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Sticking to what you know – how to get quoted in your area of expertise

10 August 2012

Getting media coverage for specialist subjects in national media can be hard work, so charities might be tempted to respond to any and every media call that comes their way. However appealing that is in the short term, in the long-term it is likely to lead to a watering down of your message, resulting in confusion among supporters and potential supporters.

So far, so obvious, but when you’ve been trying to push your own stories for months, and a national journalist calls you up, turning the opportunity down can take a strong will.This is particularly true if you work for a small charity with limited resources, or if you have exacting media targets to meet. Ultimately, being strong and clear about your area of expertise will reap rewards in the long term.

Becoming known for knowledge in a niche area will ultimately increase media calls. If, for example, you are a child protection charity but get drawn into talking about everything to do with children, you lose your value as ‘experts’. There are thousands of children’s charities out there for you to compete with; there are far less child protection charities.

So, how can you lay the groundwork to get quoted in your area of expertise?

Be digitally savvy

Cast a critical eye over your own website – or even get a friend who knows nothing about the organisation to do it. Is it clear what your organisation’s expertise is from your home page? Do you have a section with contacts for media? Also, if you use social media, particularly Twitter, then make sure you follow relevant journalists, and put out interesting comments regularly. If you don’t use social media, ask yourself why not!

Be proactive

Specialist journalists covering health, education, environment, social affairs etc need sources of stories. They also need help to explain complex issues when they arise. If you approach them, offering a chance for a briefing in advance of any stories you are putting out they have the chance to get to know you. It also means you are less likely to be called by general news reporters about issues that aren’t relevant to you. Always aim to meet in the morning and offer to go to them, making their lives as easy as possible. Make sure you are clear that you will have a story for them either at the time of the briefing or in the near future.

Be consistent

Make sure that you have agreed with your SMT the areas you wish to focus on in media work and stick to these. Always be polite when journalists call and reinforce the areas you can comment on. Don’t make exceptions as it will lead to confusion.

Be committed

If you want to get coverage, you need to be available to media – not just 9-5 but 24/7. This can be tricky if you are a small organisation but it is important. Are your Directors/CEO willing to take calls at the weekend and in the evening if it means it will lead to better relationships with the media? When listing out of hours numbers for media make it clear these are for media ONLY. If you don’t, you will get lots of calls from supporters about non-urgent matters!

In summary – stick to what you know and be persistent. You will make progress but it takes time and energy. What is certain though, is that when positive coverage about the cause you are passionate about comes in, it is worth it.

Sarah Brown

account director, Munro & Forster Communications

Sarah specialises in environment, education and the not for profit sector. She has worked in communications for 12 years and previously held posts at the National Deaf Children’s Society, NSPCC and YMCA England.