A quick case study: Why did our TTCriders sardine award competition get so much media attention?

Last month, the awesome folks at TTCriders organized a photo competition, where TTC users were encouraged to take a photo of their overcrowded commute (hence the sardines reference) and send it to us.  We then chose the best photo and converted it into an award to give to MPP Glen Murray for failing to fix transit in Toronto. Well, we actually chose four, because some of us – Stef H., I’m looking at you – couldn’t decide which one was the best. 

Karen Clarke St George Station Evening Rush Hour 26 Feb 2014

This photo was taken by Karen Clarke at St George Station on Feb. 26, 2014. This photo was one of four award winning photos.

The TTC Sardines Award competition generated so much media attention.   We were on TV or radio nearly every day for a week and then some.   There was CBC’s Metro Morning, CBC News, the Toronto Sun, Inside Toronto, Torontoist, Now Magazine, CP 24, and more.

Why did this event get so much media attention?

First, I think our media success was partly because we did all the standard media work you do to get coverage. We sent out a press release to our list of reporters that we keep, and we did pitch calls to key journalists that know us and regularly report on transit.

Second, our media success was also due to the fact that the photo competition and award delivery plays into what the media likes to cover. (The media was reporting on our story even when we only had about 20 photos submitted from transit users.)

The media likes novelty: mock awards are not common.

The media likes events, and we were planning on organizing an event to deliver the award.

The media – especially TV – likes visuals, and the photos coming in from TTC users provided that.   Not surprisingly, TV liked our story more than print media. Aside from the Toronto Sun, the print media left us alone.

The media also like controversy and drama, and there is mystery and conflict inherent in our Who-Dunnit story as we were planning on giving an award to an as-yet-unnamed high profile elected official.

And third, we had some serious luck on our side. Transit is a super hot issue in Toronto right now, and it was a slow news week.   A few weeks prior to this event we organized a rally at City Hall during the city budget process.  Tonnes of media turned up and we got some live coverage then and there, but then Rob Ford said something offensive and Justin Trudeau said he was going to abolish the liberals in the Senate.  We didn’t get much coverage after that, and that’s the way it goes when you’re dealing with a fickle media cycle.

Thanks to all of those who made this TTC Sardine Award competition and event happen, including: Jenn, Ken, Herman, Brenda, Stef, Marco, Roxanna, Cindy, Helen, and more.

Are you interested in hiring a media consultant or bringing us in to host a training for your organization?  Contact us at [email protected] or contact the training organization, Tools for Change, at [email protected]

Tools for Change just organized an awesome media training with the very talented Hussan from No One Is Illegal Toronto and David Sone from Earthroots,  but we’ll be organizing some more media trainings come September, so make sure to join our email list.

I’m also organizing a three day media training conference for the Canadian Association of Labour Media to be held in Montreal May 1 to 3, and there’s still some tickets left.   Go to www.calm.ca/conference to register.  We have twenty workshops organized, and Joanne Deer from NOW Communications is leading a day long session on how communicators can oust Harper from office, and more.

Anyway, here’s some coverage we got on City TV.

Mob Lab profiles Tools for Change

Read Mobilization Lab’s report on Tools for Change.  The goal of this article is to inform others who might be interested in starting up a similar group in their area.  Thank you Anna Keenan for your article.

 If you’re an activist in Toronto, you probably know Tools for Change.

There to “help you develop skills to champion social change,” they are a fabulous example of local collaboration between organizations. And it is leading to both greater efficiency and higher impact for Greenpeace and for the broader movement. Read the rest of the article…

Check out witness.org’s great “how-to” section on video activism

Witness has built an absolutely fantastic section on their website that is dedicated to helping other activists harness the power of video.  Founded by the musician, Peter Gabriel, Witness has been training activists to use video to document human rights abuse for nearly 20 years.

Witness’ documentation and materials include:

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.