Creating a media contact book - and increasing your exposure
Your media exposure is only as good as your contact book
How many times have you picked up the local paper and read an article on a community group and wondered why they were featured and not your group even when you felt your story was far more compelling?
Or wondered why a spokesperson for a group that represents a handful of members always seems to be on the radio when your group represents far more people?
If you have been in that situation maybe it's time to look at your media strategy. And if you haven't got a media strategy, then it's time to start thinking about developing one.
Some groups begrudgingly slot in dealing with the media at the last minute. They believe that all their time should be devoted doing the work, not wasted by spending time and effort publicising it.
They are probably going to be among those groups wondering why their project or group doesn't get a run in the media. Normally those groups that appear regularly in the media do so for a very good reason - they work hard for their gains.
We have compiled a fairly comprehensive guide to writing a press release, which can be found as a free Help Sheet at http://www.ourcommunity.com.au/management/view_help_sheet.do?articleid=60.
In this article we will look at the creation and maintenance of a media contact list which is an essential early step in forging good, effective relationships with media at a local/state and national level.
Why put time into creating an effective media contact list?
The simple explanation is because it can make a mountain of difference to the mission you are trying to undertake. The old movie cry of "Build it and they will come" might have worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams but unfortunately for most of us, unless people know of a service or the work a group does, they aren't likely to support it financially, physically or emotionally.
Incorporating a media strategy into your organisation works. It can win you recognition, credibility, sympathy, influence, volunteers, funding and other resources. But it is not something that is bowled up to you on a regular basis. You have to work hard at your media game and the groups that do, reap benefits that go far beyond the number of mentions or column centimetres in a paper.
Creating a living, breathing, up-to-date and organised media contact list can help you to achieve tho goals above. At the very least it will provide you with media space and time that could have cost thousands of dollars if you had paid for the same advertising space.
Creating a media directory for your group
The first thing is to have someone who likes the media and has a genuine interest in newspapers/television/radio as your organisation's media officer or spokesperson. They will need to be comfortable with the role and someone who is effective in enthusiastically selling your message and the benefits your group contributes to the community.
Climbing aboard the media roller-coaster can be a great ride but you want someone who accepts the ups and downs and is prepared to line up to go again.
Compiling your own personalised media contact list will take time but there are shortcuts. A good start is Margaret Gee's Media Guide. The guide is published three times a year and costs several hundred dollars. It is a handy reference point when you start looking for entry points to daily newspapers or metropolitan radio stations, but if you are concentrating on local media you can probably get by without it. The guide is far from infallible and you should always check the accuracy of contact details before sending anything.
Establish different sections for your contact list. Use headings such as daily newspapers/weekly or Sunday newspapers/magazines/newsletters/radio news/radio programs/TV/web sites etc.
Whom do you include?
Basically everyone you come into contact with in the media from the copy kid (or newsroom assistants as they are now called) to the editor. List reporters from the local newspaper, the editor, contacts in the news department at local and if possible metropolitan radio stations and presenters and producers from various talkback programs or magazine style radio shows as well as journalists from the local TV station/s.
Also include details of magazines that cover your area, special interest newsletters that publish stories about your sector and any Internet websites that carry news/content related to the work you do or are prepared to carry links to news on your site (if you have one).
As you build your contact book you will add researchers/reporters from Current Affairs programs, feature writers, editorial writers, Op-Ed Editors, and people who have their own regular spot on radio where they have the opportunity to plug other people. Also include any contacts that supervise the production and airing of community service announcements.
As an example:
NAME: Biff Reynolds
ORGANISATION: The Weekly Telegraph
ROUND: for example, social welfare reporter/housing reporter/transport reporter/religious reporter
TELEPHONE: (02) 0978 34845
MOBILE: 0411 1111111
FAX: (02) 9864 43453
DEADLINES: prints 4pm Tuesday, prefers copy by 4pm Friday.
NOTES: Is interested in sports politics and participation of children in sport.
July 4 - rang re funding debacle. Three pars in briefs column (July 5)
March 18 - rang to give story on State team. Appeared Page 41 (March 20)
December 3 - introduced myself and faxed details on organisation. Interested but no story.
Keep it up to date
As you deal with different journalists, add them to your directory and update your files after each contact. If they say call back next month, then mark that in your diary.
Media organisations are fairly vibrant organisations where staff are moved around on a fairly regular basis. Try and update your media directory every six months to make sure the names and contact details are still the same.
If you find a reporter covering your area has moved to another section, don't delete them from your directory.
If you have a good relationship with a particular reporter, maintain it. It is often a good way to bounce ideas when they are no longer working on your particular beat or round. Or they suddenly jump from covering education to chief-of-staffing.
You've compiled the list. Now what?
Keep in touch with the reporters/producers/chiefs-of-staff with whom you have formed a relationship and not only when you want something.
You can be persistent but don't pester! If someone doesn't want to do a story on your suggested angle, ask if it is ok if you can call back with other story ideas at another time. Not every approach will end in success.
Media outlets are always on the lookout for a good story but sometimes they are prepared to sacrifice one if it means not having to deal with someone who is aggressive, badgering and won't take "No" for an answer. Yes, newsrooms do ban people but it is rare.
On the other side of the scale, any chief-of-staff will tell you they love getting news tips from contacts. Especially those who ring in with a story that is unrelated to their own group or cause. It will definitely give you a better chance of having your call taken next time you ring in.
The difference between getting a one-off run and being a person the media turns to constantly is credibility. It is not something that you can build overnight but if you continue to be seen as a trusted source with good ideas and honest in your dealings, you will find that reporters consult you or your organisation on a wider variety of issues.
Using your list as a strategic weapon
You've developed your media list and you have started to use it on an ad hoc basis. How do you now put it to use as a strategic weapon to really maximise your media opportunities surrounding a particular campaign/event or announcement?
Here is an example of a hypothetical event - in this case a fun-run to raise money for a hospital - to describe ways you could try and involve the media.
Many of you will come up with a further 101 ideas for stories out of this exercise. In fact it's not a bad idea if you see how many more story angles or publicity stunts you can think of. But the purpose of the exercise is to see how far you can extend your contact list on the one story. The list is limited only by your imagination and the ability to be able to deliver on any promises you make.
- Start planning your media a long way out from the day of the run.
- Contact the newsrooms of target media organisations beforehand to make sure they are covering the announcement. Don't just announce a fun-run, announce something more lively like "Running for your life".
- Contact the TV chiefs-of-staff and pictorial editors and let them know that you are providing a photo opportunity. Possibilities for this include, a former patient who owes their life to the hospital, a patient running with a doctor who saved them or a family who that has all benefited from the hospital's good work. Maybe organise for a champion athlete to be on hand or a group of local school children as runners.
- As well as contacting the radio newsroom, contact the producers of the various talkback or magazine-style programs to see if you can have the same people in for an interview to tell their stories about how their lives have been affected by the hospital.
- Send out a press release to a wider audience with follow-up phone calls to either the reporter or newsroom chiefs-of-staff.
- Don't let Day One be the end of it. It is only the start. You haven't even started to stretch your contact book.
- If there are health pages or a radio slot specialising in health in the target media, contact the reporters with a different story angle based on how running improves your health and offering up experts from your hospital to talk about it.
- Contact the sports columnist. If you have a famous athlete who is running, use them as a name to get your run in the sports pages. In the off-season, sports teams will take part in fun-runs etc to keep fit. Invite league clubs to take part. If they agree it is another snippet to keep the publicity bubbling.
- If you have a TV personality taking part you can contact TV magazines to see if you can get a story with the star training for your event.
- If the stars are prepared to do publicity for free, contact radio producers again and offer them up to be interviewed about your event.
- Some newspapers with health sections will run training tips. Contact the section editor and offer up a free column from a well-known athlete training for the event.
- Try and organise a mini competition within the run. Maybe the local police versus the fire brigade, schools racing each other, doctors against nurses etc. Again contact reporters/pictorial editors to cover beforehand.
- Contact any newspapers that run an "Upcoming Events" or "What's on" section and give them plenty of time to run a paragraph or two on your event.
- Contact the Opinion pages editor and offer a piece from your medical director on how Nintendos and computers are threatening the health of our kids and why they should "Run for their Lives".
- Think how you can get it a run in the medical, health, sporting, emergency services magazines and newsletters. Gee's Guide is actually very helpful for this.
- Are there any Internet sites that would run your story? Try sports/running sites as well as community and health sites.
- What about the ethnic media or the gay and lesbian media. Is there an angle there that would attract their interest?
- Keep in contact with picture editors and keep searching for picture angles with patients etc. Even when editors know it is a gimmick and the story has already received coverage, it's hard to knock back a good picture.
- If your run is a "Run for your Life" day, send an information kit to personalities on TV and radio and ask if they are able to give it a plug on their program.
- Call the community information lines at local radio stations and provide details of your event.
- Send a media alert to all relevant media so they place it in their "tickler" or daily diary where alerts and notes on events for a particular day are kept.
- See if you can organise with local radio stations if they will broadcast from the start/finish line or send a van there that they can cross to during the race.
- If you manage to get the personality and the sporting teams, you are a chance to get a story at both ends of the paper on the day of the run. Contact the sports editor to let them know when the team is running. Contact the general newsrooms to make sure they are covering your run. Also let the social photographer know they can get shots of the personality. You could also contact freelance photographers who do work for the glossy magazines to let them know the personality is running.
- Keep in contact with gossip columnists. Try to find good angles, for example challenging a surgeon who operated on a footballer to see who crosses the line first.
- After the event, let people know how much you made. It might be another chance to get a last run.
These ideas have only skimmed the surface. Not all of them will work or be acceptable to your media contacts but it is always better to have a few story/picture ideas so that when one flops, you have another one to go again to keep the momentum up.
It is also a way of demonstrating how important it is to expand your media contact list across all sections of the media outlet, not just the reporter who covers your round or beat- in this example it would be health reporters.
Timing is everything
You need to study the media. Try and work out why another group got a run with the story. Ask yourself what was different from the story they did and one you offered up the previous week that fell flat and didn't get a run?
Some times it is timing. A good idea that is published one day might have to complete against the Prime Minister being rolled the next and not rate a mention. You can't know when a bushfire hits but you can have other ideas so that when Plan A bites the dust, Plan B gets an airing a little earlier than expected.
All of this is made easier by having a decent media contact list, maintaining relationships across all sections and levels of a media outlet. It is also good to have a relationship where someone will freely offer their advice as to whether they think your idea is a good one or a stinker.
A good media contact list and one that is frequently used means that you rarely have to fight to get to first base - and that is actually getting someone to take your phone calls and hear you out.
Once you have someone's ear it's up to you to make it work.