Communicating with the media
It is vital from an early stage to get your local media on your side. This can be done in a few different ways.
Writing press releases
Press releases are a fact of life. Journalists are very busy, so make their lives simpler by offering fascinating stories with a memorable angle in a format that is easy for them to include with minimal editing. Consider the angle, the nub of the story. Follow up press releases with a phone call to check the paper has received your press release and intends to use it. Teen Ross, a reporter who commented on this ingredient in its draft form, said it is better to send a press release via email, and to include it in the body of the email rather than as an attachment. Make sure your initiative has a clear process for issuing press releases, that someone checks them to ensure consistency and accuracy, and that everyone is clear how this process works.
Tips for press releases:
- Deadlines: how far ahead do you need to plan to ensure your press release reaches the paper on time?
- Identify your contact at the paper. In the early days of Transition Town Totnes, I met the senior reporter on the local paper and introduced myself and the project to him. We have had a very good relationship with the paper ever since.
- Remember to clearly include the organisation’s contact details and any further information.
- Compile a database of media contacts, as well as a list of all their deadlines.
A good structuring formula is ‘AIDA’
- A Get the reader’s Attention with a good headline, sub-headline and first sentence.
- I Give the Information
- D Give the Details (when, where, contact info . . .)
- A Inspire the reader to Action (with an enticing last sentence).
Follow a press release with a phone call to see if they have everything they need.
Providing the local media with eye-catching images, chosen to suit the medium and to best get your message across, is very useful. Hopefully someone in your initiative will be handy with a camera.
These days, images should be in digital form: attach the image as a high-resolution .jpg file when you submit your press release. Make sure it is well composed, and try to imagine it reproduced in the high-contrast format of a newspaper. With photos (and with TV interviews), make sure that the people on view are standing in front of something appropriate that creates the right impression.
Radio or TV interviews
Being able to hold your own in a radio or TV interview is a different skill from writing a good press release. It can certainly be more nerve-racking! The most important thing is to speak clearly and calmly, and to have thought in advance about the key information you want to get across in the time allocated to you – it is a good idea to know beforehand how much time you will have and to adapt your messages to fit.
Aim to be one step ahead of interviewer: if they aren’t asking you the question you want, try to get the message into another answer, just like politicians do! In TV interviews, editors will probably go through and look for one or two ‘soundbites’, so practise speaking in short punchy sentences, and decide on the core messages you want to get across.
Get a friend to film you. This can be uncomfortable, but very useful! (See also Tools for Transition No.2: Standing up to speak)
Teen Ross suggests that editors like press releases that include quotes, because it gives the story an air of authority.
“‘As fossil fuels such as oil become scarcer, prices rise, causing hardship for householders,’ explained John Brown from Transition Auchenshoogle. ‘This means that it makes a lot of sense to produce food closer to home.’ . . .”