Category: Small Morsels

Rules of engagement with news media

Rules of news media engagement for NGOs; when addressing traditional media, this is a huge area to cover. The first point to make is you should aim to make a good impression on first contact with a journalist/newsroom. Journalists are no different to folk in other professions, waste their time first time around and they are far less likely to be available next time. This may be especially so among journalists simply because they work across multiple media platforms and to endless tight deadlines. So, prepare for your initial contacts and make sure you have something that is genuinely newsworthy (the new and significant …..) to share with a journalist. Be ready to be able to illustrate whatever it is you have to pitch; have real life examples to hand that can be used to illustrate your news story. Make sure you are easily accessible for follow-up inquiries and can assist in the gathering of news assets (video, audio, images) to support the story you have pitched. Making this positive first impression with a news organisation can pay immense dividends in the long run. More (much more) to follow on the rules of engaging with the news media.

Media impact – ‘riding the wave’

‘Riding the wave’ ( this phrase may be perceived as distasteful given certain disaster circumstances but it is media vernacular) of a high profile news story; this is a classic tactic used by interest groups and NGOs seeking prominence in the public domain. Many key news events are known in advance; what we might call ‘diary moments’. Other ‘riding the wave’ moments entail being opportunistic and spotting when your organisation can add something to a prominent story. The list is long. A diary news moment can be an anniversary of a disaster, e.g. five years on from a large-scale natural disaster or the start of a certain conflict. Many organisations will want to mark this moment with media coverage of their brand. So, again, how do you cut through the crowd to gain media impact? There are many tactics you can employ; setting up newsworthy media trips in advance of a news anniversary to your field projects, making sure you have competent spokespersons in key locations in the field etc. Another good tactic is to prepare data and evidence in advance that is new and significant. This may be data that counters the prevailing received wisdom, it might be to show the fresh results of your great field work that has addressed the needs of vulnerable communities, your organisation’s actions and impact in the field….and so on. Good newsworthy preparations enabling your organisation to ‘ride the wave’ of a high profile news story will pay dividends. It is not a good idea to issue statements to news organisations to say something is awful and something must be done about it. This leads us on to ‘rules of engagement’ with the media. More on that later.

How can smaller NGOs punch above their weight in the media? 2

Run the truth-test. Much of what purports to be ‘news’ on all media platforms is often merely opinion. Facts are vital, sometimes golden and all too often over-looked. An NGO looking to cut through the noisy crowd of other loud organisations could do far worse than concentrate on pulling together new and significant facts. If you are ‘close to the ground’, delivering aid directly to communities, then this represents a potential competitive advantage. Larger aid agencies can be detached from what is happening on the ground. Generating facts does not mean committing to undertake expensive and time-consuming surveys/original research (of course, original research is a good thing); it can mean assembling solid case studies with fresh data. The value of fresh data (good case studies too) – and accompanying multimedia – can be enormous. They can be used to show what’s new, what’s changed and should be issued in a timely manner to enable the running of the ‘slide rule of truth-testing’ on a prominent opinion. This leads us on to another key approach for smaller NGOs – ‘riding the wave’ media tactics. More on this later.

How can smaller NGOs punch above their weight in the media?

An oft heard cry from smaller NGOs is ‘how can we punch above our weight in the media and have real impact when competing against larger organisations with big media teams’? Well, it is not so difficult, if smaller NGOs put in place a few key disciplines. These key disciplines are often missing elsewhere. More thoughts on these key disciplines will follow soon. However, the first and fundamental point is an understanding of ‘what is news?’. This can be (hotly) debated, but take it from journalists, those who have written, produced and edited news output. If you can drive the agenda by saying something new and significant about what will or has affected people, then you are in a strong position. Too few do this. Many organisations offer their opinions on a current event and deem it news. You usually have a to be a genuine decision-maker to have an opinion that is newsworthy. So, start thinking about what you have to say that is a) new and significant and that will affect people’s lives. Think about – and here is the next key point – b) something that is fact-based. Small NGOs are often closer to the ground than larger organisations. Facts are part of your daily work. More to follow…

Why “Handkerchief Ghost” ?

The 20th century German author, Christian Morgenstern, wrote : “There is a ghost that eats handkerchiefs; it keeps you company on all your travels.”

I wish it were only handkerchiefs.

Items that get lost on our travels