BLOG: Charities need to think like journalists to get better coverage

The charity sector contains a wealth of knowledge, experience and insight into the world’s most pressing social challenges. Yet despite this, it is felt by many of its organisations that they do not get the opportunity to share their perspective via the media as much as they would like.

Charity media managers often blame a lack of interest from the press in their stories and a belief that the press is mostly interested in negative or sensationalist stories. Recent research by CharityComms found that in addition to a lack of time and resources, 38 per cent of charity media teams feel that journalists are not interested in their stories and 25 per cent believe journalists only want negative stories, not positive news.

This implies there is a disconnect between charities and journalists. Journalists are not only interested in negative stories. They are only interested in good stories. Here lies the rub. Based on my own experiences as a journalist, and on many conversations with my colleagues and peers, many charities do not understand what constitutes a good story – all too often thinking about news as a means by which to promote their organisation. “PR puff” as it is commonly known in media circles does not a good story make.

PR should not be an extension of a marketing department. Working with the media is about a genuine opportunity to engage with wider audiences on the issues that matter to those audiences. Good PRs are those that think like journalists not marketers.

To mark the launch of my book, Effective Media Relations for Charities, we held an event with a panel of journalists who each spoke about what makes a good story for them, and how charities can work more effectively with them. Trinity Mirror journalist Keir Mudie was one of those on the panel. He said his paper is “desperate” for stories from charities due to the lack resources and time pressure facing the media, but complained that many pitches charities made lacked a basic news line.

"It might be an interesting bit of research or an important survey, but we need a top line to get it into the newspaper," said Mudie. He also emphasised the role of charities in providing case studies, which he said journalists need to give news a human angle.

The journalists on the panel called on charity PRs to think about the audience of the media outlet they are pitching to, as well as to know when not to pitch.

"Scan our website, it is easy to see our tone and what stories we are likely to be interested in," said Ashita Nagesh from www.metro.co.uk. "And keep an eye on the news, if there is a big story breaking, wait until it calms down before making contact so your story isn't lost."

The editor of Independent Voices at the Independent, Hannah Fearn, expressed the need for charity pitches to be well written, relevant to the news agenda and interesting.

"Ninety-nine percent of what we do is pegged to the news agenda," she said. "Look at what we do and see how it can fit into that. Start a debate, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there or be controversial. Think about how your charity could relate to a news story. Your chief executive should be easily available to comment on events, the broader the range of issues the better, think about more than just your news."

To achieve what Fearn suggests means that charities need to be braver in their media activity. They need to be willing to put their head above the parapet, and willing to challenge the status quo. They also need to work fast. The story dominating the headlines at 9am is unlikely to be the same story at the top of the agenda at 6pm. Journalists simply do not have time for a statement or interview request to be passed through multiple layers of bureaucracy before it is signed off. If charities want coverage they have to provide journalists with what they want, when they want it and in the format they want it in.

Becky Slack is managing director of Slack Communications and author of EffectiveMedia Relations for Charities: What journalists want and how to deliver it

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