You’ve got a strong story. It shows the extent and depth of the issues your charity is tackling. You’ve got stats and a spokesperson. Tick, tick, tick. You call the BBC planning desk and they want you to send over your press release. You get a call back from BBC Breakfast, they’re interested! Then the producer says, “we can only run the story if you have a case study”. Cue despair.
It’s not like you haven’t already tried. You have some vague leads but in all honesty, the likelihood of anyone you’ve been in touch with saying yes to a national TV interview and being free for it is slim. From the biggest to the smallest organisations, even those who have dedicated case study officers, this is a common problem for those working in charity comms.
I believe the solution is training, planning and preparedness. After having many conversations like the one above, I’ve started to see that a particular type of advance preparation has led to people I’ve trained appearing on Newsnight, Radio 4, Radio 5 live, BBC London and ITV London, and in the Guardian and Evening Standard. Here are my tips for how to work with clients so that they feel prepared and ready to undertake media interviews.
Running a full media training session is one of the best ways to ensure the people representing your organisation are prepared, comfortable and able to share your charity’s story. Your organisational spokespeople may already be receiving media training, so why not provide it to other ambassadors of your cause? If you need to convince potential participants, don’t forget to outline the transferable skills they’ll receive, which are useful on CVs.
At Trust for London, we’ve invested in some relatively inexpensive but good filming equipment so that we can do media training ourselves – our camera, microphone and tripod came in at under £600 and now get lots of use! If your team doesn’t have much media experience, investing in a freelance consultant for a day is often worthwhile.
Training should help to level the playing field so people doing the interviews have an understanding of the broader media context. It can also help to calm nerves, especially if you’re linking the training to a specific report or project. Make sure the training outlines how the media works, what journalists are looking for and, of course, your key messages. It’s also crucial to have a recorded practical element, with the participants able to watch and listen back to themselves at least twice. This provides enough space for feedback, encouragement and improvement. We also send the recorded videos to those attending, so that they can continue to learn outside of the session.
Media training in advance works best when you have a report or project in the pipeline with a fixed launch date. One of the biggest obstacles to getting people to do media interviews is that requests can be very last minute and unpredictable. Having a fixed date for a media appearance means you can give people an idea of when they’ll be needed, so they can prepare by contacting their place of work or arrange childcare. Keep up the momentum of training by arranging it a few weeks in advance of the launch. Once people have done the session and have one good media interview under their belt, they are more likely to want to help you with future requests.
It’s a good idea to factor in the cost of travel and lunch to thank those offering their time. If your budget can stretch to it, it’s worth factoring in costs to cover potential childcare, as this may act as a barrier to some people appearing in media interviews or attending training. Remember, people are giving their own time for free and it’s important to recognise the impact it has on their lives. Not everyone will be able to make the same days or times for training – with some only able to do evenings or weekends. Because we run our training in-house, we can fit in people who aren’t able to make the set media training day. Build in some flexibility and accommodate where possible.
If you can’t find a client willing to talk about the issue you are working on, what about offering training to clients at other organisations and charities that deal with similar issues to yours? You both win – the other organisation benefits from spokespeople they can call upon in the future who have gained valuable transferable media skills for free, and you win because you don’t have to turn down that BBC sofa opportunity. Most importantly, both organisations have the opportunity to highlight the cause.
The dropout rate between the actual training session and people wanting to do media interviews is high – some people just don’t fancy it after they realise what is actually involved. Additionally, those who are available may not want to do the type of interview that does come up. Some people hate the idea of TV but are keen on doing radio or print interviews. The solution is to increase the number of people you train, to maximise the number you can call on.
I hope these tips work for you. If you have tips of your own or questions, share them in the comments below.