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Working with local media

Tips for good relationships and coverage

August 2013

Knowing the importance of good exposure, Local Trust spoke to some residents in Big Local areas who have established good relationships with their local media.

Here we have three case studies which show how to make, build and maintain relationships with the media and we also have some advice on building your social media presence too.

How to build and maintain relationships with the local media

Dover Big Local benefits from knowing some people and organisations who have existing relationships with the local media. The Big Local partnership has used these contacts to help get Big Local coverage for their area.

Approach local newspapers directly

Clare Smith works for Dover Arts Development and has a long-standing relationship with the local media. When she first made contact, she directly approached the press office for the two local newspapers, the Dover Express and Dover Mercury. Clare explained that Dover Arts Development had an upcoming event, asked the papers to cover it and the relationship grew from there. This meant that when Big Local came into existence, she was able to use her relationship with people she already knew in the press to help promote Big Local activities.

Clare has a number of helpful insights into working with local media, many of which were learnt from experience (including some that didn’t go completely to plan!):

  • It is important to make your message relevant to the local media – try to understand what the Dover (or equivalent) angle will be. Who is the reader/audience?
  • Try to create a good photograph if you have the equipment – this can help make the story more accessible.
  • Include a ‘notes to editors’ briefing on the organisations and individuals in the story. This can help to keep things clear.

All of this will help reduce any possible misunderstandings!

The importance of building personal contacts

Clare emphasises that once your relationship with local media is established, it will be very useful when it comes to promoting future activities. Personal contacts are an important part and provide the basis for ongoing communication. Dover Big Local is now able to tell the local press about activities and developments that are coming up, helping the journalists and editors plan ahead and provide photographers for events when needed.

Be visually appealing

Dover Big Local got great coverage in the local press with this flash mob. A flash mob is a gathering in public at which people perform an unusual or seemingly random act. The partnership worked with young people in the area to publicise Big Local in the town centre with an impromptu dance display. The flash mob was covered in the press because the story was a bit different and the images were fun. This is something worth bearing in mind when you want to gain local media interest!

A great model for working with the local newspaper from Oldham

Fiona Jones has built up a strong relationship with her local newspaper (the Oldham Chronicle) to help publicise Big Local activities and get more people involved. Oldham Big Local has received a huge response from its coverage in the Chronicle and this has attracted both community organisations and local businesses to become involved.

How the relationship with local media developed

Fiona and the Oldham Big Local partnership are members of Networking in East Oldham Neighbourhood (NEON). This is a local network of voluntary and community organisations which meets to develop relationships, work together and respond to issues in the area.

The Chronicle has given NEON a monthly page in the paper – a community-driven page where residents create their own content and provide the editorial direction. Oldham Big Local has become a regular contributor to this page and has found it to be a helpful way of communicating, particularly with:

  • what’s on – highlighting what’s coming up and publicising events widely in the area
  • keeping people informed about the development of Big Local

Increasing coverage and promoting the Big Local plan

Fiona now has the opportunity to contribute to the Oldham Chronicle, extending Big Local’s influence in the area. Building on this, she was able to negotiate a full page dedicated to the Big Local plan and the Chronicle even gave her a more prominent space in the paper. Fiona wrote the editorial about the Big Local plan herself, which helped to get across the key messages and important details accurately!

Impact: a win-win relationship

Having regular column space has helped to form a bond between the Chronicle and the local community. The Chronicle is getting closer to its readership who now feel it is ‘our newspaper’.

As part of its outreach section, the Chronicle now regularly communicates with Oldham Big Local to look ahead and shape content for the newspaper. It also supports the Big Local partnership with its own newsletter and social media, meaning the partnership is introduced to networks and reaches a wider audience. The combined effect creates a regular channel of communication that keeps people informed, motivates them to get involved and helps sustain the momentum of Oldham Big Local.

Finding people with the right skills to use social media

While working with local newspapers may be one of the most compelling ways to engage with a wider audience, social media represents another important opportunity. In Devonshire Big Local, a young volunteer, Andrea Katsari has been driving the promotion of Big Local through her skills in using digital media.

Persistence is important

Through a combination of support, mentoring and Andrea’s own tenacity to learn, she has managed to get some good coverage for Devonshire West. Andrea regularly provides press releases which are picked up by a range of media outlets including several local papers, magazines and even some national online media coverage from a Twitter feed!

Becoming involved in Big Local through a family business

Andrea is a recent graduate who became involved in Devonshire West Big Local due to her family’s business in the area. After becoming involved in the interim steering group, Andrea made contact with another of the volunteers who had taken responsibility for the promotion of Big Local through her local PR Company. Andrea was able to volunteer with this organisation for six months and took responsibility for driving the promotion of Big Local forwards.

Local media helps to bring the community together

Andrea has relished her role using social and digital media to help get Big Local going. This communication has built stronger links and networks within the community. She has enjoyed the opportunity to deliver social impact by building on some of her skills and has a genuine passion for Big Local in Devonshire West. Andrea told us:

“Although £1 million sounds like a lot of money, it’s not really when you think about it. But I think the power of bringing the community together will have really lasting benefits. That’s why I wanted to get involved – to be part of something that is going to make a difference.”

Building skills and experience through Big Local

Andrea feels it has been an important learning process and her experience in promoting Devonshire West Big Local has helped her build valuable skills that have now helped her get employment in a professional marketing role. One of her biggest tips for any form of communication is to make the person receiving it feel like they are benefitting in some way!

Golden rules for working with local media

  • Be bold: approach local newspapers directly to build the relationship.
  • Build relationships: personal contacts are important to nurture an ongoing partnership with local media.
  • Be simple and concise: people are busy and there is no room for confusion.
  • Write the content yourself: ensure all the details are clear and then sense-check with someone independent to get a second opinion.
  • Be visually appealing when possible: creating a good photograph can be powerful. As the saying goes ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.
  • Make your story locally relevant: it can be important to find a wider local context than Big Local itself to help ‘sell the story’.
  • Shorten messages when using Facebook and Twitter: it is a different format and people generally have less time (and patience!) for each post.
  • Never give up! Not every attempt to engage with local media will be successful and you might need to be persistent.

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