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Six things we learnt at the ‘Making the media take notice’ seminar

20 May 2010

With the rise of social media and the expansion of the blogosphere, it’s becoming easier to get your organisation’s message out on its own terms.

However, the power of traditional media – newspapers, magazines and television and radio broadcasts – remains strong, and coverage in any of these can have a profound effect on the way in which your charity, or an issue you fight to promote, is viewed by a mass audience.

On 13 May 2010 – CharityComms held a half day seminar focusing on the ways in which charities can develop their media relations skills, and improve or increase their coverage in the traditional media. Here are six top tips to keep in mind – from when your staff are being interviewed about the issue of the day, to when a service user is included in a magazine feature as a case study.

1. Be specific.

People are often more responsive to personal stories than to a mass of anonymous statistics. Each of the speakers stressed the way in which personal narrative can grip an audience; if you have an individual story that illustrates a general point, use it!

2. Avoid jargon.

Then speaking about your organisation, or a campaign you’re running, it can be easy to slip back into the familiar specialised language you use when talking to colleagues – you might not even notice that you are doing it. Be aware of exactly what you are saying, and replace technical terms with everyday words. A postman should be able to understand answers given by a microbiologist – and vice versa.

3. Know the audience.

It may sound obvious, but you should think long and hard about who it is you are speaking to. Do your research and adapt your message or spokesperson accordingly. For example, when putting forward a case study for a magazine, ask for a profile of the target audience; if the magazine targets women aged 28-40, choose a case study who also falls into that bracket, as it can help engage a reader’s empathy.

4. Be open with editors.

Debbie Attewell, editor of Candis magazine, stressed the importance of honesty: has your contact been interviewed before? Are they willing to be photographed? This saves time, hassle and may make editors more inclined to work with you in future.

5. Be prepared.

The Shift Speakers’ Bureau, a ‘bank’ of people with mental health problems who are willing to speak to the media, asks each of their members to sign a protocol document, laying out what they can expect when working with the Bureau and with journalists. Applicants also attend a compulsory one day training event, which helps them decide whether or not they want to pursue media work. By taking the time to educate the people who will be representing your organisation, you should minimise the chances of being caught off-guard.

6. Remember that your case studies are people.

Get to know the people whose experiences you use as a ‘case study’. What do they hope to get out of sharing their story with the media? What information are they prepared to give? Knowing more can help you better protect the people whose story you are helping to make public.

Ellie Brown

communications officer, CharityComms

Ellie joined the CharityComms team as an intern in February 2010, and became Communications Officer in September. Her role involves promoting CharityComms services, as well as managing the content of the CharityComms website and their social media accounts. She runs, an online charity contacts book for journalists.

Before this, she studied History at the University of Cambridge. She volunteers with UK Feminista, a feminist campaigning organisation.