How to Win Campaigns Part 2: Working with the media

How to Win Campaigns: Communications for Change by Chris Rose
Top tips on getting and sustaining media attention for your campaign, from one of the leading campaigners around...

It's natural for campaigners and journalists to develop a close relationship. Too much focus on news though, is a bad thing. News can report conflict beautifully, but it isn't a very good tool to help promote change.

Nevertheless, almost every campaign is likely to involve substantial media work, so it pays to discover how to deal with the media machine. The news media presents a version of reality. From within, it is a machine and a community. Once you learn how to gain access, it can be entrancing, flattering and addictive so be careful.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) answers the question ‘Why do press work?' in this way:
• Profile - making sure people know you exist, what kind of organization you are and what you do;
• Specific publicity - the fastest and most effective way to reach a wide audience;
• Leverage - targets (for example, local authorities, industries) are more likely to get a move on and change their ways if they know that the debate is visible and very public.

To which I would add third-party endorsement. Being reported by someone else implies that someone has evaluated and tested a version of events, and found it true enough to be worth passing on.

FoE's 20 ways to get into the news (with my comments):

1.Launch a campaign (make sure there are activities to report, as well as objectives);

2. Hold a public meeting (see

3. Mark an anniversary (this can be the anniversary of a related event, even a setback);

4. Hold an annual general meeting (AGM) (only likely to excite core followers, unless dramatized, for example with a vote)

5. Announce formation of a new group (if true!)

6. Welcome new proposals (in media-speak this is ‘giving reaction');

7. Condemn new proposals (as above);

8. Call for a public inquiry;

9. Give evidence to a public inquiry;

10. Lobby someone else's meeting;

11. Publish findings of a survey or opinion poll - public (these can be very simple and cheap - they don't have to be the best possible, only better than anything else around that day);

12. The same for trade/industry;

13. Involve a local celebrity;

14. Invite a local dignitary to an event - they don't have to accept for this to be pressworthy. (The media then goes to them for ‘reaction' - often it's best to leave a story as an open invitation for the media to complete it - an unfinished story has more ‘legs');

15. Send a letter to someone important (be sure to hand deliver or courier it, or confirm a fax: if the press will want a reaction from them, they must have it!);

16. Present a petition;

17. Quiz election candidates (council, parliamentary or European Commission (EC));

18. Hold a vigil (looks much better at night);

19. Direct action (follow the principles of non-violence);

20. Stunts/dressing up/build a display (use visual language - more information in Chapter 6 of How to Win Campaigns).


Eleven things to know about the media

1. Create your own events and public conversations (such as using face-to-face approaches, email, internet) and then get the media to cover that - create the reality, don't let the media become the reality - they will turn on you.

2. News is not the only media - features pages/programmes and magazines are often better read and remembered - news polarizes but features don't. Only use news for irreducible either/or stories; use other media channels for more complex stories.

3. News media needs events and people - provide both.

4. Local media are (in the UK) more trusted than national media - it's more important to correct inaccuracies in local media.

5. News has the absolution of time. Each day begins anew. A good letter or the story of your own event is better than a small comment embedded in a story framed by an opponent.

6. Find out about timing and markets (listeners, readers, viewers) for each outlet - they determine what's covered. Even news is in the entertainment business.

7. Invest in contacts - get to know journalists and help them.

8. News is about a change to something already understood. Don't use it to explain something completely new. For that, first carry it to the social mainstream and then into local or specialist press.

9. Find out which media your audience consume and target those. First though, check you can't go direct - which may be more effective.

10. Don't count publicity as success - plan, and look for effect.

11. Don't waste time arguing with the media unless it becomes unavoidable. Don't ‘have a pissing match with a skunk'.

    The interview suitcase

    Only do interviews or media appearances if you have something to say - something that you want to say. Have some communication points - write them down - and pack your ‘suitcase', including:
    • A headline: the main thing you want to say. Whatever happens, say this! It's your ‘jacket';

    • Three reasons supporting the headline (for example: ‘Save this forest for its beauty, its genetic resources and because it safeguards a clean water supply for 10,000 people'). Journalists won't just accept your headline point, they'll ask ‘W' ‘why?'. These are the ‘shirts' or proofs;

    • One fact to go with each reason - preferably a number. Many news stories have one number. This is the ‘skirt' or ‘trousers';

    • Lastly, anecdotes, the ‘socks and underwear': an anecdote converts a view into a story and brings an interview to life - ‘Let me tell you about a little girl I met only the other day, whose life has been so improved by... ' Have one in mind that you will try to bring in if you get the chance. Few interviewers will cut off a short story in mid-flow, but all will feel entitled to cut short a list of ‘points'. To begin with an anecdote is high risk, as people will weigh up all the issues in their head against your example, and one example is unlikely to be generally applicable. It's best to start with the big picture and introduce examples later.

    This is an extract from How to Win Campaigns by Chris Rose (Earthscan, 2010). To get 20 per cent off the RRP, enter discount code ECOL20 when ordering at Earthscan.

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