10 ways charities can secure better media coverage

Charities need to think like journalists, respond quickly to media requests and comment on current debate if they are to secure more and better media coverage, says Becky, who has just launched a book – Effective Media Relations for Charities: What journalists want and how to deliver it. The launch brought together charity sector leaders and national journalists from The Independent, The Metro online and Trinity Mirror to discuss how to work better together. Here are their top tips for charities:

Know what is newsworthy: Journalists need charity stories as they are increasingly time and resource poor to hunt stories themselves, but Trinity Mirror journalist Keir Mudie emphasises the need for a news line. “It’s very difficult for us to do what we used to do – go out and meet people, make new contacts. We are desperate for stories but keep in mind, while it might be an interesting bit of research or an important survey, we need a top line to get it into the newspaper.”

Provide case studies: Journalists need case studies from charities to provide the human side to news stories and events. “Charities provide the human angle we need to better illustrate stories for our readers,” says Mudie. Editor of Independent Voices at the Independent, Hannah Fearn, emphasises the need for charities to work closely with journalists when providing case studies. “It’s a two-way partnership,” says Fearn. “Charities can be hesitant to provide case studies of vulnerable people. Journalists are responsible people and we don’t make people do things they don’t want to do. Make sure we are aware of how the case study wants to be approached so there are no cross wires.”

Know their audience: Be specific about what media you want to engage with and what their information needs are, and then target your PR activities accordingly. “Scan our website, it is easy to see our tone and what stories we are likely to be interested in,” says Ashitha Nagesh, a reporter at www.metro.co.uk. Fearn agrees: “Look at what we do and see how your story can fit into that.”

Think like a journalist: To secure the coverage charities want and need, they first need to understand journalism. “The most successful PR teams are those that think like journalists”, says Becky Slack, author of the book and Managing Director of Slack Communications. “PR should not be an extension of your marketing department. Working with the media is about a genuine opportunity to engage with wider audiences on the issues that matter to them.”

Be fast and timely: The immediacy and volume of content that journalists have to produce can be overwhelming, and the media frequently looks to outsiders for help. This can provide openings for charity PRs – particularly those that can find a new angle on a current story, can quickly turn around a relevant blog, and have extensive social media networks around which they can share content.  But they have to be fast, says Slack. “Charities can be very slow in both reacting to potential opportunities and responding to requests. Charities have to provide journalists with what they want, when they want it and in the format they want it in. Internal bureaucracy getting in the way because a quote or an interview request has to be approved by five other people before it can be provided means you miss the boat.”

Be transparent: If charities want to avoid more negative coverage in the press, they need to communicate how they operate. “News is something that is new, shocking or surprising,” says Slack. “Charities need to convey how they operate so that, for example, people being paid for their time and skills in a job is no longer news.”

Be interesting: Fearn emphasises the importance of not being boring and of making a spokesperson readily available for comment. “Start a debate, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there or be controversial,” she says. “Think about how your charity could relate to a news story. Your chief executive should be easily available to comment on events; the broader the range of issues the better; think about more than just your news.”

Think sharable: Nagesh advices charities to think about online sharability when considering what story to pitch to the media. “Look for things that share well on Facebook and Twitter,” she says. “How-to guides, lists and ‘everything you need to know’ guides do well. Recently a homelessness charity provided us with a guide on what to do if you see someone sleeping rough. It did very well. Providing easily digestible background to stories that relate to your area of expertise can be very helpful for us too.”

Be relevant: Fearn expresses the need for charities to think about the news agenda when pitching to the media. “Ninety-nine percent of what we do is pegged to the news agenda,” she says. “Look at what we do and see how it can fit into that.” Nagesh agrees. “Scan our website, it is easy to see our tone and what stories we are likely to be interested in.”

Be convenient: Something very practical that not many charity PRs may think about when pitching a story is the time they do it and what else is happening that day. “Keep an eye on the news, if there is a big story breaking, wait until it calms down before making contact so your story isn’t lost,” says Nagesh. Fearn points to the most convenient times of the day to pitch to most news rooms. “Don’t phone a news room between 9 and 11.30am most days as that’s when the meeting to discuss coverage for that day happens. It’s our busiest time of the day. And don’t call after 4.30pm. Lunchtime is the best time to get a journalist who has time to talk to you.”

Effective Media Relations for Charities: What journalists want and how to deliver it is available from Social Partnership Marketing at £14 +p&p (paperback) and £12.99 (PDF)https://www.spmfundessentials.org/titles/effective-media-relations-for-charities-what-journalists-want-and-how-to-deliver-it/

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