PLAYING THE MEDIA GAME: HOW TO USE MEDIA TO BUILD YOUR CAMPAIGN
Utilisation of the media will be an essential part of your campaign. It can be used to shame your university and threaten one of its most important tools for attracting students and money: its reputation.
Universities pay obsessive attention to their image, and bad press that makes national news will give you leverage with management. In general you want more than one person taking care of media-related things; it’s a lot of work and it’s very important. You also want a diverse team of people on it (i.e. not just white middle-class cis men being the face of the campaign) - however this diversity should not be done tokenistically, it is most important that your organising and decision making is not dominated by structurally privileged people. The key is being organised so that you can use the opportunities for coverage that arise (or that you’ve created) to your advantage throughout your campaign.
What is a press release?
1. It’s you trying to tell an interesting story.
Your objective is not trying to convince the journalist that you’re right, just that you’re interesting. INTERESTING, EMOTIONAL HOOKS ARE KEY.
2. It’s a gift to the journalist: a clearly signposted text with all the info, details and visuals for them to do the absolute minimum work. That way they’re much more likely to publish it.
WHEN should you write one:
Is this action big enough on its own to make news? if not, wait for a couple of them to take place, or until you uncover juicy stuff. Journalists will switch off if too many.
If yes, write it up BEFORE the action so that it’s ready to go on the day: you can pretty much predict what’s going to go down.
WHAT (different components):
Text: put all the necessary practical details first to understand the story in (where the action is taking place, why, etc). Keep it grounded and nice and brief. But don’t forget emotional hook and key messages! If you do it well they flow from the facts part. (aim for 400 words but it’s ok if you go over as long as it’s interesting).
Quotes: anonymous if you want, from one of your mates if you want. Put the hard slogan and ideology in there, not in the text! Newspapers love pretending they’re impartial.
Pictures: put 2-3 photos of your choice in with the credits and assurance that they can use it.
Hyperlinks: if you don’t have the space to explain your entire story / want to link it to other articles about it.
Your contact details: for follow-up/ clarifications/ comments.
Not everyone will resonate with the same stories: write press releases according to the newspaper you’re sending it to.
PS: expect the ‘right to comment’ from the person/organisation you’re campaigning against. Anticipate what they’ll be answering and put it in your press release before they can do it.
Once you’ve done your press release, the hardest part is to know who to send it to so that it has more chances of being recuperated and published. Getting info and positive coverage in the media can be achieved by essentially building relationships with journalists.
find the right journalists & people to send press releases to: search newspapers/journalists that would be sympathetic to you/ cover stuff in your area of campaigning (google is your friend). Local and student newspapers are generally much more responsive.
how to contact them: don’t send it to general e-mail addresses, they never pick up stories in there! Most journos don’t make their info available: find their e-mails by guessing/getting access to databases/asking around, seeing who knows who etc.
when: before the action, at 9am or after lunch, i.e. when it’s mostly likely to be on the top of their e-mail box.
to make your press release look interesting and more likely to be picked up, a good email is key! See website for our template.
It’s so important for your group to have your own, well managed Facebook page. That way you can get people to stay tuned on what you do, see how popular your campaign is and get management scared of the momentum you’re building.
Twitter is alright but it won’t get you as much attention or followers (especially outside of the existing left) as Facebook. Having said this, Twitter spreads news quickly; particularly to journalists and academics. Instagram can be good too, for generating a campaign a e s t h e t i c but generally posts on there have to be less political/won’t get such good reach.
FACEBOOK PRO TIPS
Use nice graphics for your campaign profile picture, nobody rates a non-ironic 1.0 Paint job.
Only post between 12-2 or at 6pm so that more people will see your posts
Try to post less than 400 characters so that people see your message without having to click – see more…, longer messages should be blog posts. In any case it’s recommended to keep posts short.
Pictures and articles work really well: they usually get a much higher reach.
Keep things focused on the next action, try drip feeding
There’s a certain rent strike a e s t h e t i c if you want to follow it, or build on it.
Inviting people who like your posts to like your page is one of the only ways to get new post likes.
Whenever you make a new facebook post, post it in your group chat encouraging people to share it, to increase the reach.
Find community/student facebook groups to share your posts in.
Make a spreadsheet of pages/groups to share posts from/in - send them messages! On Twitter, you can simply tag people or DM them.
Check out other Cut the Rent groups and their Facebook pages for inspiration and ideas to steal!
TWITTER/INSTAGRAM PRO TIPS
Mass following accounts is surprisingly useful for building up your campaign’s followers, and most importantly reach. Target people who follow your university’s accomodation account, or like their posts; or other local housing campaigns etc.
The opportunity for an interview might occur later in your campaign, but in any case you want to be ready for them.
Interviews are used for one thing: getting the key messages (i.e. main points, demands, arguments) of your campaign across. Your interview will rely on those so prepare them in advance. When you answer the questions, find a way to always come back to them and repeat them incessantly. They should be simple, clear, interesting and reproducible in different contexts (i.e. quotable). Also, for some reason 3 is the perfect number of key messages because apparently people remember by threes.
Here are some other things to remember:
Check if it’s always the same people in your group (usually cis white male) doing interviews and try to change that.
Ask what newspaper is interviewing and be ready to change your responses depending on whether their audience is hostile / informed / unknown.
If you have a press release relating to the interview then use it to build on.
Practice practice practice: stand in front of a mirror and pretend to answer questions while using your talking points. Ask yourself the questions you think will be asked by the reporter (and those you hope will not be asked).
Answer one question at a time if possible with short, clear answers.
Have stats and some punchy phrases ready.
Ask a reporter to clarify what they mean if you don’t understand a question and if necessary, take time to think about an answer before you give it.
Be aware of your body language – do not act nervous. Look at and address the person who is speaking to you.
Don’t be scared to admit you don’t know something. You can always offer to provide the journo with that information afterwards.
If there’s a question you don’t want to answer, use some ‘bridging’ techniques to answer something else.
Don’t speak off the record unless you’ve known the reporter for a while.
Don’t try to fill the gap during an awkward silence: it’s a little trick reporters will use to make you say something unplanned.
Here are some good bridges:
• What I think is really shocking is…
• That’s an excellent/interesting point, however…
• Well the real issue here is…
• That’s a popular argument, but in reality…
• This fails to take into account…
• I reject the premise of your question! (only in desperate cases)
• I would like to question your characterisation of the issue.
• I feel like the question masks the real issue…
• I think people are tired of hearing about that, while….