Report Back on Tools for Change’s Media 201 Workshop

On October 15, Jen Angel from Aid and Abet Booking, led a workshop on media strategy 201. Since this workshop was geared to more experienced activists, Jen didn’t cover the basics, like writing press releases and media advisories.  (All that valuable stuff is covered in our media 101 workshop scheduled for November 29.)  Here’s some of the topics Jen covered.

  • Media Planning

Media efforts must be viewed in terms of how they advance a campaign’s goals.  Check out the Centre for Media Justice’s handout on media planning for a tool on how to develop your own media plan.

  • Messaging

A lot of progressive communicators are talking about using the power of stories, or story-based strategy.  Here’s a handout – called Guiding Questions To Help You Develop Framing – developed by the Centre for Media Justice to help you craft your narrative.

Once you have your big-picture story in place, it’s helpful to develop talking points that are each one or two sentences long, such as the talking points Jen shared in the workshop.  As Jen explained it, “a good way to think about talking points is – if someone knows nothing about me or my group or my action, what are the two or three things I want them to take away from our conversation.”  Once you have your talking points, you can use them as the basis for your media alerts or press releases.  Here’s another useful handout you can use to develop your talking points.

  • Pitching

Jen is not a fan of mass-emailing a press release to every journalist you know.  She prefers tailored pitching, which essentially consists of identifying and contacting journalists who you think would be interested in your issue.  Strategies to find these reporters include: calling up news desks and asking for the reporter who covers the issue you’re working on, and googling keywords and identifying reporters already covering your issue.

Once the journalist is found, the next step is to reach out.  Often, Jen will start an email off with a personalized note and follow that with a cut-and-pasted version of the release (no attachments). Then she follows up with a phone call.  This personalized note and/or follow up phone call includes the following:
  • Introduce yourself
  • Personal (I think you would be interested in this because you wrote about the issue of school debt last week.)
  • What is happening/why it matters (We are organizing a rally at Queens Park to protest rising school debt)
  • Where to get more information (see the press release below.)
  • Your contact information.
  • Advanced Interviewing Techniques
Going into any interview, you should be clear about what and how you want to communicate your message.   You can control the interview! Bridging is a technique you can use to focus the conversation on your key messages – the trick is to build a ‘bridge’ from the question asked back to your key points.  A lot of people call this ‘bridging’ technique “ABC”: Acknowledge, Bridge, Control.

Here’s an example of a bridge.

Interviewer: ‘So do you think there is a lot of pressure for young people living on the street to join gangs?’
Interviewee: ‘That’s an interesting question (Acknowledge) … but (Bridge) what we feel is the real issue here is that young people leaving care should never end up homeless in the first place, so (Control) what we want to see is a new law to …’

In a positive or friendly interview, you can use bridging to steer toward an issue you want to talk about. Answer the interviewers question and then say, “another question your listeners might want to know about is…”  If you are in a hostile interview you can say “That’s a great question, but the real issue is…. “ or “I understand that’s a concern, but the important issue is…”
Jen also covered flagging, which consists of using a phrase that alerts the listener that this is the part that really matters (it flags what you are about to say as the part where the print reporter should begin scribing, the tv and radio reporters should grab their actuality, the audience should pay attention).  You can flag a point by saying things like “The most important thing is…”, “I’m going to tell you three important things. The first one is…”, “The story no one is telling is…”, “The only way is…”, “Anyone who cares about {this issue} should know that….”.
  • Letters to the Editor (LTE)

To maximize the chances of your letter being published it should be short (150 words) and in direct response to an issue or article in your campus and local papers.  You should aim to submit your letter on the day of or the day after the article that you are responding to was printed in the paper.  Newspaper websites usually have information on how to submit LTEs.  Check a print version if you can’t find it online.  Here’s a sample LTE.

It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t stop at emailing the LTE.  Send a follow up email…or, even better, call them to make sure that the publication in fact received your LTE.  Ask them if they intend to publish it.  Ask if they need any other information. Be courteous and confident.

  • Documentation and Evaluation.

Think with the long term in mind.  Keep a database of all your media hits (download the online stories). Keep the name, number, and email of media contacts, and keep notes such as “likes to cover X, prefers phone over emails.” After an event or a media campaign, debrief. Did the talking points work? Were you successful in getting your messages out there? What can be done better in the future? For additional tips on evaluation, check out this handout by the Centre for Media Justice.

And check out Jen’s slideshow.   Some of Jen’s slides came from awesome media consulting group, Smart Meme.