Communications - Before you pitch, do your homework

A recent report by the Voluntary Action Media Unit revealed that the relationship between the voluntary sector and the media is characterised by misunderstanding (Third Sector, 19 October).

The overwhelming view of the 126 media professionals who took part in the survey is that most charities aren't giving them what they need. The good news, however, is that this is a problem that can easily be addressed.

The most obvious way for charities to improve their chances of placing stories is to familiarise themselves with a particular publication or programme. This means finding out about deadlines and the best times to make an approach.

Alison Benjamin is deputy editor of Society Guardian, which comes out on a Wednesday. "I don't want to be contacted on a Monday about an event happening two days later," she says. "I need a couple of weeks' notice."

Voluntary sector organisations must also learn what kind of stories appeal to particular journalists.

Orion Ray-Jones, who works for the publisher that produces easyJet magazine, says: "What irritates me is that so many people who contact us have not done their research. They don't seem to have read our magazine or websites, which would tell them what kind of stories we write and the angles we look for."

Once a charity understands a publication, it can offer a tailor-made story, rather than just sending a generic press release - a bugbear of many journalists.

Xavier Adam of the Adam Media Consultancy explains: "Journalists are overloaded with far too much untargeted information. Do something different."

Another useful tip is that it pays to be succinct when pitching a story, according to Ray-Jones. "If they don't provide what we want in the first three sentences, then that's the end of it," he warns.

The ImpACT coalition of charities believes that improving media relations is key to winning public trust.

Campbell Robb, NCVO's director of public policy and a member of the ImpACT steering group, says: "So far, more than half of the top 100 charities have signed up, and we are happy with the progress we have made so far."

- Indira Das-Gupta, indira.das-gupta@haynet.com.

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