Dealing with the Press
WHY DEAL WITH THE PRESS?
Every organisation needs some exposure. For some organisations it is enough that a few students know what is happening. However, for others, it is important to let a wide public of funders, students, and the local community know what is going on. One of the prime ways to get exposure, beyond a very limited number of people, is to get press coverage. Press coverage will allow your group's activities and existence to become known, is a useful recruitment method, and gives a degree of pride to current members reading about their organisation's exploits.
Not all press coverage is designed to raise the profile of your organisation. Campaigns and ideas might need to be made better known. Public opinion is largely formed through the press, and getting coverage can help ensure that your attempts to change society work well.
It is important to link press strategies into a wider publicity approach. It isn't right to simply get lots of press coverage without aiming towards some wider aim. All publicity is for a reason - to try and make people know about your organisation and for them to think about the organisation in a certain way. So, try to get a lot of press coverage - but also get the right press coverage.
NEWS COVERAGE AS FREE ADVERTISING
However strange it might seem, there is a sense in which any coverage that your organisation receives is free advertising. Think about it - when you read the newspaper a large amount of what is written about isn't really news. Sure, on the front page there might be a bit of news. But then, all the way through the newspaper is coverage about films, restaurants, celebrities, fashion shows - things that aren't really 'news' to anybody. There might be coverage of a new product or shop, and you might start to think why a journalist thought that you cared. The relationship between advertisers, publicists, and journalists, is very strong. Without publicists and advertisers to feed them stories (to fill their newspaper) and money (spent on the 'paid-advertisements') journalists couldn't do their jobs. Somebody is going to get their 'free advertising' into the newspaper - make sure that it is you.
WHICH WRITTEN MEDIA SHOULD YOU DEAL WITH?
Print media can essentially be divided into four categories. Jewish, student, local, and national. Start by identifying all of the Jewish newspapers, news web sites, and magazines that are around. This might not take you that long. If you are from a country with more than one Jewish newspaper, consider interesting those that aren't necessarily based where you are, but who might none-the-less take an interest.
Work out what the different Jewish newspapers and magazines want. If they have a dedicated youth and student page, target that. If they have a political focus and you are doing something political, target that. Even national Jewish newspapers can have a lack of real news - which means that you always have a chance of getting coverage.
Synagogue magazines are a great grass-roots way of getting a large amount of exposure. A large number of parents read synagogue magazines, and if your organisation can get coverage in a large number of them then it will provide a lot of coverage. This might not be perfect for promoting your amazing drunken parties, but could be good if you want to get support for learning activities from funders or such-like. Remember that in most cases synagogue magazine editors are crying out for material - especially (?) from young people.
The student press can be suitable when you are trying to attract a wider range of students, including Jewish students who aren't necessarily connected to organised Jewish activities. Often, Jewish students respond well to any publicity in the non-Jewish student press, as it seems more 'cool' than publicity in the Jewish press. Remember, a lot of students feel happy to get involved in things that have the approval of the non-Jewish world.
Local newspapers, not necessarily student ones, can be very easy to get coverage in. Obviously you have to think about whether it is worth it - if nobody reads something it isn't worth being written about. If you have a local newspaper that is read by the Jewish community or by students, it could be worth getting coverage.
The national press might be happy to cover certain kinds of Jewish student story. Think about whether you have anything really interesting to say. Don't waste your time telling the New York Times that you ran a good party that was attended by 50 people. Coverage in the national press can raise the profile of your organisation enormously, especially for funders and the wider community. The biggest chance for a Jewish student organisation to get coverage in the national, non-Jewish, press, is for campaigns that they organise to grab somebody's attention.
Remember that people respond to the same article in different ways depending upon where they saw it. A synagogue magazine is less cool - but will make something seem safer. The national press might seem very impressive but also 'inaccessible' and so forth.
BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP WITH JOURNALISTS
Most people would like to think that journalists cover stories on the basis of whether or not they are important, and whether their readers would like to read it. Sure, that's true of any good story. If a journalist finds out about a major scandal, they will print it because it will sell newspapers. But what about all of the other stories that go into the paper. Why do journalists print some of it and not other things. Why do journalists agree to attend some events to write about what happens and not others? Put yourself into a journalist's shoes. It is about relationships, being treated well, and being given an easy life. You can't overestimate how important it is to get to know journalists that work on papers that you want to get coverage from - and the more pressure there is for space in the paper, the more important a good relationship is.
Build a relationship with journalists like you would with anybody else - only remember the professional limits. Take them for lunch. Compliment their work. Find out if you have friends in common and try to get introduced. Do anything you can to get on their good side - without making it too obvious that you are desperate. If you make it obvious that you are just after free advertising, the journalist will just send you to the advertising sales department.
If you press release things to the same journalist on a regular basis, make sure that they can begin to trust you and work around what you do. Let them know that you are going to be releasing something. Win their trust by producing consistently well-written pieces. Let the journalist allow themselves to plan around your activities.
WHEN TO DEAL WITH THE PRESS
There are two ways of thinking about how often your organisation should be in the news. One is to simply say 'after any interesting things happen' but that will leave a big shortage of coverage. If you are like everybody else. There aren't loads of things going on in the Jewish student world that interests anybody else. Even though the great party you had might be interesting to you, it probably isn't interesting for anybody else. Even though those kind of articles get in to all of the Jewish Press all of the time, it isn't a reliable way to attempting to gain exposure, and limits your coverage to a fraction of what it could be. Another approach to the problem of how often you should get coverage is to sit down and decide. Think how often you think you ought to get into the Jewish newspapers in your community. Consider how important you think press coverage is, what kind of a reputation you are trying to create, how much energy you have for this kind of thing - and then set a number of times you think you should be covered every week, month, or year.
Once you have set a 'press coverage' target, you will need to work out what you do that is newsworthy. Events that are interesting have a good chance of getting in the press, as long as you cultivate the right relationships with journalists. If the stuff you are already doing isn't going to generate enough press coverage, consider what you could do that would get you more press coverage.
The time when you always ought to be able to get into the papers is in the listings sections. If newspapers offer a listings section, make sure that every event is listed. People really do read the listings and it is fairly simple to get things in, given a bit of personal contact and perseverance.
By the way, there might be times when the press want to get in touch with you for a comment on something. This can be fine if it is for a quote about something bland and boring - but if it is some drugs scandal it is important NOT to deal with the press straight away. Reactive press management is not fun - make sure there is some kind of a strategy just in case there is a need to respond quickly in a potential PR crisis. If you don't know what to say when put on the spot, say nothing, and promise to respond within a couple of hours. Think of what to say and then respond.
WHAT TO PRESS RELEASE AND CREATING NEWS
The easiest ways to find out what to press release is to find out what kind of material the press are interested in. This means two things - first of all read through the papers and find out what kind of articles get in. Don't copy them directly - obviously there is no way that two articles on web sites will go in the same paper in consecutive issues. Rather, use other articles as a trigger for new ideas. Secondly, if possible, ask the journalists at the papers what kinds of thing they would be interested in. They might say something interesting - if so do them a release and it will get in.
The difficult thing to do is to resist the urge to press release very dull stuff. For the national press you don't have a chance of getting a 'non-story' in. Jewish papers can be less selective though - as if a youth movement holding a quiz is news - because they need something to fill the space. But although there is scope for press releasing quite dull material - and some of the time it will be used - in general it will irritate journalists who are inundated with boring press releases. The aim should be to get the journalists who work at the Jewish papers to be looking forward to getting your press releases because they are always interesting. Again, it is about relationship building. The different papers have different standards - some are more desperate for material than others - it is easy enough to tell by looking at what they print.
As mentioned above it is not possible to simply release all of the events that you do if you want a load of press coverage. An attitude and an approach is necessary; if press coverage is really important for your organisation you need to look for potential stories and change what you do so that 'news' can be created. Sometimes there is a story hidden in what you do already, other times there are small things that you could do to create news. Try and do things that will get press coverage - a petition to the Israeli PM, something involving a celebrity, something that provides a great photo opportunity, a survey about where people are applying to university, a survey about Jewish students' lifestyles, that sort of thing. Creating a cynical news-generating charity campaign or political campaign isn't unheard of. One Jewish student organisation launched a petition, collected 5000 signatures, and presented it to the President of Israel just so that they could get good press coverage. That kind of effort can be worth it.
Use a brainstorming technique every so often to come up with new ideas for creating news.