Using the media to raise awareness of an issue can be one of the most important ways to influence decisions. Almost everyone in Australia will have some contact with media, whether it be through traditional sources like radio or newspapers, television, documentary, social media or YouTube.
Choosing the best way to get your message across can sometimes be tricky. This section offers some tips to help you pitch your ideas and maximise the number of people who will hear and understand your message.
Getting people interested
There are different ways you may choose to engage the media:
- Press releases
- Distributing information sheets
- Doing media interviews
- Writing letters to the editor
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
- Maintaining a website
- YouTube clips and documentaries
Here are a few things to consider when thinking about how you might attract attention to your campaign:
- Different types of communication will suit different objectives, so ask yourself where is the best place to target your efforts. Do you want to influence your local community, or national politicians? Do you want to increase support amongst a particular demographic (e.g. young people)? Is there a short time frame for your campaign?
- What is your objective? Are you trying to raise general awareness of an issue (for example, energy efficiency in households), or to achieve a specific outcome (for example, encourage people to make a representation on a proposed development)?
- Who is your primary audience? Younger people will tend to be more receptive to social media, whereas older audiences are influenced more by traditional news stories, mail outs and letters to the editor. If you are trying to influence politicians, you should also consider which media outlets to approach – consider whether your target audience are more likely to read the Australian or the Guardian
- What type of story will appeal most to your preferred media outlet? It is unlikely that national news broadcasters will have time to cover your local beach clean-up or fundraising efforts, but local papers and radio stations will often cover these activities and give you free publicity to spread the word. Conversely, you may be able to attract national attention for your activities if you can link your local story to something that is going on nationally. For example, if a significant national report is released stating that more needs to be done about marine debris, national media may tie that story into your local efforts.
- Would it help your cause to have a recognisable “champion” (such as a celebrity), or would that distract from your message? When choosing a champion, consider what relationship they have to your issue, who they may influence and any possible repercussions relating to the reputation of that champion.
- Can you partner with any other people or organisations to strengthen your message?
- Is there a striking image that you can use to attract people’s attention to your campaign? You may get a beautiful photo of a place you are trying to protect or design a cheeky logo for your community organisation.
- If you are organising a letter box drop of pamphlets about your campaign, think about which suburbs might be most useful to target and what message might resonate most strongly in different places. For example, if a development is proposed adjoining a beach area, some people will be more concerned about losing access to the beach, others will be concerned about impacts on natural values and others will worry about what the development will look like. You can mention all the relevant issues, but change the emphasis to suit your audience.
Click here for a great resource from Our Community on what the media are looking for.
Drafting a media release
Media releases let journalists and media organisations about your issue. There are some simple steps to follow to make your media release most effective:
- Keep media releases to one page
- Make sure you include a heading which clearly states the most important message you would like to communicate
- Don’t get bogged down in detail, but provide accurate information which can be easily quoted by journalists – you can provide references separately if the journalists request more information or a more detailed press briefing package
- Make your media release newsworthy by relating it to something topical and interesting
- Provide the media organisations with a “story”. Imagine that the interview is on television and think about who should be featured, where it will be (e.g outside a factory that is causing pollution, overlooking a forest area about the be logged) and any other images that may be featured (for example, photographs of similar areas after logging has taken place).
- Include the name of your group and one contact person who speaks well and is available for an interview. Ideally, provide a mobile phone contact.
Here is an example of what a media release can look like:
For a list of media contacts in Tasmania, click here. It is a good idea to find out which journalists are assigned to environment reporting and contact them directly to let them know about your media release. You should also contact relevant journalists before and after the event you want them to cover.
There are many reasons why the press may decide not to publish your media release. It may be a busy news day with other priority stories, they may not have any available journalists, they may feel like they can’t run the story without more information or they may think your story is not relevant to their audience.
Do not be disheartened – keep trying to get their attention. Politicians publish dozens of media releases every year many of which never get published, but they still consider them an important tool. It also helps the media organisation to keep you in mind if they are ever searching for a story.
Preparing for media interviews
If your media release is successful, you’ll need to be prepared for an interview. It is important to consider what message you want to get across in the interview.
Here are a few tips:
- Choose 1 or 2 key messages and practice ways of saying them before the interview. Try to keep the message short and clear so that, even if only a snippet of your interview is broadcast, people will understand your view.
- At the end of an interview, journalists will often ask you if there is anything else you’d like to add. Use this opportunity to state your key message as clearly as you can (even if you’ve already covered the topic in the interview, this is a chance to deliver your message just the way you’ve practised it).
- Be prepared to answer a few typical questions:
- “What do you hope to achieve with this campaign?”
- “What are you asking the government to do?”
- “Why is this place important to you?”
- “Why do you think that people should worry about this?”
- Take along information to leave with the journalist – including a copy of your media release, any other information about your issue (such as reports, a copy of a development application, a letter from a Minister or test results showing contamination).
- If you need time to think about your answer, take a moment. They will usually edit out the pause – taking a moment to think will help you to give a clear answers.
- If you do not know the answer to something, it’s OK to say that.
- Don’t panic or approach the interview thinking you’ll get tricked into saying something wrong. Most journalists are keen for a good story and will ask you questions that help you to get your message across. If the journalist is being adversarial, try to stay calm and stick to your key messages.
- If the interview is for a newspaper, you can also email the journalist after the interview to clarify anything or to provide a quote
- If the interview is with a newspaper, it is a good idea to provide them with a photo to include with the article – this may be a good photo of you, a photo of the place or the species you want to protect or a clear photo of a pollution incident.
- Do not approach the interview nervously thinking someone will try to trick you into saying something wrong. You can never know why someone asks you a question. Being prepared for the interview will allow you to think about the message you are trying to get out and focus on achieving this.