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Public Health Communications Toolkit Media

Building Relationships with The Media

The media are an effective conduit for delivering your messages and your story to the people you want to reach, and can be vital to gaining wide public understanding of your LHD's role. Understanding the media and building relationships are key components to communicating about local public health. The fact sheets include information about the role of local public health that can be shared in your media outreach efforts and provide examples that you can use in your discussions with media. In addition to using the fact sheets to educate the media, we outline other effective strategies below to help build relationships with the media.

Understanding the Media

Before you speak with a reporter, take the time to learn what she/he writes about and who their audience is. This is very easy to do using the Internet. Many papers publicize their circulation. Try to gauge how interested a reporter might be on your issue based on their coverage of similar issues. Many reporters are fairly well-versed in many of the issues you care about, and you will be able to have a different type of conversation with these reporters than you might with someone who is likely covering several different beats. Obviously, a local reporter will need more angles related to the community, whereas a national reporter will probably be looking for how these issues affect national policy.

Different types of media will require slightly different messages. For example, on a TV or radio talk show, your responses will need to be much shorter "sound bites" than those you might give to a newspaper or magazine reporter. Each reporter looks for something slightly different. Familiarize yourself with the type of coverage various outlets give issues prior to talking to reporters.

Tools For Communicating

The following are brief details about some effective tools to build relationships with the media:

  • Desksides or One-on-Ones.Good media relations is all about the relationship you build with journalists who cover your issue. Reporters have busy schedules but they are always receptive to learning something new about their beat. Take the time to arrange a brief meeting in their offices or at a nearby coffee shop to give them a new angle to a story or a heads up about an upcoming event or new program. The lead expert on the issue should attend the meeting armed with key messages, a fact sheet and other important background materials about the LHD. This is also an important way to establish yourself as a local resource over time to reporters. By nurturing your relationship with your local reporter, you become a reliable source they can turn to even when they are not writing about your issue but need guidance for another story.
  • Fact Sheets, Issue Briefs. Reporters would rather have an issue brief versus a journal article; a fact sheet with statistics, examples and messages rather than a book or brochure. One suggestion is to leave a fact sheet from this toolkit behind after a meeting with the media or use the language and examples from them in your conversations. The bottom line is that whether the message is spoken or written, it needs to be concise and kept to one or two pages—much like the provided fact sheets.
  • News Release. This is probably the most common way to get information out to the news media.
  • Pitch Letter. Similar to a news release, but shorter and less formal. A pitch letter can be placed in the body of an e-mail and state in a few brief paragraphs your main message and what you hope they might write about.
  • The Telephone. Call reporters and give them your pitch or story idea directly. Make sure you ask whether they are on deadline. Most journalists prefer to be called before 2 P.M. unless you have breaking news to report.
  • Op-Eds or Letters to the Editor. Submitting an opinion piece relating to something that appeared in your local newspaper is another way to raise the profile of your LHD and issues. But competition to be placed is fierce. Opinion page editors get hundreds of unsolicited op-eds a week. And, they read them all. Another option: writing a letter to the editor. This is one of the more popular sections of the newspaper and is another way to get your views about something in the public eye. If an article in the newspaper taps into your work or presents an alternative view, send an op-ed or a letter to the editor. Editors are very receptive to pieces from experts and leaders in the community who have something valuable to add to a debate. 
  • Reaction Statements. Releasing a reaction statement in response to something in the news can be an effective mechanism for using another issue in the news to draw attention to your own issue. They can be disseminated to local media, as well as advocacy organizations. If the story appeared in your local newspaper, you also could try writing an op-ed or letter to the editor (see above).
  • Newsletters. Sending out a quarterly newsletter can be an effective way to get details about your LHD's work out to a wide audience, including reporters. As with all communication, stick to your messages, use stories to illustrate an issue whenever possible, and keep your article brief. These also are vehicles to spur story ideas for reporters.