Proactively working with the media


Developing rapport with the media
Make sure a story is newsworthy 
Generate your own stories
Target your approach
Plan how to make contact
 

Key things to remember when working proactively with the media

  • Identify a list of media professionals that you would like to work with;
  • Establish yourself as a reliable contact by providing regular, accurate information, and be persistent;
  • For each story, identify what is newsworthy and highlight this in your approach to the media;
  • Generate your own stories;
  • Target your approach to media outlets that cater for the audience you want to reach;
  • Plan how you will make contact. Media releases are the most common way of making contact and can be effective if done well and followed up with a phone call;
  • Make sure your approach is consistent with the principles of Mindframe.   


MHS IconDevelop rapport with media professionals

If you are going to actively seek coverage, it is a good idea to identify and develop regular contact with a mix of both local and specialist media. You may wish to compile a list of media contacts. The first step is to identify who it would be most useful to work with.

To identify media professionals you may want to work with, you can look at past work by these individuals. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are they fair and accurate?
  • Are they in a position to cover your issues?
  • Does their style appeal to you or your organisation?

Alternatively, there are ‘media guides’ and databases that list media organisations and those who work within them. These guides are available by subscription online or are held in public libraries. Organisations with media units are likely to already have identified contacts.

When working to develop media contacts keep in mind the following:

  • Building relationships based on trust and some level of compromise;
  • Establish yourself as a reliable contact by providing regular accurate information;
  • Be available as journalists often work to short deadlines;
  • Be persistent and don’t be discouraged if your story doesn’t get coverage. There are many factors that influence whether a particular story is included, many of which are not specifically related to the story itself, so keep trying.

It may also be useful to find a local ‘champion’. This may be a journalist or media personality who has a particular interest in your issues.


MHS IconMake sure your story is newsworthy

The media will not cover a story just because you ask them to. They are asked to cover many stories each day and must make decisions about which of these they will cover. It is the journalist or editor’s decision as to whether a potential story will get covered. This decision is made on the basis of the story’s ‘news value’.

The basic news values are impact, timeliness, proximity, conflict, currency, unusualness and relativity1.

  • Impact refers to the relevance the story has to the audiences’ lives.
  • Proximity refers to how ‘close to home’ a story is.
  • Conflict is the news value most people associate with the media, and is often seen as the most important value in today’s media. Conflict is also present in the news that ‘afflicts the comfortable’ by making them anxious or guilty.
  • Currency is the term used to describe how ‘hot’ an issue is at any one time.
  • Unusualness refers to an incident or story being unexpected.
  • Relativity describes whether a news story is worthy compared to other possible stories and across different media.

Spend time identifying what is newsworthy about your story – this is the ‘angle’. Try to emphasise this when you approach the media. You may want to develop three or four different angles to pitch to different media.

 

Example: Highlight what is ‘newsworthy’ about your story

A rural mental health service has established a partnership with a non-government organisation to set up a supported accommodation service for people with mental illness. The mental health service and the non-government organisation have decided to seek media coverage for this new development in rural mental health services. Two media releases have been prepared, one for local media and one for state-wide media.

  1. The media release for local media highlights the ‘impact’ that the development of the new service will have on the people in the local community. The benefits, in terms of the increased range of available local mental health services and the number of people who may benefit from the service, were included.
  2. The media release for state or national media highlights the ‘currency’ of the story by linking it to the need for more community based services for people with mental illness, an issue receiving a significant amount of media attention nationally. Information about relevant state and national policy directions regarding the development of such services as well as research and expert opinion about their benefits and efficacy has been included.  

MHS IconGenerate your own stories

If you want regular exposure in the media, look for opportunities to generate stories. Events that may be happening within your organisation can provide opportunities for ‘ready made news’. Such events may include:

  • New services or initiatives;
  • Breakthroughs and achievements;
  • New research findings;
  • Service openings;
  • Conferences and workshops;
  • Visits from well known individuals or experts in the field;
  • Community involvement;
  • Winning or announcing awards;
  • Launches, e.g. of promotion and prevention initiatives or consumer programs.

Alternatively you could look for options to create news through:

  • Making comment on or tying a story in with news of the day;
  • Working with the media on a mutual project;
  • Tying in with a special day/week/event;
  • Holding a contest/competition;
  • Staging a special event.


MHS IconTarget your approach

As illustrated in the previous section, the media is a complex network of organisations that have different audiences and objectives. You are more likely to be successful in gaining coverage for your story if you identify specific media outlets and target your approach to them. Issues to consider when targeting your approach include the following:

  • Identify the audience you are hoping to reach. Identify appropriate publications, programs, or organisations to access this audience;
  • Plan the angle you will accentuate. Try to adjust this to suit the target audience;
  • Consider the language you use. This will vary depending on the media professional you are dealing with, e.g. a specialist health reporter may be more familiar with mental health terminology than a general news reporter;
  • Plan the means by which you will approach the media for coverage, i.e. telephone, email, face-to-face;
  • Consider whether you are able to provide pictures or opportunities for video footage or audio.

Sometimes it is worth approaching more than one media outlet with your story. At other times it may be beneficial to give exclusive rights to one organisation.

The key people to contact and requirements for stories to be covered will vary between different types of media (print, television and radio) and the type of program they offer (e.g. news versus programs). It is advisable to contact the specific media outlets you plan to work with and ask who the contact people are and the specific requirements they have.

Table 1: Characteristics of different sectors of the media (at the bottom of this web page) is by no means exhaustive but provides a simple guide as to what some of the differences between types of media might be.

 

Example: Target your approach

A mental health service in a regional city wants to publicise the opening of a new youth mental health service. They have identified two specific target audiences for this information. One target group is young people who might potentially access the service. The second group is parents who may want to encourage a young person to access the service. Below are some suggestions as to how media approaches could be targeted for these audiences.

Target audience one – young people who might potentially access the service:

  • Identify media outlets – youth radio including Triple J and local commercial stations;
  • Angle – the availability of a service specifically to meet the needs of young people. Emphasise characteristics specifically suited to young people, e.g. staff that are tuned in to the issues facing young people, aspects of the environment that would appeal to young people and how the service can be accessed;
  • Language – informal;
  • Spokesperson – young person and/or young health worker from the service talking about services provided.

Target audience two – parents:

  • Identify outlets – ABC local radio, local newspaper, television news;
  • Angle – parents can now feel more confident that there is a quality service to meet the mental health needs of their children. Emphasise the quality of the service, experience of staff, evidence base of the approach taken;
  • Language – simple, no jargon;
  • Spokesperson – manager or clinician from the service.

MHS IconPlan how you will make contact

The way you make contact will depend on the nature of your story and the relationship you have with people in the media.

The most common way to pitch a story is to prepare a media release. This involves writing a short piece about your story which includes the most important points - usually the, ‘who’, ‘what’ ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘why’. The media are inundated with media releases every day. Yours will need to be done well in order to stand out. Tips for preparing effective media releases can be found in Tools for Working with the Media. Once a media release has been sent, either by email or fax, the sender should telephone to offer further information or a spokesperson for interview or photo opportunities.

If you have formed a relationship with people in the media you may be able to call them directly to discuss a potential story. Alternatively, telephone the media outlet and ask what would be their preferred way of receiving information about a potential story.

Make sure any approaches to the media for coverage are consistent with the Mindframe principles:

  • Avoid using the word suicide and diagnostic terms in your title, where possible;
  • Make sure language is consistent with suggestions for media professionals;
  • Be mindful of unintentionally supporting myths or stereotypes;
  • Make sure information is current and accurate;
  • Look at options for including suicide prevention or mental health promotion information;
  • Include contact details for support services or help line numbers.

  

Table 1: Characteristics of different sectors of the media

  

RADIO

Table 1 

 

TELEVISION 

Table 2 

 

PRINTED MEDIA 

Table 3 


References

[1] White, S. (1996). Reporting in Australia (2nd ed.). Melbourne, Vic: MacMillan.