Follow this guide for some quick tips on how you can engage media. Choose the options that work best for you and follow these easy steps!
Before you decide on your media strategy
- Decide on your goals: How will getting media help you achieve the goals of the action you’re preparing? What kind of media attention do you need to get to put pressure on your target?
- Prepare your key messages: What are the key ideas you want to get across to media? What are your talking points for doing interviews?
- Define your key audiences: Who do you want to understand your messages and mobilize? Which audiences can help increase the pressure on your target? What is the best way (TV/radio/newspapers/specific outlets) to reach these people?
Whether you are acting in a group or working alone to use your voice to help make change, the media can help you achieve your goal. Below are some of the tools at your fingertips.
Media advisory: A short and sweet alert sent to media that describes an upcoming event media are invited to attend and report on.
Use media advisories when you want to give journalists advance warning of an event/action so that you get good media turnout to cover the actual event. This is especially useful when you want TV, photo or radio coverage but don’t have the ability to capture yourself to share with journalists.
This one-page (or less) alert should include: WHAT is happening, WHO is organizing it / will attend / be available for interviews, WHEN it is happening, WHERE it is happening, DETAILS on why it is interesting for media, and CONTACT INFORMATION for the journalist to follow up.
It is a good plan to send a media advisory (or press release) 3 days before an event and again the day before as a friendly reminder. Editorial meetings in newsrooms tend to happen before 10:00 a.m., so make sure your release is sent by then whenever possible.
Also, be sure to either send it out individually or BCC the recipients of a larger group (sending it to yourself) to keep it looking professional. Paste the text of the advisory or press release directly into the email (and link to photos hosted online if possible) rather than including attachments, as your email may be blocked by SPAM folders.
Example: GRAVITY — A Cabaret of Art and Politics (Trump Edition).
Press release: An official statement issued to media outlets giving them key information on a new or breaking subject.
Use press releases when you are creating news (e.g., with an event or action you’re running, or new information you have unearthed). The goal is to give journalists enough information for them to write their own story based on your release.
Like media advisories, press releases should be limited to one page whenever possible (journalists are busy folks!). Be sure to include the most important information (your main point) in the first sentence/paragraph (this is called “the lede”). The rest of the information should be presented in order of most important to the least. It’s also a good idea to include a quote from a spokesperson for your group in case the journalist doesn’t have time to do an interview (or you don’t want to do an interview).
You should send your press release to journalists in the morning, ideally before 10:00 a.m. (see above guidance on media advisories).
Example: Greenpeace Canada activists block tar sands oil pipes at loading dock terminal in Montreal.
Interviews: Interviews give you a chance to talk to a journalist more in-depth about your issue or position whether on the radio, TV or in print.
Interviews provide journalists with helpful context and can help shape the story the journalist tells.
Before agreeing to an interview with a journalist, be sure that you know whether they are friendly to your issue, what their angle on the story or issue is, their deadline, and whether you will be recorded (live or in advance). Below are some tips on making the most out of interviews:
- Do your homework! Research the journalist a bit, make sure you know your key message and be prepared for curveballs. It’s a good idea to do some practice interviews, including tough questions, with a friend beforehand.
- Build bridges: The journalist may ask your questions that you don’t want to focus in. If this happens, find a way to answer the question, then link to what you really want to say (your key messages).
- Avoid repeating negative words or repeating parts of a journalist’s questions that contain negative language.
- Make sure you’re talking to your audience: Talk in stories, use simple language, give concrete examples, use compelling metaphors and exciting facts.
- Always be honest. Don’t answer questions you don’t know the answer to. Simply say you don’t know but will follow up with the answer by phone or email.
Op-ed (or blog): An op-ed is an opinion piece written on a newsworthy subject.
Newspapers and blogs, and sometimes magazines, accept op-eds from public figures and experts to spark public debate on important issues.
If you want to be able to tell the story of your action, campaign or issue in your own words, an opinion piece is a good vehicle for this. You should have a single tight, strong argument and write in an engaging, expressive (as opposed to neutral and objective) way. Keep your sentences short and punchy and make sure to choose a snappy, eye-catching headline. End with a decisive, memorable statement or question.
Hooking your op-ed to a high-profile news item is a good way to make it more relevant to editors. You can also use facts and figures to support your arguments, but steer clear of technical jargon. Keep your piece to 500-750 words maximum (check an outlet’s website for guidelines unique to that outlet) and don’t forget to include a one or two sentence bio for yourself!
Pitch your op-ed to the paper’s opinion editor (see how to contacts journalists’ section below), making sure to give them at least 2-5 days notice between when you pitch it and when you want it to run. It’s also good to have a picture handy as papers often want to run a photo with an op-ed. You can only submit an opinion piece to one outlet; do not pitch the same op-ed to multiple editors. Give an editor a deadline for when you need to hear back before offering the piece to another outlet.
Example: We’re in the same boat now.
Pitching to journalists: Making a request for media coverage or offering a story to a specific journalist is called pitching. The best pitches are tailored to a specific journalist’s beat (issue area) and interests.
You can pitch journalists by phone or email. Usually, it is best to call when you haven’t heard back or when the story is an urgent or breaking one that needs time-sensitive attention. You can pitch them as a follow-up to sending a media advisory or press release or without having sent these.
You can also pitch journalists “exclusives.” This means that you are offering the story to them first (and not pitching other journalists until the story has broken or, sometimes, even at all). This is a good tool to get the journalist more committed to the story since they will have the first media story about it. They are also a good tool for building relationships with journalists. The risk of an exclusive is that other outlets may be annoyed they weren’t chosen for it. Use exclusives wisely and be clear about what you are offering.
Some best practices for pitching include:
- Pitch before 11:00 a.m. and ideally between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. if you would like your story to run that day.
- Pitch Monday to Thursday (pitching right before the weekend isn’t optimal).
- Keep your pitch short, tailored and personal — no more than 2-3 short paragraphs. Be cordial and kind whether you pitch via email or phone.
- The subject line of your email should be snappy; no more than 10 words.
- Pitch journalists on social media (tweet at them on Twitter and use hashtags like #cdnmedia #breaking #cdnnews #cdnpoli and others relevant to your issue area or city/province). Be sure to include a picture or link to your press release/media advisory in the tweet!
Some external resources on pitching:
- 10 rules for nonprofit PR pitches
- PR 101: How to Write the Perfect Pitch
- How To Pitch To The Press: The 8 No-Fail Strategies
Finding the journalist contacts you need
One of the toughest things about starting out with media is finding the right people for your story, getting them to listen and building strong, trust-based relationships with them. Here are some tips:
- It may sound simple, but pay attention to the news. Get to know the journalists who cover the issue you’re working on and those who cover local or city news in your region. You can often find these journalists’ contacts online, usually attached to the stories they write.
- If you can’t find a journalist’s contact, call the outlet they are associated with and ask the best way to reach them. If you’re pitching TV or radio you will need to ask for the contact for the producer or assignment editor. This strategy also works when you don’t know who the best person at a media outlet is. You can usually find the telephone numbers for the newsroom online or by calling the general inquiry line and asking to get connected.
- If you’re writing an opinion piece, you’ll need to pitch the outlet’s opinion editor. You can find the names and contact information for the major newspapers in Canada in this list. You can also pitch digital blogs and magazines.
Tip on piquing the media’s interest
There’s lots going on in the news on any given day. To put your action on a journalist’s radar, try to make it as “newsy” as possible by following these tips:
- Make sure your story has one or more of the following qualities:
- New: something different, happening now
- Big Impact: a natural disaster, a crisis
- Local: it’s in your backyard!
- Personal: link to day-to-day life
- Human interest: personal stories, heroes, victims, humour
- Novelty: unbelievable!
- Conflict: it’s gonna get rowdy
- Traditional news media is under pressure; journalists have tighter deadlines and fewer resources than before. Make their job easy by giving them the info/quotes/content they need in the easiest, quickest way possible.
- Link your press release to trending stories in news/social media.
Congrats! You’ve received media attention and your action has gone off without a hitch. Now what?
First, after speaking to a journalist who has agreed to cover your story, don’t forget to thank them and ask them to send you the link to the article or programme when it is published/airs.
Second, share published news pieces online through your Twitter and Facebook profile(s) to spread the story even further.
Third, if it’s a Greenpeace campaign you’re working on, let us know about what you’ve done and the media you’ve earned at , messaging Greenpeace Canada on Facebook or by tagging us on Twitter (@GreenpeaceCA) or Instagram (@greenpeace_canada).
Finally, keep in touch with the journalist in the long term, such as when you having interesting news or when they publish a big story to foster and maintain the relationships. Become a source they can trust.
We hope these tips will help you confidently and successfully talk to media and win coverage for the issue you care about!
Together, we can fight win a better future: greener, brighter, more just.