Possibly every reader of this blog works for, supports or is involved with an incredible cause doing exceptional things. But all of us at one time or another have struggled to the get the media onside to help us tell what we know are truly powerful and engaging stories.
There are lots of resources dedicated to helping us write better press releases and leveraging social networks but I’d like to share a slightly different view; one that accepts the media machine has an agenda, objectives and targets to meet just like the rest of us. Therefore, isn’t it prudent to perhaps accept that this is the case and try to leverage the situation to ensure our stories are the ones that get shared?
The greatest 800 metres runner the world has ever seen, David Rudisha, won a gold medal in incredible style. He broke the world record and a major benchmark time in the process.
He is a humble, articulate ambassador for his sport, his Masai roots, Kenya as a whole. He invests time and money in several charity projects in Africa and is widely regarded by his peers and commentators alike as a great man as well as a great athlete.
All of this was acknowledged by BBC journalists... in the 3 minutes of build up and 5 minutes after the race. The anchor presenter even acknowledged that it was a shame this achievement wasn't going to get the coverage it deserved.
Then comes Usain Bolt... more than 20 minutes of race build-up. More than 20 re-runs in post-race analysis and nearly half an hour discussing the “living legend”. Undoubtedly an incredible Olympic achievement but no world records... no heart-wrenching back-story, no charity mentions. But he fills seats, attracts readers and viewers and it doesn’t actually matter whether these points are true or not. The BBC and other media owners believe them to be true so effectively they are a self-perpetuating reality. So how is this relevant to us? I think there are three things to think about:
Media agenda (political, social, sporting etc)
Popularity ie; ratings/readership pressure
To give ourselves the best chance of getting our stories shared we would do well to make sure the timing is relevant to other media stories and indeed to the objectives of the media owners and channels themselves. No journalist ever got fired for covering a topic that’s being discussed by the BBC and therefore already ‘tested’ and no editor is going to get in trouble for showing Usain Bolt right now. Similarly Christmas stories tend to be shared more the closer we get to Christmas!
Just like grant-funders, media channels have their own agenda and objectives. Matching our stories to what they are trying to say and how they want to say it significantly increases our chances of generating coverage. They are a target audience just like any we would select for fundraising or marketing activity and we should tailor our stories / messages accordingly.
Numbers, numbers, numbers! These are important to media owners (obviously) and we need to help them achieve this goal with our stories. It’s horrible to have to acknowledge that our causes might not be popular, even though they are so important. Success comes from turning them into stories which will have semi-populist content and still cover the key issues but without being doom and gloom news stories. For example, scientific breakthroughs into cancer drugs are a positive and popular lens through which to view stories about how devastating and all too frequent cancer still is.
I’m not being cynical here, just pragmatic. These are the rules of the game so let’s play the right way. What do you think?