Magnus Carter: Effective media communications

Magnus Carter: Effective media communications

In the second of our series of articles on public relations, Magnus Carter tells Queen’s Young Leaders how to get journalists interested in their story

The term “media relations” refers to the relationship that an organisation or project has with journalists, including local and national newspapers, radio and television broadcasters.

Magnus Carter is a former journalist who delivers training at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR). He points out that in many parts of the world, journalists do not have to look very far for a story because they are given material.

“They can be very selective and your story will end up in ‘trash’ if you don’t deliver what they want.”

Making contact

Marcus recommends making personal, ongoing contact with a journalist, “which will need to work both ways.”

You need to be happy to help a journalist, even when it is not related to your project and then when you want to publicise something “you’ll get a much better response.”

To begin this relationship however, you must have a story to offer.

Silhoutte of people reading newspapers

Image © Pixabay

What makes “news”?

Journalists are selective.

“When they read your press release, or talk to you,says Magnus, “they are searching for certain triggers that make them recognise your information as a story.”

Journalists often see themselves as seekers of the truth, and the word truth provides a guide to what journalists recognise as news.

Topical

When you can, latch on to things journalists are already writing about. There are fashions in news, as in everything else.

Relevant

How does this affect readers? Why is it significant or interesting? For local media, relevant means local.

Unusual

You will need to persuade the journalist that your story is out of the ordinary. Spend some time thinking about this.

Trouble

Journalists like conflict. Sometimes you can use this to your advantage.

Human

If you can, put people at the centre of your story. If you can’t, put people into your story. Who is affected? How? Or better still, tell the story of an individual.

The story

“Some say there are only six kinds of news story,” says Marcus adding that you should think about which category yours fits into:

  • strange but true
  • heroes or villains
  • tragedy or triumph
  • dispute – real, forecast or averted
  • warning
  • hypocrisy exposed.

He also recommends that – when thinking about how to frame your story to interest the media – you consider hooking it onto one of these tried and tested storylines:

  • new services or products – remember it’s the people they involve, or how they affect other people, that makes them interesting
  • awards – stories of you, your team or your project winning an award or recognition, or you can invent an award and create an event around it
  • children – and in some cultures, animals – are photogenic and newsworthy when involved in an activity
  • new faces – tell business pages of the local and professional press about new appointments to your organisation. Always send a photograph and try to include a quote from the new appointee
  • superlatives – the first of anything, but also the longest, highest, shortest etc
  • surveys – if they are unusual or relevant. Include a quote explaining what the results mean and why people should care
  • competitions can become news stories, especially if the prize is unusual
  • personalities – get somebody famous to visit your project, or involved in openings and award ceremonies, but be aware that the personality may command more attention than your story
  • anniversaries – “It’s 50 years to the day since…” but the original event must be relevant to your project and linked to something new
  • length of service – stories where length of service is rewarded can interest journalists, especially when the person being recognised has a good story to tell.

Old-fashioned typewriter

Photo © Unsplash.com

The press release

Marcus points out that writing news is not like writing business reports. “You are not going to be able to give the whole picture – just the bits that make it a story, plus supporting facts.”

Write in the third person – even about yourself. And you must write “objectively”, that is without making a judgement or opinions, unless you are quoting someone. “You can say something is a first, but not that it’s the best.”

Make sure your headline is short and to the point, but don’t spend time on it as it will be changed anyway.

“You should be able to tell your story in 35 words – the length of the first paragraph,” Marcus explains. “If you can’t, you haven’t got the story right yet.” And this 35-word precis must fit the truth criteria.

Next, give the background, the context, and further details.

And every story needs quotes to support or shed light on what’s in the first paragraph.

“Keep it brief,” says Marcus, “150 to 250 words is enough, but make every word count. Use vigorous language.”

Marcus also advises keeping sentences and paragraphs short and simple – one thought per sentence and one sentence, or two, per paragraph – and avoiding jargon, clichés or abbreviations.

“Though you may use initials, after stating the organisation’s name in full. And you may need to give a brief popular explanation of some terms.”

Photos and imagery

“A powerful image can change the course of a campaign,” says Marcus, adding that images should reflect facts.

“If you are sending out an image from a photo library as illustrative – make sure you say so. In most cases journalists will want to have their own images or may ask for profile photos.” 

It’s important to get permission from those being photographed, he says, unless you are taking pictures at a public event.

He adds that it’s worth investing in professional photographs if you know the images are going to be amazing. “Or invite a press photography agency, like Press Association, to come along.”