Using professional media to raise awareness about an environmental issue can be a powerful tool in creating an advocacy strategy. Some advantages of using media are that it can help you to educate people about an environmental problem, make an issue personal by putting faces or personal stories to it, reach out to new and more diverse audiences, leverage or increase credibility on the issue, or identify the need for more resources addressing a problem.
This page will help you decide if engaging the media is something you should do at this point in your advocacy process. This page will help you identify
- When you should reach out to the media,
- What you should do before you get media involved,
- Crafting your media strategy,
- Who in the media to reach out to,
- Being mis-represented in the media,
- Resources for Community Groups
When you should reach out to the media
When you have new information for the media that, if broadcast, can play a positive role in your strategy and campaign goals. Remember that media outlets are looking for "stories." Good media stories are:
- out of the ordinary developments,
- specific events,
- something that will have broad public interest or
- appeal either because it's positive and interesting or it's a problem that people should be aware of.
In what situations would media involvement not be advised?
- If it’s not going to advance your campaign goals.
- If you do not have the capacity to follow through, for example, if you issue a media release that gets coverage, but cannot take or return media calls, it could result in a ‘did not return calls’ line in the story.
- When you are working with vulnerable populations or sensitive data who may risk harm from media attention to the issue. NOTE: if you are working directly with a vulnerable population, work to outline the risks directly and weighing out pros & cons together.
What you should do before you get the media involved
Identify the goal of your media campaign. This could be to raise awareness for a particular issue, to bring in additional resources (volunteers, funding, etc.), to help hold decision makers accountable, etc.
Craft your media strategy, so that it supports the goal of your media campaign. For example, if your goal is to “raise awareness about an issue,” the key points of your message will be different than if you’re looking to use the media to “bring in more resources.” The section below can help you craft your media strategy.
How much evidence do you need to have to get the media involved in an issue (to make involvement worth their while)?
Again, “remember that media outlets are looking for "stories" such as: out of the ordinary developments, specific events, something that will have broad public interest and appeal either because it's positive and interesting or it's a problem that people should be aware of. Also note ‘new’ developments in ongoing stories. Do you have more info or a new angle on an existing story?
Generally, if there is new information and media attention would further your campaign goals and/or fit well into your strategy, I’d say go ahead and pitch it. The media will decide if it’s worth covering.
Crafting your media strategy
After you have identified the goal of your media campaign. You will need to craft a media strategy that will be effective in reaching your goal. Here are some good tips in developing your media strategy:
- Make sure that those who will be frontward facing in the media are comfortable talking in front of a camera or into a microphone
- It helps to have spokespeople that listeners/viewers can identify with for example a farmer in a farming community.
- Spokespeople who can speak with authority on an issue (a nurse on an environmental health issue etc.) can strengthen your credibility to the audience.
- Make sure each person who speaks to the media has a clear role. For example, one person could tell the personal story while one person speaks to the tools or methodology used.
Develop your message
- Ensure your message is clear and concise: Think 15 sec. sound bites that most people can quickly understand.
- Don’t get too technical. Avoid jargon, or concepts that need more than 5 seconds to explain.
- Speak to what you know.
- Don’t hesitate to redirect the conversation back to what you are there to talk about.
- Practice your message and prepare for any questions the media could ask you in an interview.
Research media outlets & pitch the story to the appropriate person
- Know the difference between different media outlets, there are many types to choose from: A Letter to the Editor (LTE), media advisory, press release & press conference and decide which one(s) would be most appropriate.
- Look into who has been covering related issues. For example has a specific reporter been following the story that you have new info for.
- Look for reporters that cover beats related to your issue. That might be an environmental reporter or it might be someone that covers the Metro section or it might be someone who covers hyperlocal events.
- Build relationships & work off of existing relationships! It’s true with almost everything & the media is no different. ***keep a spreadsheet of media contacts or very politely ask an allied organization if you can use theirs.
- Remember that local media includes newspapers, weeklies, magazine, TV, radio, blogs, and social media.
- Consider looking for ethnic media in languages other than English.
Set up a timeline for your media campaign
- Know when the media outlet air/publishes and plan accordingly.
- Make sure you’re available to talk to the media that day ***often times they’ll call to follow-up or ask questions so don’t plan to do media work on a day where you can’t take a call.
- Be available to take calls after the media has been released. If other media outlets can’t get ahold of you, it could result in a ‘did not return calls’ line in the story.
- Send emails to thank journalists who you worked with on the campaign.
- Generally, Monday & Friday are bad days to do media work.
- Always include contact information in anything you release.
- Have good quality images available for whoever needs them and permission to use them from those who own the images.
- Practice! Have a friend or colleague interview you and record it.
- Collect earned media- If a story was published online, share the URL on social media and on any websites that are related that you have access to.
- If at all possible (you will need permission from the media outlet), post media docs online in html form.
Who in the media to reach out to
When do you reach out to different kinds of media? (local radio, tv, newspaper etc.)
Generally, it’s fine reach out to all of them at the same time but if you know the specific outlets, it can be advantageous to target them specifically. For example, a local radio station may have a weekly program that covers the issue. This could be ideal to cover more in-depth stories. If you’re looking to show powerful images, for example rally, action or demonstration, it can be great to go for a TV media outlet. If it is a really localized issue for example, maybe there’s a community newspaper that would be appropriate.
Who in the media has a good reputations as allying with community/environmental groups?
Really, it’s about personal relationships and developing those contacts on the local level. It’s important to research the issue using a broad lens. Fracking, for example, could be covered by environmental reporters, health reporters, even economic reporters. There are a few environmental specific online media outlets, but they can be tricky. National outlets (like Huffington Post Green) are difficult to get coverage in while smaller outlets don’t have the readership necessary to create a buzz.
Being mis-represented in the media
What do you do if you’re being mis-represented in the media? Call, email and/or tweet the reporter or editor with corrections to the story. If it is grave misrepresentation, put out a press release on your website. You may want to rally your supporters to lobby the outlet for changes if they are not being forthcoming.
How to prevent misrepresentation
- Prior to and during the interview, you should ask the reporter why they are doing the story. Ask them to repeat back to you what you have said or some of your main points. Then clarify anything that they don't have correct.
- You can also request questions in writing first which will allow you to formulate your response more carefully.
- Always ask to see a draft of the story. Be prepared for them to say no but it's helpful to catch errors and misrepresentations before publishing.
Resources for Community Groups:
Click edit to add more!
- The SPIN Academy teaches people working for social change how to use communications to achieve their organizations’ goals.
- Visualizing Information for Advocacy - An excellent guide to campaigns that brings together ideas on information, design and technology.
- Communicating with Numbers - part of the Statistics for Action series by Toxics Action Center and TERC (environmental data oriented)