The hard truths of media relations

Becky Slack's new tome on charities and the media concentrates of making the best of things, writes Stephen Cook

The valuable work done by charities is not necessarily of interest to the media, and any coverage they do get will be controlled by the media, not the charities themselves.

These are the hard truths that underpin this practical guide for dealing with the press and broadcasters. It doesn't waste time wishing for things to be different, and concentrates on making the best of what's there.

This includes defining your media strategy, researching the requirements of relevant publications and programmes, understanding and accommodating how journalists work and observing deadlines.

It also includes getting senior staff in the charity to prioritise the media and understand that media relations is not just an extension of marketing.

Lest this seems too one-sided, author Becky Slack emphasises the multiple opportunities for charities that learn how to work the system, and says the media is not interested only in bad news. "Journalists are only interested in good stories," she writes. "Good stories are those that interest, surprise or shock people... This does not always mean the story has to be negative or sensationalist."

The book is leavened with useful testimony from charities that get good results. "We focus on being contactable, quick to respond and as helpful as possible, with one of our senior spokespeople on standby," says Chris Gerrard of Centrepoint.

Other helpful topics are risk assessment, crisis-management plans, monitoring and evaluation. There's also a chapter on social media.

Nonetheless, dealing with the media remains a bit like weather forecasting: you can get your story straight, consult your computer models and airbrush your presenters, but what blows in might still be very different from what you expect.

Effective Media Relations for Charities, by Becky Slack, is published by Social Partnership Marketing, £14 paperback

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