Top tips for dealing with the media

Campaigners often have press officers and media teams to deal with enquiries from journalists, but that shouldn’t be used as an excuse for not learning more about what a journalist is looking for, or what might make a good story.

This top tips paper from nfp Synergy which is full of quotes from its Charity Media Monitor is full of useful advise which has come directly from journalists from the major newspapers and broadcasters.

10 top tips for charities from journalists

Tip 1: Case studies, case studies, case studies
Tip 2: Don’t just target the newsdesk – dig deeper
Tip 3: ‘No comment’ doesn’t mean ‘no story’
Tip 4: Be available, prepared and professional
Tip 5: Think globally, act locally – use local media
Tip 6: Build relationships – meet people face to face
Tip 7: Think carefully about your subject lines
Tip 8: Email your press releases – but phone with your exclusives
Tip 9: Know your targeted media inside out
Tip 10: Find out the other side of the story: media training and more

To get more like this, I’d recommend you sign up for their free monthly e-newsletter which is often full of useful information and tips.

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Age of Stupid

Age of Stupid is a new documentary film about climate change that went on general release this week.

The film was crowd-funded by over 200 people and stars Pete Postlethwaite as a man who ask ‘why didn’t we stop climate change when there was still time?’. At the heart of the film is a call to action and the aim to launch a campaign to reach and mobilise a a movement of people who want to see more action taken on climate change and urgently.

I saw the film last night, and as I entered I was handed a pack of campaigning information and the hope must have been that I’d be so inspired at the end that I’d walk out ready to take action, but was I?

While it was interesting film, I’m not sure it has the cross over appeal that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. To much of the film felt like it was preaching to the existing climate change activists, rather than trying to reach out to new people who need to be convinced that we must do more than simply switch to energy saving bulbs.

Parts of the film felt unnecessary, containing material which runs the risk of alienating the very people that need to be won over. I’m not sure for example how the section on the Iraq War and the quest for Oil adds to the argument (especially now we have Obama in power) or the constant American bashing (which might play well to a leftish UK audience but I don’t think is going down with the proud middle American) help.

The film has a number of nice stories about the impact of climate change, my particular favourite is the French mountain guide, but it didn’t have a clear call to action within the film itself, leaving that to some titles in the end credits, which half of those watching my screening missed because they had already left. In the end I walked out of the film feeling dis empowered, that the issue was so big what could I ever do to stop climate change.

The materials in the campaign pack are clever and linked to a campaign which is being branded ‘Not Stupid’, the pack has some Stupid certificates which your asked to send to those who have are doing something to increase the likelihood of climate change, and some Not Stupid certificates to send to those who have done the opposite.  Plus a Local Action Plan, which is a concise summary of what is happening locally, or it should be but I’ve got a plan for Edinburgh rather than South London.

It remains to be seen if the film helps to build a movement of new people to add their voice . Its interesting to see the way the film has been embraced by the UK government.  I hope I’m wrong and thousands of new people watch it and start to take action, but somehow I don’t think I will be.

The death of the local paper

Should campaigners be concerned at the rapid death of local newspapers?

As the Guardian reported on Monday many titles are looking to make significant cuts as sales of their publications fall and advertising starts to dry up. While most of the big regional titles don’t appear to be at risk of closing in the near future, they’re facing a bleak future.

Living in London its easy to overlook the importance and reach of many of the regional papers,  some like the Yorkshire Post, Eastern Daily Mail, Manchester Evening News and the Kent Messenger have impressive circulation figures. While weekly titles and the free papers that are delivered through letter boxes are read by millions more. While campaigns are often disappointed when they register little or no national media coverage, acres of local and regional coverage could reach as many people.

Local papers are also trusted source of news and information. I’ve heard of surveys that indicate that the letters page of a local paper is the most trusted section of any paper, because they are seen to speak for a community in the way other news sources can’t.  Moreover for many MPs local papers provide an important way of communicating with constituents, as well as acting as a barometer for local opinion. MPs might not have time to read all the national papers, but you can be sure that their likely to at least browse the pages of their local paper, which means they’re vital places to be trying to place our campaign messages.

So we should be concerned about the potential death of local newspapers. In the short-term, a reduction in the number of journalists might even be good news for campaigns, as those who remain will increasingly be looking for the easy win that lightly rewriting a campaign press release provides.

Over time some will evolve looking to place more of the emphasis on digital media, but the decline of the local paper from our newsagents shelves means the death of powerful tool in our campaigning toolkit.

UPDATED – This article from Labour List argues losinig local papers means a loss of local democracy

MPs and digital media

Using supporters to engage and influence MPs remains the core work of many campaigning organisations, and many organisations have chosen to make this easy for supporters by investing in software such as Advocacy Online, but what do we know about how MPs use technology and respond to eCampaigning. Two reports might help.

How MPs use digital media.
The Hansard Society has recently released ‘MPs Online – Connecting with Constituents‘ which explores how MPs use digital media to communicate with constituents.  The finding are useful for campaigners, as it gives an insight into what MPs are themselves doing, and provides ideas about how organisations can increase their digital engagement with MPs.

The report finds that almost all MPs are using email, most have personal or party run websites but the numbers using other forms of electronic communications is smaller. Social networking, blogs, twitter and texting is used by less that 20% of MPs.  The overall picture seems to be that MPs, much like many campaigning organisations, have started to adopt digital media as a way of communicating out to constituents, but less have been able to make a leap into using using web 2.0 tools which might help to ensure a more meaningful conversations with constituents.

Their are some interesting differences dependent on party membership (Lib Dems are the positive about digital media, Conservative the least) and age (younger MPs are more likely to use it, so as older MPs stand down we’re likely to see a bigger take up of digital media ), but little difference dependent on marginality of seat.  The report suggests that their is potential for greater engagment and closer ties in the future.

MPs also make useful observations saying that email has been great for them to communicate with constituents but the immediancy of the tool means that people often assume that they’ll be able to engage in a ongoing discussion that MPs simply don’t have time for, indicating that their office staff often struggle to cope with the volume of emails recieved (an increase which hasn’t been accompanied by a fall in the number of letters) , and the challenge of  identifying if the correspondent is from their constituency.

Attitudes towards eCampaigning
In 2006, Duane Raymond at Fairsay was comissioned to carry out some reasearch about MPs attitudes to eCampaigning, the whole report can be read here.

Although its a few years old, the findings from the Hansard Society would indicate that many of the key learning probablly still remain true. The main findings of the report is that every MPs is very different in how they respond to and engage with eCampaigning, but that most organisations still offer their campaigners a one-size fits all approach to commnications.

This means they’re not  having the biggest impact they could and the findings encourage organisations to be much more savy at how they segment their communications to MPs, for example by segmenting the message that they ask supporters to send.  Many MPs report that quality is as important than quantity when it comes to messages.

Another finding that stands out is the need to show that MPs that the person contacting them is actually from their consituency. The internet may have in many ways removed geographical barriers, but they are still of considerable importance to MPs.

Some conculsions
For me both reports indicate that it makes sense to have an online campaigning presence, but also reinforces that this shouldn’t simply replace more traditional low tech campaigingng method but should work in tandem.

Organisations should remember that n individually composed letter (or email) is better than an automated one – many organisatiosn know this, but perhaps more needs to be done to encourage people to spend the extra 5 minutes to write it.

Individual constituency level activists will always have a value, the MPs indicate that those people who have the time to write a hand written or visit an MP are ‘worth their weight in gold’. Organisations should do all they can to encourage, support and inspire these people.

‘Influencing the influentials’ – excellent post by Duncan Green

Duncan Green has just posted insights from a recent research project that the Oxfam GB has run into ‘influencing the influentials’. I’d highly recommend reading it – http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/?p=186

Without the actual report we don’t get the detail it provides, but a few lists that might sheed some light on a couple of points that Green makes;

Print is much more effective than broadcast – Its useful to look at lists like the annual Guardian Media 100 to get a sense of the influence of different paper, I’d suggest its possible to take the position the respective editor get as a reasonable proxy for the importance and influence of the papers as much as them as individuals.

So from the 2008 list, Paul Dacre at Daily Mail is at 3, then a long gap to Rebekka Wade at the Sun at 30. The rest of the papers are then grouped together in positions 37 through to 48 in the following order Telegraph, Guardian, FT, Times, Daily Mirror and Independent. The editors of the Sunday Times (44) and Mail on Sunday (78) are the only Sunday papers that make it in.
the ‘commentariat’ is becoming ever more important as the interface between politicians and public opinion – Its harder to find a list of top columnists, but the Total Politics list of the Top 100 Political Journalists, not all of them are members of the ‘commentariat’ but a good number are and the list was voted for by MPs is a good place to start.  Many columnists are also active authors, appear on TV/Radio, regular bloggers and speakers.

Two columnists made it into the Guardian Media 100, Matthew D’Ancona (also editor of the Spectator at 42) whose column is described as ‘being the most significant of the next 12 months’, and Andrew Rawnsley at the Observer (72) described by a panel member as ‘one of the two people you read on a Sunday if you are in the Government’

Actions of the fortnight

Actions that have arrived in my inbox over the last two weeks.

Action Aid – Stand alongside campaigners in India calling for mining in the Niyamgiri Hills to be halted. In the UK, you can support the campaign by sending an email via the Indian High Commissioner in London

CAFOD – Calling on mining companies to listen to communities in the Philippines.

Practical Action – Urge Gordon Brown to strengthen EU climate proposals.

RSPB – Urge the government to switch to green energy

WDM – Stop the EU’s Great Train Robbery

How many actions do DFID get each year?

Using the Freedom of Information Act, I’ve found out the following about the number of campaign actions that DFID get each year.

Total number of actions and delivery method
Year    Postcards             E-mails               Letters          Petition signatures    Total
2007    34,215 (38%)    31,514 (35%)    4503 (5%)    19,808 (22%)              90,040
2008    42,796(40%)    41, 683(38%)    4049(4%)    19,612 (18%)                 108,140

Breakdown by Topic (2008)
HIV and AIDS
45,583 (42%)
Debt 22,675 (21%)
Trade 20,811 (19%)
Water 8137 (8%)
Health issues (excluding HIV and AIDS).
2962 (3%)
Rainforests
2152 (2%)
Fulfil G8 promises 993 (1%)
Burma 988 (1%)
Various other development issues, where we received less than 750 items
3839 (3% )

Breakdown by Organisation (2008)
Stop AIDS Campaign
33, 229 (31%)
Jubilee Debt Campaign 20,371 (19%)
Trade Justice Movement 13,809 (13%)
Tearfund 12,171 (11%)
Traidcraft 5321 (5%)
World Development Movement (WDM) 5451 (5%)
Oxfam
2,001 (2%)
ActionAid 2138 (2%)
UNICEF 2678 (2%)
MICAH Challenge 1039 (1%)
World Vision 1097 (1%)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (Burma)
862 (1%)
Various other  organisations, where we received less than 750 items
7973 (7%)

Undoubtedly their is some double counting in the lists, but it still makes for interesting reading, and shows the relative mobilising strength of a number of the main campaigning organisations in the UK. Christian Aid are perhaps a surprise exception from the list, but looking at their website they focused almost exclusively on Climate Change in 2008.

It shows the fact that some coalitions are better at getting their members to run their actions. For example the 45,000 actions on HIV and AIDS of which about 25% didn’t come from Stop AIDS coalition, against the 22,000 on debt most of which came from the Jubilee Debt Campaign (although its shows the influence the campaign still has that they can mobilise that many supporters to take action).

Finally it raises the question how much did the different organisations make of the opportunities to use their postcards to influence policy. It’s all very well to have lots of postcards but they don’t do much to influence policy if they just end up in the DFID postroom. Looking at the list, I think Stop AIDS Campaign are one of the best examples of how to use their actions to maximum effect, holding a high-profile hand in the autumn with Ivan Lewis MP to hand over 14,000 actions on patent pools, and running a significant campaign earlier in the year around DFIDs new three year strategy on the issue.  Its a good lesson to remember that without an effective strategy to use the actions you’ve generated

I’ve made a number of other requests and I hope to be able to share them with readers of this blog in the coming months, along with further analysis.