How to keep an issue alive in the press

In an age of 24-hour news, third sector PR and communications teams must work hard to ensure their issues remain on the agenda, writes Alex Garvey

Alex Garvey
Alex Garvey

As we start 2016, there are a huge number of different causes and campaigns vying for their moment in the spotlight, alerting the public to problems, their causes and what solution is being demanded.

In an age of 24-hour news, one of the biggest challenges facing third sector PR and communications teams is how to keep a media campaign not only alive, but progressing towards a stated goal, over months or even years.

Here are four ways in which organisations can ensure that their voice is heard by those that matter, providing a convincing long-term argument, rather than short-lived coverage.

Never stop planning

Generate new angles: when it becomes difficult to generate new angles on a topic, long-term planned activity really comes into its own. By knowing what potential news pegs are on the horizon, organisations can not only generate and craft their messages accordingly, but also steal a march on others vying for the same media attention.

If you were working with an organisation campaigning for justice for Brits overseas, then knowing a specific announcement is to be made, or new data is to be released, on a relevant topic, can prove particularly useful in finding a new way of getting the topic into the press.

Go on the attack

Don’t shy away from confrontation: sometimes the best way to get what you want is to pursue it strongly, be brave and go on the attack. This doesn’t mean you have to be controversial, rude or aggressive, but to reinvigorate an issue you may well need to be willing to publicly question the opposition.

It is worth noting that doing this will leave you open to attack, with those in the crosshairs likely to respond. However, if your research and rationale are watertight this is no cause for concern and can in fact prove highly valuable, generating debate opportunities in the media.

During a campaign in which we battled against the government’s proposed cuts to legal aid, it was an issue the opposition fought heavily in the press through a string of statistics-based arguments. However, at every opportunity, every release of new data, we got hold of the raw information and picked apart the failings – disproving the "fat-cat lawyer" angle they were so keen to push and garnering public support in the process.

Refresh spokespeople

Avoid media and public fatigue: consistency is key in a media campaign, but it needn’t mean always sticking to the same spokesperson to deliver it. Instead, try switching to new spokespeople in order to keep the message fresh, even if at its core it is the same. People become bored of hearing the same things from the same people – and this is particularly effective when the spokesperson(s) come from outside the organisation and can offer an alternative, yet still credible take on an issue.

In PHA Media’s campaign against the Assisted Dying Bill, we called upon lords and baronesses, leading figures from the fields of medicine, law and psychiatry, as well as front-line medical professionals to offer their personal opinions. The result was a varied, yet conclusive rationale as to why the bill should be defeated.

Try new media

Switch your media focus: sometimes all a campaign needs is a new perspective, and this can often be given simply by switching media focus. Each outlet has their own agenda and style that best fits their reader demands. Often, by educating new targets about an issue, you can work together to find new areas of focus for the coming months.

This could mean thinking more creatively about how your social media channels can engage a new audience with a difficult topic like The Howard League’s #shelfie tweets as part of its brilliant Books for Prisoners campaign. Similarly, it might be worth approaching outlets you wouldn’t usually consider supportive – you may be surprised by the outcome.

Alex Garvey is senior account manager at PHA Media

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