As part of Locality Convention ’21, we ran a workshop looking at how community organisations and charities can build effective relationships with the press and the various benefits of doing so – from fundraising to awareness raising.

The panel, chaired by Locality’s Content and media Officer, Lewis Garland, included experts from across the press and media. Our panel included:

Hazel Sheffield, a freelance journalist who has written extensively on community groups, community power and community ownership. Hazel has written for the Guardian, the Times, The Financial Times, The Atlantic, The Economist and the BBC.

Becky Slack, founder of Slack Communications and a journalist at the Guardian, the Independent and the New Statesman. Becky is the author of Effective Media Relations for Charities.

Will Brett is a campaigns, communications and public affairs consultant. He specialises in helping organisations build authentic connections with the people who matter to them.

Shanae Dennis, a freelance journalist who has written for the Huffington Post, The Voice, and the BBC. Shanae frequently works on issues affecting minoritised communities.

The conversation was wide-ranging and hugely informative, each panellist bringing unique insights. Some key themes and take-homes that emerged during the conversation were:

  • Whenever pitching a story, you must have a clear, succinct message or narrative. You often have a single line to capture the attention of a journalist or editor. Useful techniques suggested for tightening pitches included writing it as a text message or as a tweet.
  • Ensure you use day-to-day, accessible language. Avoid all industry jargon or the language used at your board meetings.
  • Focus on building and nurturing relationships with your target journalists, publications and broadcasters. Positive, trusting relationships can increase your chances of getting coverage and also help to ensure the coverage is sensitive to your cause and clients. You should also try to read and understand your target publications.
  • You have to be willing to put your head above the parapet and be opinionated. Having a strong, outspoken social media presence can position you as a leading commentator on your cause.
  • Timing is all-important. You can sometimes time news to align with national days etc. Sometimes it is worth sitting on stories until they become relevant news items. This involves making a commitment to staying on top of the news as much as you can.
  • Does your story pass the “so what” test? To be newsworthy a story must be new, shocking, surprising, or unique. “’Charity does good work’ is not a story”, as Becky Slack put it.
  • Small, local organisations should look to collaborate with groups from other regions – this can turn a localised issue into a national news item.
  • It’s important to remember that you can’t control a story once it’s out. Coverage can backfire, and can be damaging to your organisation and clients. Make sure you’re prepared. This ties in closely to ensuring you have positive, trusting relationships with the journalists you work with.
  • One of the main advantages local charities and community groups have is their ability to provide real, human stories. This is the angle that is most likely to get smaller groups press coverage.

Accompanying the piece, Locality produced a short media toolkit by the same name. Download the toolkit here: Pressing Concerns Toolkit

This blog is part of our Locality Convention ’21 blog series – exploring highlights, tips and key learning from our 2021 Convention.