Building a Media Strategy
Mass media (such as newspapers, radio, television, and the Internet) are the primary means through which messages can be communicated to large, diverse groups of people. Media provide freedom of expression organisations with an essential vehicle for conveying information to an audience that can include everyone from the general public to decision-makers in the government.
Free expression organisations need to be strategic when trying to get their voices heard. Media organisations are often large, bureaucratic companies that expect to be approached in certain ways. As a result, to increase your chances of getting media coverage, you need to frame your message in a way that meshes with how media tell stories.
The most effective way to do this is to develop a media strategy
A media strategy is a plan that guides how your organisation interacts with the media.
It helps you ensure that your messaging is consistent, organised and targeted. Having a media strategy in place means that your organisation will not simply be reactive - that is, visible in the media only when an event or circumstance necessitates your comments. With a media strategy, you can instead purposefully build and manage your public image and relationships with the media, so that when you want to launch a campaign or respond to a situation, you have social capital to build upon.
A campaign-specific media strategy
is related to your overall media strategy, and is a plan for how to interact with the media to get your message out about a specific campaign. Campaign-specific media strategies may be easier to implement if you have already established relationships with media through your overall media strategy; however, this is not an absolute requirement.
Steps to creating a media strategy:
1. Identify the broad goal or mission of your organisation or your campaign.
Communication efforts are most successful and focused when they are grounded in your organisation's overall mission and developed with your unique goals and challenges in mind. As a result, it's important to start by establishing a clear idea of what your organisation or campaign is trying to accomplish overall
in the short, medium and long terms, so that the tactics and tone employed in your media strategy can reflect and compliment these goals. See also 'How To Build a Campaign Strategy'
2. Identify the key stakeholders to develop your media strategy.
Who should be at the table when developing your media strategy? Make a list of the key people - both internal and external to your organisation - who should have a voice in the process of determining how the organisation, campaign or issue will be represented to the general public (e.g. including those affected by the situation about which you are campaigning.) Consider whether your organisation has the human resources to create and implement a media strategy on its own, or if you should bring in a media consultant to facilitate or provide guidance around this process.
3. Outline the goals of your media strategy.
Once you've established the overall goals of your campaign and identified the key stakeholders in your media strategy, the next step is to bring those key stakeholders together to think about why and how
engaging the media will help you reach your goals. For instance, is there a specific decision maker or segment of the general public you want to influence? A good way to do this is to come up with a list of specific outcomes you would like to see as a result of your engagement with the media. These goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound or timely. For example, increase visitors to our website by 20% this year; have 1,000 people at our demonstration; have 500 letters sent to the government, by a certain date; get coverage of our campaign in international media. See Setting Campaign Objectives
4. Identify your target audience: the person or people whose behaviour you need to influence in order to make your goals a reality.
Can the general public make this happen? Do you need to reach one politician in particular or are you seeking a response from an organisation or group? Would it be more effective to lobby the key individual/group directly, or to generate public support around the issue and apply pressure in that way? Is this target audience prepared to hear what you have to say? What are some of the barriers or concerns they may have that could pose a problem in reaching them?
5. With your target audience in mind, create an overall theme for your media strategy.
What is the big picture you want to convey? What key message will resonate with your audience? A good way to approach this is to base your messages on their core concerns and look to overcome, not reinforce, the barriers that may be in the way to reaching them.
6. Identify the best way to reach the target audience
Some questions to ask:
Where does this group of people get their news and information from?
With that in mind, what is the most appropriate tactic for disseminating your campaign and message? Who will deliver the message with credibility in the eyes of your target audience?
Is this individual/group internal or external to your organisation?
What media will be used for the delivery of the messages, with the intent being to influence the behaviour of the target audience?
Having completed earlier steps, addressing these questions will help you to determine whether focusing your media strategy on mainstream media such as newspapers, radio, TV, Internet, social media, paid advertising or a combination of these options is the most appropriate method. For example, if your target audience is not highly literate, audiovisual media such as radio or television would likely be most appropriate. However, if you are also aware that access to television is limited, radio would become the predominant choice. Conversely, if your target audience is predominantly urban, middle-class and computer-literate, a combination of newspaper, TV, radio and internet/social media engagement may be the most effective choice. This will also give you an idea of what media you should be monitoring for stories related to your campaign, so that you can react to or give input on issues related to your campaign, and thereby increase your chances for success.
Once you have determined what type of media you will employ, you can begin to look at more specific tactics for engaging those media. This section offers introductory resources to help you get started, including:
7. How will you measure your progress?
Measuring your progress is important to evaluate success and build more effective long-term strategic planning. However, it's important to focus on both
process and results, as they each have important lessons that can be drawn upon. See 'Evaluation and Monitoring'
8. Build a media contact list
If your organisation is creating a media strategy for the first time, one thing you absolutely must do is begin to build a media contact list
. The media is all about contacts. Sending releases and information into the general news pool can work, but it is not as effective as targeting people who know, like and who support you and your organisation. You can get started by:
- Making sure you get the right people at the media organisation (an entertainment reporter is probably not going to be the one covering a human rights campaign)
- Contacting media personnel to introduce yourself and pitching some general stories so that they are familiar with you when you have a big story or campaign you want to get covered
- Asking about the daily rhythms of their news organisation if you are not familiar with them (What is the deadline for a press release to get it in the newspaper the next day? How much notice do they need to attend a press conference? How far in advance would you have to contact them to get a TV reporter and camera crew on site at an event?)
- Always, always following up. Media personnel get a lot of information and stories to cover, every day. Make contact and remind them.
- Keeping track of the media personnel to whom you have spoken.
- Engaging media personnel in the work of your organisation. Freedom of expression is an issue that directly impacts journalists and media professionals. They are both stakeholders and natural allies in free expression campaigning. By inviting key journalists or media professional to join the board or advisory council of your organisation, you gain the involvement and assistance of individuals who may offer their expertise in developing media strategies and support coverage of the issue through their media houses.