Mass media, such as newspapers, radio, television and the Internet, provide freedom of expression organisations with an essential vehicle for conveying information to an audience that can include everyone from the general public to government decision-makers.
Free expression organisations need to be strategic in getting their voices heard. Media organisations are often large, bureaucratic companies that expect to be approached in certain ways. 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 guides how your organisation interacts with the media. It helps ensure that your messaging is consistent, organised and targeted. Without a plan, your organisation may simply be reactive—that is, visible in the media only to comment on an event or situation. 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 one aspect of your overall media strategy. It's 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 established relationships with media through your overall media strategy; however, this is not an absolute requirement.
Creating a Media Strategy
Identify the broad goal or mission of your organisation or campaign
Communication efforts are most successful when they are grounded in your organisation's overall mission and developed with your unique goals and challenges in mind. Start by clarifying what your organisation or campaign is trying to accomplish overall in the short, medium and long term, so your tactics and tone can reflect and compliment these goals. See also How To Build a Campaign Strategy.
Identify the key stakeholders to develop your media strategy
List the key people - both inside and outside your organisation, including those affected by the situation about which you are campaigning - who should have a voice in determining how the organisation, campaign or issue will be represented to the public. 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.
Outline your goals
Bring key stakeholders together to think about why and how engaging the media will help you reach your goals. Is there a specific decision maker or segment of the public you want to influence? List some 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.
Identify whose behaviour you need to influence to achieve your goals
Can the 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? Is this target audience prepared to hear what you have to say? What are some of the concerns they may have that could stand in the way of reaching them?
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.
Identify the best way to reach the target audience
- Ask yourself:
- From where does this group of people get their news and information?
- With that in mind, what is the most appropriate tactic for disseminating your campaign and message? In the eyes of your target audience, who will deliver the message with credibility?
- Is this individual/group internal or external to your organisation?
- What media will be used for delivering the messages, with the intent being to influence the behaviour of the target audience?
Addressing these questions will help determine whether you should focus on mainstream media — such as newspapers, radio, TV, Internet, social media, paid advertising — or a combination of options. If your target audience is not highly literate, audiovisual media such as radio or television may be most appropriate. However, if you are also aware that access to television is limited, radio would become the predominant choice. If your target audience is predominantly urban, middle-class and computer-literate, then a combo of newspaper, TV, radio and internet/social media engagement may be ideal. This will also give you an idea of what media you should be monitoring for stories related to your campaign, so you can react to or give input on related issues, thereby increasing your chances for success.
Engage the media
Once you have determined your target media, look at more specific tactics for engaging those media. This section offers introductory resources to help you get started, including:
Decide how to 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 offer important lessons. See ‘Evaluation and Monitoring’.
Build a media contact list
If your organisation is creating a media strategy for the first time, one thing you absolutely must do is 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 support you and your organisation.
TIP: Contacting the Media
Target the right people: An entertainment reporter is probably not going to be the one covering a human rights campaign.
Contact media personnel to introduce yourself and pitch some general stories so that they are familiar with you when you have a big story or campaign you want to get covered.
Ask about the daily rhythms of their news organization. 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 at an event?
Always, always follow up. Every day, media personnel get a lot of information and stories to cover. Make contact and remind them.
Keep track of the media personnel to whom you have spoken.
Engage 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.