5 top tips on packaging hard-to-sell stories for the media

Communication professionals working for NGOs can have a pretty tough gig, especially when it comes to getting the issues which their organisation represents covered in the media.

Last week at Deakin’s Melbourne City Centre a group of media and NGO practitioners came together for a panel discussion on how to package hard-to-sell stories for the media.

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The event was chaired by Deakin University Lecturer Ross Monaghan and had a great attendance, largely made up of NGO professionals seeking some expert advice on the best ways to get their issues featured in the media.

The five panelists for the event were:

  • Norman Hermant – Social Affairs correspondent for the ABC
  • Chris Gillett – City reporter from the Herald Sun
  • Kate Stevenson – Senior Producer of 3AW’s Breakfast with Ross and John
  • Laura Hill – Communications Manager for CARE Australia
  • Sarah Price – General Manager – Media, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW

 

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Here are the top tips from each panelist from the day

 

“Don’t just think of your target audience, think of your target media” – Norman Hermant

We often think about the audiences we’re targeting, but we may not think as much about the media we’re targeting to reach this audience. When seeking coverage, don’t just throw an email around to all stations and papers; be selective, personalise your pitch and consider exclusivity as a selling point.

“We want the good news too” – Chris Gillett

In a world where we’re all too familiar with the phrase “If it bleeds, it leads”, Chris provided a nice change of perspective. There is so much bad news covered that if you can be creative and pitch a story on a serious issue with positive angle, then it is much more likely to get covered. Be positive, creative and quirky.

“You have got to be contactable” – Kate Stevenson

For a feature on radio, being contactable is your story’s make or break point. With very little (if any) lead time, the station needs to be able to get in touch with the talent provided, often with little or no notice if they’re going to get on the air. Forget rain-checks, you have to be flexible if you want a feature. Kate also re-enforced Norman’s point of personalised pitches. “Send me an email titled ‘One for Ross and John’ or ‘Ross will love this story’ and you’ll guarantee my attention,” she said.

“Build and foster your relationship with journos” – Laura Hill

Speaking from the NGO’s perspective, Laura emphasised the importance of building relationships with journos, bloggers and key influencers. Having those connections in place will ensure that you have someone to go to when you come up with that newsworthy contact. You’ll also be much more likely to hear about any opportunities coming up to get your stories featured. Laura’s other key points were quality over quantity when it comes to coverage, and a high focus on persistence.

“Make it Matter” – Sarah Price

With experience representing what she calls an “un-sexy” and “stigmatised” issue, Sarah’s key tip was framing your story in a way which makes it matter to the people you’re wanting to reach. For issues such as Alzheimer’s, Sarah emphasised the importance of emphasising the ripple effect; spreading the message that you don’t need to be diagnosed yourself to be affected by the issue at hand. In a similar way, Sarah also mentioned that this ripple effect can be helpful in finding ambassadors for the cause.

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Four ‘Stupid’ Questions Every Intern Should Ask

 ‘Should I CC you in on this email?’

You may not be expected to send many external emails early on in your internship. But if you are entrusted with liaising with suppliers, clients or media and they haven’t asked you to already, CC your main supervisor in on every email you send. It’s both courteous and helpful so they can keep track of the email-trail when you’re not in the office.

‘How/Where do you want me to save this file?’

Every company will have their own set of rules and guidelines for their soft copy storage. It’s likely to be one of those systems that works for them and you don’t want to mess with. Learn the conventions, name files appropriately and save them in the right place. As simple as it may sound, this means you and they will be able to find it later and prevents them having to move and rename things later.

‘Can I sit down with you and catch you up on what I’m doing?’

Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with to-do lists. They are absolutely necessary for me but I probably don’t use them as efficiently as I could. If you have a longer or more complicated task to complete and you’ve found yourself halfway through with no idea of where to go next, talk to your supervisor and have a 5-minute sit down to explain what you’ve done, what you’re planning to do next and what will need to be done later. It’s better to ask for clarification along the way than get to the end of the task and have left anything out.

‘Where’s the best local lunch spot/coffee/supermarket?’

Working 9-5, Monday to Friday in the same location means your colleagues will be very familiar with the area and will have developed habitual spots to go to for food, caffeine and general supplies. Save yourself some time and confusion by getting some recommendations and avoid spending your whole lunch break wandering in the wrong direction in search of sustenance and getting lost.

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Communication minute: Plain English

Did the feline position itself horizontally on the floor covering, or did the cat just sit on the mat?

Plain English, or Plain Language, is a term used to describe writing that’s easy to understand. It’s the opposite of gobbledygook.

Communicating is about the sharing of meaning, so it makes sense to write clearly and in a way that’s easy to understand. Documents that are hard, or impossible, to comprehend fail the basic test of communication.

The principles of Plain English are: avoid unneeded words; write in short sentences; and use the shortest possible word that conveys your meaning.

It’s not about dumbing down your writing – it’s about making your point clearly.

It takes time and practice to write in Plain English. As Mark Twain once said: “I’d have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have time”.

For more information see:

The Plain English Campaign, UK.

Plain Language Australia.

My Post Graduate Writing Unit: Public Relations Writing and Tactics, Deakin University (available for online study).

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Communication minute: Tips for a killer speech

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Communication minute: Non-verbal communication

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Communication minute: Communication versus communications

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The ABCs of surviving (and thriving) in a PR degree

Alison Coffa completed a Bachelor of Arts (Media and Communications) this year, majoring in Public Relations and Journalism. She is now working as an Account Executive in a boutique Melbourne PR agency. Follow her on Twitter at @AlisonClareC .

Surviving a PR degree is as simple as ABC.

Surviving a PR degree is as simple as ABC.

A – Aim high. The phrase ‘Ps get degrees’ gets thrown around a lot at university. While it’s true you can technically graduate by simply scraping through each of your subjects, you will set yourself up for a better theoretical knowledge and practical understanding if you knuckle down and do some reading every now and then. It will also help you keep on the good side of your tutors and lecturers. Making yourself noticed among a cohort of 100+ students can be difficult, so having a faculty staff member recognise your efforts can be a huge bonus. Continue reading

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What’s the value of good brand?

What’s the value of a good brand? To answer that question Aisha Kellaway travels to London to attend Brand Academy 2013. Follow Aisha on Twitter: @AishaKellaway

AS public relations professionals and students we understand our integral role in the representation of the brands that we work with; but how much do we know about the value of these brands, and the things we can do to ensure that this brand-value continues to increase?

Continue reading

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Shoot better video with your smartphone

If you own a smartphone, you carry a video recording studio around in your pocket. Here are some tips to get the most from it.

SHOOTING video with your smartphone is pretty easy. Shooting great video with your smartphone is slightly harder, but it is possible with some practice.

Vimeo Video School has some great tutorials including this one for mobile video:

Continue reading

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Tracking QR Code Clicks

Want to know how many people scanned your QR code? This video tutorial will help.

Tracking QR Codes from the MediaPod on Vimeo.

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