Last Thursday’s Melbourne Campaigners’ Network event focused on the Future of Media – the ways the media is changing, and the impact on campaigns. One of the best aspects of the session was hearing from two sides of the issues: a journalist’s and a campaigner’s perspective.

Stephen Drill, Adrian Dodd and Erin Farley at MCN

Stephen Drill, Herald Sun journalist, talked about the way journalism has sped up with the shift to online content and the use of smartphones. It was great to hear the perspective of a working journalist about what makes a good story that his paper would consider running.

Adrian Dodd, Essential Media Communications consultant, spoke about his role crafting communications for a range of campaigns, and what he has learnt about pitching stories to journalists and making the most of the changing media cycle.

The discussion was ably facilitated by Erin Farley who brought her own experience and curiosity to the topic, as a campaigner and communications expert.

Here are some of the points we discussed about social media:

  • Social media presents excellent opportunities for campaigns – to develop your own audience, build relationships with journalists and opinion leaders, and use the audience to generate media stories.
  • Use social media to help supporters feel part of a campaign. For example, live-tweeting actions and sharing photos on Facebook brings people closer to the action. However, there are also risks involved such as implicating people where legal issues arise from an action.
  • Social media is not the be-all and end-all – you still need effective offline action and coverage by traditional media to reach larger audiences and have an impact on targets. Being savvy online is not a replacement for a smart campaign plan with measurable goals.

Some tips to increase the likelihood your campaign will get covered in the media:

  • Build relationships with journalists. When you call up to pitch a story, know which journalist you want to speak to, and ask for them. Be familiar with their work and respect their time.
  • Don’t just send a press release without any other contact. The Herald Sun receives around 150 press releases a day and most end up in the bin.
  • Become familiar with the news source you want to be covered by. What kinds of stories do they run? What imagery and human interest angles do they portray? Which journalists cover the issues you want to highlight?
  • Make journalists’ lives easier – the way the media is changing means things are moving very quickly and they have less time to work on each piece of content they generate. Be a good source by providing reliable information and responding quickly.
  • Think about the whole story, not just your issue. How is this going to be presented? Where is the drama, conflict, and human impact? To crack the mainstream media pitch stories to answer the question ‘why would my readers care?’
  • Provide your own case studies, reports and visuals. If you are able to find a person who can show the direct impact of the issue you’re promoting, and have them available for a photograph, the story will be much more appealing.

My personal highlight:

  • Don’t be afraid of criticism. Campaigners can be preoccupied with negative coverage, and avoid particular news sources. It’s the nature of the media that a story will include differences of opinion, controversy and conflict – that’s what makes a good story. Criticism and attacks are your opportunity to respond and repeat your campaign messages.

Thanks to Erin for convening the session, Adrian and Stephen for sharing so generously, and everyone who participated in the discussion, including on Twitter. For more information on this topic see Adrian Dodd’s excellent article The media game has changed and the Walkley report Journalism at the Speed of Bytes.

Our next Melbourne Campaigners’ Network event will look at Fundraising – how to do it effectively, and how to integrate it into campaigns. See you there on Thursday 27 September, 6-8pm at Ross House.