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Key Communication Tools – Building Concise Messages and Proof Points
by Dianne Saenz, PSR National Media Director
The first step in developing effective messages is deciding who is your key audience: state legislators, federal administration officials, corporate executives, like-minded activists or the general public. News organizations should be simply the messenger, not your target audience.
Once you’ve done that, the next step is deciding the three points that you want to communicate to this audience via news coverage. I chose three because much research reveals that few audiences can remember more than three points at one time.
(Because they are bombarded with tons of messages each day, they often forget those three points within 24 hours of hearing or reading them.)
These “message points” should be concise and to the point, outlining general themes and take no longer than 10 seconds to say.
Support those three message points with what I call “proof points.” Data or information from credible sources that helps strengthen or “prove” your message.
To increase success in pitching our stories, timing is important. In the news business, these events to hang your story on are called “news pegs.” These can be hard news events such as a scheduled vote on important legislation, public health trends (supported by credible researchers or government statisticians) , event anniversaries, even holidays such as President’s Day!
Example: To sell the SMART Security platform, we used the introduction of the FY 06 budget as a national news hook.
Best practices – building good working relationships
Want to make sure everyone understands the role of various news professionals:
Reporter – gathers news by talking to people in community, his/her sources
Writer – works with reporter to write a compelling piece with a strong news peg
Editor – assigns, edits, proofs and fact checks stories once they are written by reporter and writer, also makes them fit budgeted space
Assignment editor – gathers information from public about local events and newsworthy stories, passes them along to his/her newsroom colleagues
News Desk Editor -- Sifts through wire stories, media advisories and press releases to select stories for coverage each day. The stories must all have high relevance for the broadcast’s audience
Cameraman or crew – shows up on the news scene to gather rough footage or record reporter story lead-in or set-up piece
Reporter – directs camera crew to gather good video footage, interviews news sources, covers events
Producer – identifies timely stories relevant to audience’s daily lives or at least one with good video footage! Also edits rough footage gathered by reporters, adds voiceovers and special effects
Executive Producer – responsible for planning entire broadcast and ensuring decent broadcast quality and standards, makes final decisions about story angles and content
Host – On-air newsreader, basically reads scripts written by reporters/writers, delivers transitions between stories, works closely with producers on when to roll audio or videotape, particularly on local broadcasts
Suggestions for best media pitch practices:
• Develop a 30 word or less pitch, leading with a question about whether they have a minute to talk and then share the most timely information; be sure its relevant for the news organization’s audience
• Make pitch calls or contact reporters/editors early in the day. Most go into planning meetings, where they decide what to cover for the day, by 11:30 a.m. local time. If that’s not possible, call again after lunch, between 2 and 4 p.m. Never call after 4 p.m. local time. You can e-mail a pitch after 4 p.m., but it will get more attention early in the day
• Pitch/Point out story ideas that may not be directly related to PSR, but that relate directly to that person’s beat, or have a counter-intuitive angle or involve strange bedfellows (organizations that rarely work together)
• Read or listen to their work and compliment them on their pieces. (it’s only human nature to want your work to be recognized and valued)
• Identify real people in your community who exemplify the story you pitched
• In all communication with reporters about a controversy or battle, always identify two things: what’s at stake and why their audience should care.
• Always tell the truth. If you are asked a question by a reporter that you can’t answer, don’t fudge or make something up! Say that you don’t know, but you’ll try to get back to him/her with an answer or with a PSR contact who may be able to help.
• Be judicious about use of their time. Do not bombard them with information outside their areas of responsibility.
• Always invite them to PSR public events in your area.
• Be polite and take a “no” answer graciously.