How to prepare for meetings with journalists
If your efforts to engage the local media pay-off, then hopefully local reporters and journalists will start responding to your phone calls and press notices and agree to meet you, and to hear more about Big Local.
So when a local reporter agrees to meet you for the first time how can you prepare? What can you do in advance to get the right information across, resulting in stories which are interesting to readers (listeners or viewers if it’s radio or TV) and also help Big Local have more impact?.
- Ask the reporter what got them interested in you/Big Local in the first place? This is the key to getting the most from the meeting and building a long-term relationship. Journalists are trained to find the interesting stories in their communities and sometimes what we non-journalists think should be interesting is not quite it! Reporters may be interested in something different to the things you believe are newsworthy about Big Local. Find out before the meeting, so you can prepare to respond to what they want – or to try changing their minds!
- Find a way to show Big Local in action. If possible suggest timing the meeting so it takes place at an event or time and location where Big Local activity can be seen first hand as well as who else is involved. If you think there might be photo opportunities then say so. For example “We’ll have all the mums from the gardening project there with their first harvest – would you be interested in getting a photo of that?”
- Prepare some ideas for potential stories or specific pieces of news (once you know what the reporter is interested in). If you know the kinds of things the reporter is interested in then then have some stories or news items you can talk about which are coming up over the next few months. This will show the reporter that Big Local can provide a steady source of positive people-focused news. If you have a diary of activities then that could be a good start.
- Gather a selection of information and photos which illustrate what you have achieved to date. Gather your best photos of Big Local events or activities, and take written materials or extracts from reports which show the impact you are already starting to have. Or if you have information explaining the background to your Big local priorities then have that too (e.g. evidence or data about the problems which Big Local is trying to tackle). But not too much – if there’s too much information reporters won’t go through it and it won’t get used.
- Have some suggestions ready for follow-up contact with the same reporter and sound them out about keeping in touch by email or phone in the meantime. The next contact might be to arrange an interview with someone who has benefitted from Big Local or to attend an event – maybe a major milestone like the launch of a new project. Arranging future contact now will help ensure this first meeting isn’t just a one-off, but the start of a longer-term relationship. Have some suggestions ready – for example “Would you like to come to the launch of our Big Local plan in October? Or interview one of our Star People?”
- Be prepared for journalists to have different ideas to you - you cannot tell them what to write! What you can do is build good relationships, so there are local reporters who understand what Big Local is trying to achieve, and know where to get accurate information. And if serious issues ever crop up, it’s also more likely they will listen to your side of the story.