Originally Heard on the John Selig Outspoken Podcast
Media coverage can be a huge asset to an individual or organization but is most likely to be successful only when a well thought out media strategy and implementation plan is put in place. Unless a media savvy member of an organization has implemented a well–thought out plan with enough lead–time, media coverage is often spotty at best and uncertain as to quality of any resulting coverage.
I was once involved with an organization planning an event for LGBT youth at a Dallas Hotel. I offered to put together a media plan and handle the press for the organization. They didn’t anticipate any press interest so they declined my offer. The day of the event I was helping friends move when my cell phone rang four hours prior to the start of the event. I was told that the FOX affiliate had arrived and was taking some background footage. I suggested that they let me help with media. I was told that they didn’t expect any additional coverage and again declined. An hour later I got a panicked call and was told that the CBS station’s news crew had just arrived. I asked again if they wanted my media assistance and finally, they relented.
I showed up at the venue an hour or so later with copies of a press release I had put together and information on the organization hosting the event that I could hand to any press in attendance. Upon arrival at the hotel I set up a special media room for interviews and stocked it with beverages and food from the event as well as making sure that there was ample space and seating for different news organizations to conduct interviews. That way, only youth and adults in the press area would appear on TV or in print. Next, I selected youth and adults for interviews and prepped them with some media training.
As press I arrived I handed out press releases and background information, told them about the event, answered a bunch of background questions and provided them with adults from the organization and kids attending the event for interviews. Had the press just arrived at the event it could have been extremely dangerous to any youth not wanting to be shown on TV or in a newspaper photo. What could have been a media disaster was turned into positive publicity both for the organization and the event.
The crucial lesson here is to plan media well ahead of time. Fortunately, the hotel had space available at the last minute to meet the needs of the media. Since the event was newsworthy enough the media was interested in covering it.
Media plans also require preparation and direction by somebody who is media savvy, so It is always a good idea to have somebody in your organization assigned to be your media manager. Besides being experienced in working with media they should study the “Media Reference Guide” and “the Media Essentials Training Guide” on the GLAAD.org website and SpinProject.org per Cathy McElrath Renna’s suggestion.
In most cases the target audience for the LGBT community is what I refer to as the movable middle. We aren’t going to win religious fundamentalists to our side so there is no sense in trying to change their minds. Likewise, we already have the gay community and liberals with us so we don’t need to concentrate on them either. We do want to move fair–minded folks in the middle who haven’t yet thought much about the discrimination that we experience and the challenges we face. Of course, we should always welcome coverage by the gay media.
When being interviewed always keep this target audience in mind and as you answer questions ask yourself how the moveable middle are likely to react to your answers. The more the moveable middle can identify with you the more likely they are to be receptive to your message.
Educating anybody who will be interviewed by print, radio or TV media is imperative. Media training is essential for your message to come through in a positive light. Learning how to answer questions using high–impact sound bites for broadcast interviews is key as media like short answers that have a sharp message. Make sure that you have done your homework to become an expert on the topics to be discussed before any interview. Also, learn as much about the radio or TV show that you will appear on so that you know their political slant and interview style. Learning the political leaning of a newspaper will aid you in anticipating how they will cover your organization. Find out about a s much as you can about the journalist and any of their previous LGBT coverage. As Cathy mentioned, building relationships with different members of the press will greatly improve both the amount and quality of coverage that you receive. Check with other LGBT organizations in your area for media contacts that have proved reliable and friendly in the past.
I usually email or fax out press releases a week or two in advance of an event and I always send them to a specific person whenever possible. The releases should always include a contact with their phone number and should be no longer than two pages in length. However, it is okay to attach additional information that will help a reporter with a story. After emailing or faxing the press releases and additional information always call to make sure that they were received.
I also always call the different media that I previously sent press releases to again on the morning of the planned event to see if a reporter has been assigned to cover the event. Often the assignment desk is unaware of the event as the press release and additional information never made it to the appropriate person in the first place; so, I resend the press release and additional information to the assignment desk and then call back to make certain they received it.
Be sure that your media manager works closely with any media who arrive to cover your event. Provide the reporters with another press release, additional information on your organization and statistics on the LGBT community. This requires advanced planning and research. Prep people in advance to be interviewed. Upfront research and preparation pays off in the quality of media coverage that you receive. Media that are treated professionally and who are able to conduct good interviews are far more likely to cover future events when you invite them.
This is by no means all you need to know to work with the press. But I hope it has given you some useful information to get you started.
© 2007 John R. Selig. All rights reserved.