Tips for Engaging with the Media

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by Alexa Briggs, CCVO Manager, Policy & Research

Nonprofits Vote: Albertans go to the Polls in 2019

As noted in a previous post, CCVO is rolling out an election toolkit to provide nonprofits with resources, tools and information to engage in policy advocacy in the upcoming provincial election. The date of the election is not yet released but will need to be called by the end of May 2019. The full toolkit will be published in the new year. Please follow the CCVO blog as we release installments of the toolkit to help you engage in the provincial election.

If your nonprofit is looking to increase its reach and awareness for your policy asks, you’ll want to consider engaging with media as part of your overall strategy. To help you effectively engage, we asked our trusted contacts in media for their best tips and now we are sharing them with you to help you get started and feel more confident in reaching out to media.  

Make trusted media contacts and nurture those relationships. Spend some time getting to know media contacts and become a valuable resource for them. You don’t always have to be on record, sometimes journalists need background information and news tips from reliable sources they can count on. In turn, they can be valuable resources for your organization – just remember to respect their time.

Contact information for journalists is usually readily available – do a little research and find journalists who are writing about topics related to the issues you want to highlight, get in touch and even consider taking them for coffee to discuss mutual interests.

Understand the news cycle and newsrooms. Mainstream media – major television networks and newspapers – have been significantly impacted by the advent of social media channels and continue to lay off staff as their revenues plummet. Because of this, most newsrooms have limited staff on the weekends. If you want to hold a press conference on a Saturday or Sunday, make sure to give the newsrooms several days’ notice so they can plan accordingly. But if you want to increase your chances of getting coverage, time the release for Monday to Thursday when more reporters are on-shift and can more easily gain attention from public officials and other interested parties.

Before sending out your press release, understand the constraints all newsrooms face: tight deadlines, shrinking staff levels, and reporters who are increasingly inexperienced and lacking institutional knowledge – all with the expectation to file multiple stories a day. Knowing this, craft a press release with a clear “hook” and in plain language (imagine you're explaining the issue to an eight-year-old).

Find a slow news day. Your press release will be more likely get attention if there is less going on in the newsroom. If you’re not promoting a specific event, or are tied to a certain day, consider what else is happening and avoid major local, provincial, and national events. For example, carefully consider sending out a release when the Prime Minister is swinging through town, unless your issue is federally related.

Conflict. Editors love conflict, so play this up when possible. This doesn't mean you have to come out swinging against the current government (nonprofits are in a difficult position because funding often comes from public sources and being diplomatic may be more prudent). Instead, frame the issue in a way that editors and reporters, and by extension the public, will understand how this issue would impact them. For example, a lack of affordable housing leads to more people living on the street, which means more money will be needed for police and other public services, which leads to tax increases – avoidable expenditures if affordable housing units were just built initially. To further validate your point in your press release, you might also name politicians who assert they are fiscally conservative, but are on record stating they also support cuts to affordable housing and police budgets.

Block off a day for media with your spokesperson. If you're going to send out a press release, be prepared for a response. You might need to respond to full day of interview requests across for a variety of mediums, and have your organization’s spokesperson available for phone and in-person interviews for print, online, radio, and television. In small nonprofits, it’s likely that your CEO will have hands-on knowledge and experience to handle all media interviews. However, if your organization is larger, you should consider identifying the thought leadership of other team members to be spokespeople as well.

Put a face to your issue. While your staff spokesperson will likely be replying to most media requests, your issue might also benefit from real people sharing their stories. To bring your story to life, confirm availability for someone impacted by the issue to speak to reporters the day you issue the press release. You’ll save reporters' time to track down a subject for the story and by having someone readily available who can comment. Saving this time increases the odds your story will make the news that day. If you are having people share their stories– ideally while you’re present, you should determine in advance if they are comfortable to have their name and every detail of their story included, or if they want to remain anonymous and/or have certain details omitted.

Don’t be afraid to dip your toes into media engagement! One news story may go a long way towards maximizing your impact and advancing your advocacy efforts.