Media coverage offers the dual advantage of being cost-free and carrying more credibility than paid advertisements. The downside is that there are no guarantees as to when, how, or even if, the media will cover a story.
The nature and extent of the media coverage that an IP awareness campaign will attract depends largely on the relationship with the press; on targeting the message to the appropriate outlet; and on communicating effectively with the media. This mini guide provides basic notions for each of these elements to help increase media coverage.
Building a Relationship with the Media
Establishing a good relationship with key media contacts is probably the most critical factor in obtaining media coverage. Below are six basic steps towards developing media relationships:
1. Identify your media contacts. Check media sources to identify which journalists cover IP issues. If IP-specific coverage is scarce, expand the search to journalists covering related issues such as business news, new technologies, innovation, etc. Make a contact list of all such journalists and keep it updated. This list should include, at a minimum, the name, title, media organization, and address (including phone, fax and e-mail) of each journalist.
2. Research media organizations. Call each media organization on the above list to find out about: deadlines for stories, schedules for shows, specific guidelines for submitting press releases and advisories, schedules and deadlines for specialized supplements, acceptance criteria for public service announcements (PSAs), preferred format for the delivery of information and visuals (e-mail, fax, etc.), circulation, and audience profiles. Use this information to communicate news to the media with enough time for it to be broadcast or published. Respecting media deadlines and format requirements can be a deciding factor on whether or not the information is broadcast and/or published. In addition, the information on circulation and audience profile will help identify the best media organization with which to reach the target audience.
3. Observe media contacts. Observe how the journalists on the list above cover their stories. What kind of visuals (photos, graphs, etc.), if any, do they tend to use? What kinds of examples do they favor? Look out for points of view and biases. By understanding the styles used by different journalists, you will be able to pitch a story to them more effectively by matching the information to their needs and expectations.
4. Introduce yourself and your organization. Even before you have a campaign or outreach program to promote, it is important to provide journalists with basic information about your organization. Also give them a list of IP issues on which you or other experts from your organization can provide comments and/or complementary information if and when the need arises. Build your reputation as a reliable source on IP issues by keeping your media contacts updated with solid and reliable facts. Media kits are a good way to contact the media for the first time. Such kits should include: fact sheets about your organization and its programs/services, basic information about IP, IP success stories related to the campaign you will be promoting, statistics, visuals (photos/graphics/charts), and your business card.
5. Offer IP training. The complexity of IP issues discourages many journalists from writing about them. Providing basic IP training or briefings to key journalists can help solve this problem. Such training can help clarify issues and controversies, and reveal the increasing importance of IP in different sectors of society. In addition to lectures, field visits to your headquarters and to innovative companies that are using IP can serve as interesting examples that may lead to future stories.
6. Keep track of media coverage. This will assist in determining which sort of stories are more likely to receive media coverage in future. It will also give help identify journalists who regularly publish your information, and give you a chance to address any issues that have been highlighted in the media coverage.
Targeting the Best Outlet
After establishing a good rapport with key media contacts, identify which outlet would be the most effective in transmitting the message to the target audience. The two main factors to consider are the type of media through which the target audience receives information, and the type of media best suited for the intended message.
In determining the best media outlet for the target audience, keep in mind that people obtain their news/information from many sources. Do not stop researching after identifying one magazine that the target audience reads. While an article in that magazine may be effective in reaching that audience, the message will be reinforced and better retained if that article is also backed by an announcement in a radio show to which the target audience listens. Aim to have the message distributed by as many relevant media as possible.
Once the best media to reach the target audience has been identified, tailor the message to match the needs of each outlet. Consider the main characteristics and requirements of each outlet (visual impact, possible length of coverage, depth with which issues are treated, deadlines, etc) when preparing the information to send them. For example, if one of the chosen media is television, ensure that interesting visuals accompany the story, or create an event that will provide opportunities for TV crews to film interesting images. If another one of the selected media is a magazine, ensure that the story is consistent with the style and depth of detail contained in other articles appearing in that magazine.
Keep in mind the advantages and disadvantages that each outlet offers in the delivery of messages to different audiences. For example, highly visual, compact news such as the burning of piles of counterfeit drugs, would be best suited to TV coverage. Whereas news stories requiring detailed explanations of complex issues (such as the benefits of a proposed new IP law) would be more effective as an article in a specialized journal.
Finally, don't just focus on the general media. A story may have a better chance of being reported and of reaching the target audience through specialist media, such as trade magazines for SMEs, or TV music shows for teenagers.
Communicating with the Media
Having established good relations with the media and determining which media to target, it is time to choose which tool to use to promote the campaign to the media. The choice will depend on the news/event to be promoted, as well as the time and other resources available.
Press releases are the standard tool for releasing information about your campaign to the media. These are faxed or e-mailed to a contact person at each media organization and preferably followed-up with a telephone call. When e-mailing press releases, keep in mind that many journalists prefer to have the text in the body of the e-mail, rather than as an attachment, in order to reduce the risk of computer virus transmission. Follow-up calls will ensure that the release is not lost among the hundreds of press releases received by the media every day.
An increasing number of web-based IP information services use press releases posted on websites to spread IP-related news. Many print newspapers are also using the Internet to post the latest news. It is important therefore to upload press releases immediately to a page of your website dedicated to media relations. This page should also provide visitors with the opportunity to subscribe to an e-mail list and thereafter receive press releases by e-mail as soon as they are issued.
News advisories provide advance information to the media of an event or press conference that will be held. News advisories briefly inform what the event is about, where/when it will take place, and who will be speaking. Be sure to include the name and phone number of the contact person for the event. While providing enough information to create interest, news advisories refrain from telling the whole story in order to ensure that the press will show up at the event and not simply write a story based on the advisory.
Press conferences require careful planning and are usually limited to big and important stories (not routine issues) that cannot be properly covered with a standard press release. It also helps when conferences have some sort of visual appeal for cameras and photographers. Examples of events and stories worthy of press conferences include the launch of a new, high profile program, the release of major information, an awards ceremony or a highly visual event. Press packets - which include a press release about the event (written in the past tense), important facts and figures, basic IP information relevant to the event, and your business card - are handed out before the start of the conference event and sent to media contacts who could not attend the press conference.
At the beginning of the conference, a moderator will usually read an introductory statement before introducing other speakers or starting the special event. Once all the speakers have spoken and/or the special event is finished, the floor is opened to questions from members of the media. It is imperative that both the moderator and all speakers be prepared to respond confidently and accurately to these questions. In order to increase the chances of press conference attendance and coverage by the media, it is wise to try to schedule it in such a way that it will not conflict with other big news events.
Press briefings are informal meetings with individual or a small group of journalists. Such briefings are useful for discussing complicated issues, providing background data, and improving communications with journalists who have previously misreported IP issues. It is important that the person conducting the press briefing be thoroughly prepared with tangible facts, figures and reliable information. Keep in mind that different media have varying needs for details depending on the amount of time/space that they have to report on issues. Tailor the information to the needs of the journalists attending the briefing. For example, provide enough information for a reporter writing an in-depth magazine article, or that boil down the issue into a few key facts and figures for radio journalists who only have a few seconds to tell the story.
Broadcast interviews have the advantage of letting you transmit the message yourself. To arrange such interviews, first identify the broadcasters and shows that could be interested in your campaign. Contact the producer and provide a briefing about the campaign. Keep in mind that radio and television interviews can become more lively and interesting when there is more than one guest present, so be ready to suggest another guest with an IP success story relevant to the campaign who could also join you in the program. Mention also your availability for telephone interviews, as this may be more practical for some broadcasters. The day of the interview, ensure that you and the other guest are properly prepared with the main points you want to make, background information, interesting facts and figures, and answers to a list of potential questions.
Letters to the editor can be used to clarify issues, or to introduce a new dimension to an issue, presented in previously printed articles. The key to such letters is to stick to the issue at hand and present new information in a clear and precise manner. The letter should be signed with both your name and affiliation. Also include contact details in case the editor needs to contact you. Finally, since letters to the editor respond to a specific article from a particular newspaper, magazine, or journal should only be sent to the publication in question.
Drama/reality shows can be very effective in providing a human context to complex issues thereby making them easier to understand. They can also have a much bigger and more targeted impact than advertising or news stories. The first step in this case is to identify a show that could easily incorporate IP issues. Meet with the producers and writers of that show to present your ideas for different IP-related story lines. It could help if such options could be (at least loosely) based on real-life examples. Your story line may be so complete that it could end up as a completely new show.