Media coverage is one of the best ways to draw attention and support to your feral cat activities. Unlike advertising, you have limited control in a news story over how you or your organization is portrayed—but the placement and recognition are free.
There are steps you can take to manage all of your interactions with the media to generate the best outcomes and coverage possible. You can control the message. The trick is to be prepared.
Be Prepared for a Media Interview
- Before a media interview, prepare the three key points you want to get across.
- There are multiple programs that are a humane method of care for all cats, including affordable, accessible spay and neuter services available to everyone and Trap-Neuter-Return programs for feral cats.
- A revolutionary change in shelter practice and policy is needed that protects the lives of cats, and there is a movement pushing for change.
- Over 70% of cats are killed in our nation’s animal control pounds and shelters. That number jumps to virtually 100% for feral cats.
- Keep the messages in your key points simple and direct. Write them down and review them several times before your interview.
- Remember that while it is okay to consult notes during print or radio interviews, it’s out of the question for television, so practice, practice, practice!
- Find out as much as you can about who is interviewing you.
- Listen carefully to the reporter’s question and answer by linking the question to your three key points.
- It’s okay to repeat your messages. In fact, it will help to keep you on point.
- Don’t be rushed into answering. Just pause, and think.
- Don’t make up anything.
- On television, project a cool, professional image. Sit up straight, and don’t wear stripes or busy patterns.
- Don’t look into the camera. Look at the person who is talking.
- Project enthusiasm for your message, but don’t come across as a zealot.
- Send a thank you note to the reporter following the interview and offer to be a source for future stories.
Make Yourself Media Savvy
Here are some simple, successful methods of establishing an ongoing, positive relationship with your local media.
- Plan ahead. Create a brief media plan, detailing your goals, target audiences, and key messages. If you are planning on sharing a story, make sure it is newsworthy or interesting from a human interest standpoint. Think about creative hooks—you are the one who will have to sell this. Do you have a local angle for a national story? Is there a local crisis or ongoing issue that your expertise can tie into?
- Develop a comprehensive media list. The media list is by far the most important aspect of media relations. If the list isn’t up to date or the contact person’s name is wrong, then your message is lost or delayed. Start by identifying newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations in your market area. Include online community calendars offered as a public service by many print and broadcast outlets. Also, consider submitting information to the local civic league newsletters that many neighborhoods publish. Determine the contact person(s), beat covered (if available), address, phone and fax numbers, and email. Most of this information is online or available at the main desk of the newsroom. Organize this information so that it can be easily updated, leaving room for any follow-up or results tracking.
- Build relationships. The best way to build good relationships is to pitch stories that are truly newsworthy. Become a regular “media consumer” to understand the kind of stories that are being covered and how issues are written about or portrayed. Research reporters in your local media outlets to decide who covers the issues closest to yours. Learn how reporters you will contact prefer to receive information—by fax or email.
A call before sending out an advisory or press release will help the reporter associate your story with a voice and make the release stand out amongst all of the other materials he or she receives. Keep in mind that reporters are busy people and some do not prefer follow-up phone calls. Others appreciate the reminder and will thank you. As you establish relationships with reporters and editors, you can determine whether a follow-up is necessary. If you decide to follow up and you are staging an event, make your call one or two days in advance. Always be brief and to the point.
To Announce an Event: Create a Media Advisory
A media advisory alerts reporters to your event in advance in a condensed way. It should:
- Let the reporter know the “who, what, when, where, and why” of the event, including contact information—phone numbers, email, and website.
- Be succinct and informative—keep it to one page. Put the material on your organization’s letterhead. Write a catchy headline.
- Get the advisory to the right people. Email or fax to the metro editor (if you live in an area with a large daily newspaper), or the news editor or managing editor (if you are sending the advisory to a daily newspaper or a weekly/biweekly newspaper). Email or fax your advisory to the assignment editor at television and radio stations. Send your advisory five business days in advance for daily newspapers, radio, and television and two weeks in advance for weekly newspapers.
To Pitch a Story: Send a News Release
If the media advisory is the invitation to the party, the news release, or press release, is a news story about the event. It is also a means of educating an audience about a particular subject. News releases should be:
- Detailed and should contain at least one quote from your spokesperson.
- Able to go straight to print. Sometimes a news outlet does not have a reporter available to follow up on the details of the release, but considers your message to be of reader interest. Often, if this is the case—and the release is well-written—the editor will publish your news release as an actual news story.
- Printed on your organization’s letterhead. Include a photo attachment if you have one.
Releasing the story via email or fax is acceptable and often preferred. If the release is about an event, send it out the day before the event.