Planning for media contact

Know your media policy
Be clear with your message  
Identify ways to work with the media
Choose media spokespeople

Key things to remember when planning for media contact 

  • Check your media policy, or consider writing a policy if your organisation does not have one;
  • Check your media strategy or consider writing a strategy if your organisation does not have one;
  • Identify what your key message is as well as your organisational position on major issues;
  • Identify how you will work with the media. That is, will you seek coverage, respond to requests for information or comment, or respond to media reports?
  • Identify media spokespeople and ensure they are familiar with the Mindframe principles.

MHS IconKnow your organisation's media policy

Before any involvement with the media, check your organisation’s media or communications policy. All state health departments and area health services have media policies, as do many larger non-government organisations.

Larger organisations may also have media relations or public affairs officers or departments. People employed in these roles/departments will generally have media related qualifications and experience. Their role will be to manage any communications between the organisation and the community. This will include public relations, publications and promotions as well as media liaison. For many organisations, all media contact must be coordinated through these individuals/departments. If your organisation has a media relations or public affairs officer or department, they should be your first contact point before any involvement with the media.

A media policy is a clear set of instructions about what should happen when the media contact the organisation. Media policies will generally include the following:

  • Instructions about what questions to ask media professionals who approach the organisation;
  • The series of actions that should be taken following a media request;
  • Identified authorised media spokespeople within the organisation;
  • The issues the organisation will or will not comment on;
  • Instruction on practices in relation to other issues (e.g. privacy) as appropriate.

If your organisation does not have an existing media policy then it is advisable to develop one. Policies could suggest that all responses from your organisation or professional affiliation should be consistent with the Mindframe principles, while highlighting your unique organisational, professional or personal perspective.

MHS IconBe clear about the message you want to communicate

The first step in planning your strategy for working with the media is to identify the message (or messages) you want to communicate. This message (or messages) should be clearly stated and will form the basis of any communication with the media. For example, a consumer organisation may have a key message that consumers should be involved in all decisions made about mental health care. This may be stated simply as, ‘Not about us, with us’. It is also useful to identify what your organisational position is in relation to key issues. It may be useful to prepare a card with a statement of your organisational message and position on key issues as a reference for any individual who may act as a spokesperson.

It is also useful to identify your areas of expertise in advance. Be clear about the areas you are able to provide advice or comment on and do not be pressured to stray from these.

It would be beneficial to prepare:

  • A brief statement of your organisation and your focus;
  • A reference card stating your organisation’s key message (or messages) and position in relation to relevant issues;
  • Brief facts and statistics relevant to your area of expertise, e.g. for young people, for your state, for
    a particular population group;
  • Contextual information, e.g. risk factors and warning signs for suicide or symptoms and effects of mental illness and common misconceptions;
  • Contact details for local support services and helplines.

MHS IconIdentify the ways you will work with the media

There are many opportunities to work with the media. Whether you plan to seek media coverage or to be available as a source of expert information, it is important that the media know who you are and what you do. Prepare information about your organisation (or network) and the areas you are able to comment on and circulate these with contact details at regular intervals. These details should be circulated at least every six months or as soon as details change. You may also want to re-send them following a relevant event that may spark a story.


Figure 2 (below) outlines the key stages in the development of a media story. As illustrated, there are many opportunities in this process to support responsible reporting.

 Figure 2. Key stages in a media story



MHS IconChoosing the spokespeople

Once you have identified your areas of expertise, it is important to choose individuals who can act as media spokespeople on these issues. When identifying media spokespeople consider the following:

  • Ensure spokespeople know that they have been identified and they are happy to carry out this role;
  • Spokespeople need to be easily contacted and available both within and after working hours;
  • Only identified media spokespeople should speak to the media. This does not mean that other people cannot be involved. For example, other people may be able to provide information directly to the media or to the identified spokesperson;
  • Media spokespeople should be familiar with the Mindframe principles. You may wish to provide them with copies of the quick reference card or resource book – either in print or electronic form;
  • If you are a media spokesperson, make sure you are familiar with the Mindframe principles. You may wish to keep a copy of the resource book or quick reference card handy and keep yourself updated with relevant facts and statistics;
  • Ensure that the media relations person or the public affairs unit is aware of any change in the status of media spokespeople including changes in role, when they are on leave or unable to be contacted;
  • Media training is advisable for those who have regular contact with the media. This may be provided through your public affairs unit or a commercial media training organisation.

Media professionals preparing stories on suicide, mental health and mental illness will frequently seek involvement of consumers and carers. If you identify consumers and/or carers as spokespeople, it is important that you provide adequate and appropriate support for them throughout the process. This support should include the following:

  • Assisting them to gain all of the information they need to make an informed decision about participation;
  • Establishing whether they are well enough to participate on each occasion;
  • Finding out what their expectations of the process are and helping to determine whether these are likely to be met;
  • Establishing with them what their boundaries are and making sure these boundaries are clearly communicated to the media professional;
  • Determining whether they wish to remain anonymous and supporting this if they do;
  • Providing a support person to go with them to the interview;
  • Providing the opportunity to debrief after the interview and after the story is published or broadcast.