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This piece is a combination of work written by Ciaran Breen from No One Is Illegal and the media guide created by Solidarity Across Borders

Coordinating a media and communication strategy for a political purpose can appear daunting at first, especially if your cause has struggled to gain the attention and coverage you know it deserves. However, the good news is that there is a method to the madness and once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to create materials with more flow and ultimately, with more success.

Media Advisory vs. Press Release

Giving the media a heads up: A Media Advisory

The goal with a media advisory is to inform the media of the details of your event but also tempt them to come to get the full story, the exclusive interview, the picture, the video. If there will be visuals, make that clear in the advisory.

Length: Ideally 1 page max

If the media doesn’t come: Do a Press release

The goal of the press release, also known as a media release is that after someone reads it, they have all the info. The story, the quotes, the pictures (if available). A journalist sitting at their desk who didn’t come to your event should have enough from a press release to be able to write a story. As such, a press release is as much like a news article than anything else. Think copy and paste. Write like a journalist. Make it as easy as possible for them to write a story about your event or cause.

Length: Between 1 and 2 pages + photographs (if available)

Before you start writing a press advisory or release, you need to have a few things clear, including:

  • the situation (what are the facts? what is going on? who is involved?)
  • the message (what are you seeking to communicate?) 
  • the demand (what do you want people to do?).  

Headlines

The table below outlines various check marks you can refer to to ensure your headline messaging is on-point and effective. (The following examples draw on experience organizing around immigration detention).

KEYEXAMPLE
Specific event‘Immigration detainees demand a meeting with Minister of Public Safety’ 
Highlight conflict‘Minister refusing to speak to immigration detainees’
Timely‘Immigration detainees mark anniversary of hunger strike with 24-hr protest’
Firsts (superlatives)‘Landmark immigration case to be heard at supreme court’
Visuals that are strong and can be reported on briefly‘Families of immigration detainees will join supporters in a colourful march to CBSA offices’
Unusual so it actually gets picked up‘Canadian child spends second birthday locked in immigration detention’
Alarming‘17 people have died in immigration detention since 2000’
Pop appeal‘Family day rallies planned across Ontario’
Make sure it ties into a clear ask/into the issue

‘Supporters are demanding the introduction of a 90-day limit on immigration detention’

Format of a Media Advisory and Press Release

The table below outlines the different sections of both a media advisory and a press release. Use these sections as a guide if you are planning to do your own media advisory or press release.

SectionsMEDIA ADVISORYPRESS RELEASE
1Headline – Use active languageHeadline – Use active language
2Lead
– The most important info (1-2 small paragraphs)
– Remember the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, Why, When)
Lead
– The most important info (1-2 small paragraphs)
– Remember the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, Why, When)
3BODY
– Crucial info (argument, controversy, story, issue)
BODY
– Crucial info (argument, controversy, story, issue)
4CALL TO ACTION
– When, where, what, who
QUOTE #1
– A quote that invokes feelings and balances with story told so far
5FACTS
– Additional details & background (e.g. history of an issue, international context)
– This is the last section in a media advisory 
FACTS
– Additional details & background (e.g. history of an issue, international context)
6

QUOTE #2
– Second quote can provide a particular perspective, often from someone with social capital or expertise.
7

Tail
– Extra info, interesting or related
– Assume that most journalists will have stopped reading by this point.

Timeline to send Media Advisory and/or Press Release

The following timelines are a guideline only and you should plan according to your situation, context and media landscape.

5 days before Action/event/other: send Media Advisory

4 days before Action/event/other: pitch calls to friendly media

Day before: Re-send media advisory

Morning of: Re-send media advisory early morning (e.g. 7am). Call news desks (television & newspapers) around 8am.

Day of: Send press release, take photos

Day after: Send pictures, additional information etc.

Different types of Press 

Press Conference

A press conference is a sit-down media event. The classic formula is the following: 

  1. An MC briefly introduces the topic and each speaker in turn
  2. 2 or 3 spokespeople each give a 3-minute presentation
  3. Then there is an open question period, facilitated by the MC. All in one hour. 
  4. After the formal press conference, journalists might ask for one-on-one interviews with some of the speakers.

Press Conference Tips:

  • Don’t forget television and cameras: make sure the conference or event has a visual dimension. An attractive background (eg. a poster, written slogans, photos, banner) helps to get the message out. Also, make sure the light is not behind the speakers.
  • Cards with the name of each speaker to put on the table in front of them can help media identify who is speaking.
  • When you are setting up, leave a central aisle with lots of space so that cameras have room to manoeuver.

Checklist for press conference:

  • Book appropriate location
  • Speakers (prepare, coordinate, inform of location and time)
  • Media Advisory (write, send)
  • Phone calls to journalists and news desks
  • MC (briefed and prepared to give introductions, manage question period and end the press conference)
  • Media kit (prepared and copied) – see below!
  • Attractive visuals (banners, photos, etc.)
  • Set up the location (leave yourself plenty of time), including water and kleenex for speakers, and name cards on the table.
  • Sign up sheet for journalists (you can leave it at the door, and ask journalists to ‘register’ so you can follow up with them afterwards)

Press Briefing or Scrum

A press briefing or scrum is like an informal press conference, with more energy. In general, it takes place outside a symbolic venue or at an event (eg. before a court hearing) or as part of an event you are organizing (e.g. during a demonstration). 

Classic formula : an MC, followed by two or three spokespeople who give key messages in 5 minutes (total), followed by questions.

Tip: It is important to have a poster or banner behind the people talking.

Exclusive Interviews

An exclusive interview is an interview offered to a single media outlet or journalist. There must be a commitment to respect exclusivity: if you have an agreement with one journalist, you can’t give an interview to another on the same topic. 

Op-Ed

An op-ed is an opinion text that you write and have published in the opinion pages of a newspaper. It normally has to have some link to current events or symbolic date, and express a strong opinion eloquently. There are strict limits of length. The editors usually reserve the right to edit your piece.

Sometimes you can write a piece and ask a well-known person to put their name to it, to attract more attention.

Best Time to do Media 

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are usually the best days for media events and press releases. Sunday afternoons also work if they are promoted well in advance because there is often no other news at that time.

Although it is impossible to predict what may happen, try not issue a press release or hold a press conference during major news stories (unless it is about that topic). Conversely, aim for symbolic dates that work with your story.

The cut-off time (time that journalists must have their report completed) is usually 4pm for TV and 6pm for newspapers. Radio journalists may conduct interviews in the early evening.

Ideally, press conferences are held between 9 am and 2pm. If possible, you should avoid having one after 4pm.

For a special event in the evening, you must notify the media well in advance.

Preparing to Speak to the Media

1) Prepare Yourself

Decide in advance which information to disclose or not to disclose about your personal life. You can control the information you share. You can set limits and decide not to talk about certain things.

Decide whether to go with your heart and tell your story as it comes to you on the spot or prepare a statement in advance.

Decide whether to show or hide your face, whether to ask for your voice to be altered, to use your real name, etc.

Emotional preparation: an interview/press conference can make us emotional or even make us cry. That’s fine. At the same time it is important to keep your goals in mind: the message you want to get across; the personal information you don’t want to talk about.

Link to a broader analysis / similar situations: prepare facts, examples, sentences to connect your situation to broader problems.

Some journalists insist on having the full immigration file. Most journalists will ask for some documents. Decide in advance which documents you will give and which you will not give.

2)  Preparing a Spokesperson

The spokesperson needs to understand the case, and be prepared for any questions. If there are difficult parts of the file (e.g. a criminal record, irregularities in the file), it is important that the spokesperson knows about them in advance and knows how to respond.

Ensure that the spokesperson understands and is prepared to respect the message the family/individual has decided upon and what information the family/individual does not want to disclose.

The spokesperson needs to be prepared to present the specific case, responding to its urgency and immediate needs, while raising similar situations and speaking about the system that produces such situations.

3)  Preparing for a Press Conference or Press Scrum/Briefing

Choose two or three points you would like to make and write them out. Practice saying them. At a press conference or press scrum, this will be the basis for your initial speech. Emphasize these messages and repeat them in different words whenever possible during the question period: “If I only have one thing to tell people, it is that …” or ” My main message is that …”.. Don’t let the journalist divert your attention and make you deviate from the points you want to make.

Try to guess the journalists’ questions and criticisms and be prepared accordingly.

4)  Preparing for an interview

All previous points and:

Ask the journalist about the topics s/he wishes to cover to help you prepare. Ask them to send you the questions in advance by email if possible. You may in some circumstances be able to respond by email. Remember that you have more control over what you write than what you say.

Ask if there will be other interviewees and find out about their positions.

5)  Coordinating among Different Speakers

It is very important to ensure basic coherence between messages by the different speakers and especially to avoid contradictions and too much repetition. Here are some tools that can help coordinate messages:

Prepare a “talking points” document and share it with all speakers well in advance of the event. Talking points consist of key questions that you are sure will be asked and suggested response or responses for each.

Come up with a game plan about who covers what points, what points you will avoid, who will repeat the main demand, etc. (this can be worked out in a meeting or teleconference or in an email sent to all speakers).

You need to check in with each speaker to make sure they know the time, the place, have read the talking points, and are clear on how long they have to talk and which points they are supposed to cover.

6)  Media Kit

It is usually a good idea to prepare a media kit (in french and in english) to give to journalists at your press event. A media kit typically includes the following:

  • press release for the event (or minimally the press advisory);
  • list of speakers, a short biography for each and, sometimes, their contact information;
  • fact sheet(s): depending on the topic, this can provide details of a specific case and relevant background information; information can also be presented in the form of question / answer or a chronology;
  • Previously published media articles;
  • Experts reports or other documents that provide the context or documentary evidence to back up your assertions;
  • More creatively, you can include video clips, quotes from your speakers, statements of support from groups that are not present, SAB flyers, even stickers, buttons, etc.

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