thought-provoking ideas. Bottom line is, we’re all facing the same challenges and we need to do better at actually working together to streamline efforts and pool resources. My take is that media relations is not a dying art. It’s a living, breathing, vital craft that is shifting with the way the public is shifting. More and more people get their news from blogs, websites, and email from friends. It’s important to think about magazines and weekend sections of newspapers to build relationships with news outlets. In addition to serving reporters, think about serving your supporters. Make every communication with your members count – use their power and interest to make even more people aware of your issues and to recruit new voices to leverage your message.
Organizing a Press Event and Other Great How To's
When planning for a press event, several factors need to be taken into consideration. What type of news are you looking to inform the media about? Who do you want to reach? How quickly do you need to organize your event? Sometimes a conference call is more effective than a press conference because it's easier to get reporters from across the country on a call rather than gathered in the same room. If you are simply looking to share background information on your issue, a press briefing should be held rather than a press conference.
Check out GMT's Media Event Top Ten. This guide gives you a brief overview of the different media events and when they are appropriate. You can also click through GMT's Media Training content for other guides on pitching, interviewing and more.
Remember one key point: It is important to work with reporter deadlines when deciding the details of a press event.
Cause Communications (www.causecommunications.com) has several free guides to help non-profits with their media outreach. One of these guides, Eleven Steps to Organizing a Media Event, places emphasis on the most important areas of planning a media event. If you'd like even more information after reading through these useful media training guides, you can order their book, Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits.
Create an Effective Message, Jargon Free
Every organization needs to develop a message before interacting with the media. This message needs to be reiterated each time you communicate with the press and should stay the same everytime. Make sure that it is clear and easy to understand, and includes the problem at hand and your solution to that problem. If your message is about the excessive pollution of the Susquehanna River, don't stop there. Include your solution to this problem and the actions people need to take.
Use your organizational messages as the foundation of all campaigns or projects. They may have their own 'sub' messages, but should be arteries to your main road.
Also remember that your message shouldn't contain scientific or technological jargon. You understand what you are saying because you work with it everyday, but the general public may not. Your key message may get lost amongst the definitions and terminology. Keep it plain and simple.
A great example comes from Amy Kostant of Environmental Media Services (www.ems.org). You could have your message be: POPs are chemical substances that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate through the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment. With the evidence of long-range transport of these substances to regions where they have never been introduced and the consequent threats they pose to the environment of the whole globe, the international community has now, at several occasions called for urgent global actions to reduce and eliminate releases of these chemicals.
Or you could decide this is more to the point: POPs are the worst chemicals in the world. 120 countries have agreed to ban them.
Which is more eye catching and effective to you?
If you want additional help, download Bullfighter from www.fightthebull.com. This software finds and eliminates jargon from your documents, in either Microsoft Word or Powerpoint. Download it here: http://www.fightthebull.com/bullfighter.asp.
Some Tools of the Trade: Guide to Writing a Press Release and More
The following is a great guide to the difference between certain types of media contact tools, such as press releases and media advisories. When sending one such tool, a press release, you want to make sure you include all the pertinent information a reporter needs. The release doesn't need to look colorful and fancy. It just needs to contain enough information for the reporter to create a story on. Don't forget to include contact information so the reporter can follow up. The one part that should catch the reporter's eye is the Subject Line. Keep it short and simple, making the reporter want to open the email and read more.
Read more below:
A release can also be used to summarize a story or report contained in a scientific journal, or as background information. Releases should be written like the best of all possible "stories" coming out of your event. You want reporters to use the information it contains to write stories of their own.
A great example of a press release was recently sent out by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project: MTV Damaged Sea Turtle Beach in Tobago
If you'd like the document How to Create Breakthrough Email Pitches Journalists Love to Recieve, containing notes and advice from Bulldog Reporter as well as additional tips from the GMT staff, contact Yvonne Archer.
Communications Toolkit: Cause Communications Book
Here is another great resource for the desk. It is smart and free!
Cause Communication’s newest book, entitled Communications Toolkit—a guide to navigating communications for the nonprofit world can help nonprofit newbies, veterans, and anyone in between find the resources they need to wage more effective communications campaigns.
Based off of national qualitative and quantitative audits of what nonprofits need in the area of communications, the book offers an overview of all the possible tools used to develop smart communications.
This comprehensive guide offers practical information in virtually every area of communications—from how to develop and budget a communications plan to what tools you need to help raise awareness and funds.
The book was made possible by support from The Annenberg Foundation, The California Endowment, The James Irvine Foundation and The Marguerite Casey Foundation.
Make sure you order your free copy and let us now what you think.
July 13, 2005 in Advocacy, GMT Tips and Tricks, Good Reading, Media Training, Message Development, nptech, Online Press Rooms, Organizing, Working with The Press | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (9)
SPIN Project: Strategic Communications Training and Guide
The SPIN folks have published a useful collection of tools and guides to help in planning and organizing a communications plans. Holly Minch (on the GMT Board) continues to do great work and contribute to the field of advocacy communications like few other groups.
The creation and adoption of a strategic communications plan represents a significant step for any organization. For many organizations, the adoption of such a plan represents a cultural shift toward communications and a clear recognition that all the organization’s efforts have a communications element. Public education, grassroots organizing, research, public advocacy, direct service and even fundraising are all, at their core, communications tasks vital to the health and success of a nonprofit organization.
At the SPIN Project we firmly believe that a strategic communications plan has the power to transform an organization: both in terms of your credibility and status in your community, and in terms of the way you work together as a team to achieve your mission and vision for your community.
Blog Impacts on Traditional Media
A highly recommended interview on the role of blogs in traditional media. It is a good read for communications staff that are planning communications campaigns.
<blockquote>Another milestone blog is AP's. Surely this must be a sign that blogging is mainstream. Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press reporter Walter Mears and colleague Nancy Benac will be providing "running commentary, insight, and news tidbits" from the Democratic and Republican conventions later this summer.
Their AP feature, called email@example.com, is being offered to AP clients as part of the wire service's political coverage, and will open for business the Sunday before the conventions open and run through the final proceedings on Thursday night.
This is the first blog to be offered by the AP. Mears has reported from every U.S. national political convention since 1964 and spent most of his 45 years with the AP covering politics; Benac has covered 10 conventions. Mears retired in 2001, so the blog is his temporary return to news coverage.
The reality is that the workflow of journalism is changing. New journalists, (bloggers) are jumping into the mainstream and influencing media coverage. Make sure you start to think about these alternative paths into a newsroom and into your target audience.
This was worth passing on to GMT members. I have clipped the advice for environmetnal communicaitons staff.
• Put a face to your news—“I like something with a human angle to it—an interesting CEO, product or company that’s impacting people in some way,”
• Bring out the dramatic flair—The bar is certainly higher for smaller companies, .... what your company lacks in market share must be compensated for in pure inspiration......“Drama is always good for a Forbes story.”
• Offer eye-opening news for briefs—.....get extra points for edginess: “Controversy is always good,” she adds.
• Be in the loop—“The best PR people really know their companies,” Brown asserts. “It too often seems like the [PR pro] is merely a go-between.” At the very least, have the basic facts at hand, and patch her through to other sources for higher-level questions immediately, if possible. “If you say, ‘I have to get back to you,’ I’m not impressed,” she warns. “It’s always great to deal with intelligent, well spoken PR people who don’t try to pander or cheerlead,” she adds.
• Pitch: “Email is the best way" ---Bulldog Reporter’s Pitching Tip of the Week
This should be as no surprise but it is always good to hear the drumb beats. Know your stuff, make it interesting, make it easy to cover, highlight the conflicts for the press.
Exploiting Trends in the Media: Advocacy Response to Journalism.Org Findings
There is a great new report on the state of journalism in 2004 posted by journalism.org. The study is the work of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an institute affiliated with Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
The report is a must read. The trends and dynamics they discuss are targeted toward the journalists but the work also has major implications on the strategy you should be using to distribute messages and work with these dynamics.
Here is my take on the findings and a brief discussion of the possible strategy implications.
1. More news outlets are fragmenting views and audience. They are also seeing a general decline in audience size.
It is more important than ever that advocacy groups have access to great database of always changing news outlets. What online sources, radio, TV, magazines and papers are reaching your target audience. It is no longer safe to assume that if you get the local papers your are moving your message to the right people at the right time. It is also essential that you work your "hooks" into the online version, TV version and radio versions of the outlet (or reporter).
2. Budgets are disappearing. Newsroom is shrinking. Less reporters need to generate more content.
Make it as easy as possible for the reporter to cover your story. They do not have the time to track down leads and facts. The more you can complete the story for your journalists friends the more likely they will do something with your story. Make sure you have an online press room. Have the story, images, graphs, video, key contacts, etc. prepared for the journalists.
3. Online, ethnic and alternative media have growing audiences.
It is essential to develop the relations with the emerging media. The dynamics are moving in the right directions and the online, ethnic and alternative media are going to have increased budgets and resources to help "break" stories. these are the places where the y will have more resources to attack stories important to their readers. Increasingly advocacy communication staff should have a communications plan that taps into the increasing power of alternative media.
4. Much of the new investment in journalism today - much of the information revolution generally - is in disseminating the news, not in collecting it. Most sectors of the media are cutting back in the newsroom, both in terms of staff and in the time they have to gather and report the news.
Every good story hit is increasing in potential redistribution value. Many outlets are entering content sharing and re purposing agreements. Do not disregard smaller outlets as an outlet for your big story exclusive because the value of the story can be picked up across media partnerships. Target small bureaus of the big papers to see if you can "trickle up" rather than merely going with the "big" hit and then customizing the story for smaller markets.
5. raw elements of news as the end product...
Produce your own content. Provide your video, photos, recordings of people in the street or public meeting. The 24 hours cycle has an endless demand for fresh content and almost zero money to produce it. The more that you can connect them to volunteer video and accounts "on the scene" the higher likelihood that some outlet will grab the raw feed. If you expect it to be a great visual you can grab it with volunteers. Collect the images, track down email and contact information on people recording the event.
6. delivering essentially the same news repetitively without any meaningful updating.
The initial story matters. Plan your campaign and events for short burst of attention not a big ongoing story.
7. Journalistic standards now vary even inside a single news organization. ... a mass audience for news not in one place, but across different programs, products and platforms......the way that advertising intermingles with news stories on many newspaper Web sites would never be allowed in print.
You need a database of all the distribution channels associated with an outlet. Advocacy groups also need to think about exploiting the loose rules on advertising. If there is an upcoming report on water quality by the states or feds see if you can get an online ad for connecting people to your group. Ask your local news outlets (TV, News and Radio) for a sales pitches from the advertising department to see what options they offer for "placement". You don't want just ads you want on air personalities to wear your tee-shirt, hat, etc. How much would it cost to develop a Friday river report for the summer months?
8. public perception evident in various polls that the news media lack professionalism and are motivated by financial and self-aggrandizing motives rather than the public interest.
When the media screws up attack them. They are weak in the public's perceptions and the y screw up advocacy stories all the time.
9.Study shows general increases in journalist workload, declines in numbers of reporters, shrinking space in newscasts to make more room for ads and promotions
Again. Prepackage your key messages in short blast. Think about ways to use ads and promotions to move your message.
10. Traditional media is in TROUBLE..the economics are not looking good and audience is shrinking.
Advocacy groups had better start thinking about the alternatives and new ways to move messages directly to target groups without the media.
11. Online journalism appears to be leading more to convergence with older media rather than replacement of it. When audience trends are examined closely, one cannot escape the sense that the nation is heading toward a situation, especially at the national level, in which institutions that were once in different media, such as CBS and The Washington Post, will be direct competitors on a single primary field of battle - online. The idea that the medium is the message increasingly will be passé. This is an exciting possibility that offers the potential of new audiences, new ways of storytelling, more immediacy and more citizen involvement.
12. Those who would manipulate the press and public appear to be gaining leverage over the journalists who cover them. Several factors point in this direction. One is simple supply and demand. As more outlets compete for their information, it becomes a seller's market for information. Another is workload. The content analysis of the 24-hour-news outlets suggests that their stories contain fewer sources. The increased leverage enjoyed by news sources has already encouraged a new kind of checkbook journalism, as seen in the television networks efforts to try to get interviews with Michael Jackson and Jessica Lynch, the soldier whose treatment while in captivity in Iraq was exaggerated in many accounts.
While I would not expect any checks for your story ...make your story pre-packaged and easy to cover. when you have the "hot" issue of the moment be prepared to take much more intense volume of interest because of these dynamics.
Evaluating Non-Profit Communications Initiatives
Evaluating Non-Profit Communications Initiatives is a wonderful paper by a lot of heavy hitters in communicaiton and communication theory folks. The paper is very interesting ( I really like the focus on "media trigger events") in context of "awareness communicaitons" . The frame work falls short in that it does not look at communicaitons campaigns "in battle" with an opposition campaign (most of the work we do). However, it is definately worth a read.
This Working Paper suggests that evaluating media campaigns is often a multi-phase effort, with no single "roadmap." However, numerous guideposts can be observed, as detailed here.
The paper’s objective has been to give foundations and non-profits a realistic set of guidelines to use as they evaluate communications efforts. It is important that members of the evaluation community have a realistic overview of what can and cannot be expected as they seek to assess communications projects in the non-profit arena.
The next steps will be for CCMC to work with interested foundations and non-profits to apply these guidelines to assess ongoing communications efforts. This will enable CCMC, foundations and the non-profits to judge the effectiveness of the guidelines suggested and to modify them where necessary.
Kudos to CCMC for pushing evaluation, communicaitons theory and communicaitons strategy to a new level.