Getting the media to run your case study – an experienced producer’s dos and don’ts

29 November 2023  |  Insights
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If you want the media to feature your charity case study, you’ve got to think like a journalist.

That was the clear theme at Jersey Road PR’s Sourcing powerful charity stories event, featuring Times Radio’s Programme Director Tim Levell, Tearfund’s Head of Media Sarah Greenwood and Pilgrims’ Friend Society’s Head of Marketing and Communications Alexandra Davis.

Speaking from his considerable TV and radio experience – including Blue Peter, Sky News, BBC Radio 5 Live and more – Tim shared his top dos and don’ts when it comes to pitching case studies to the media, starting with putting the journalist first.

1. Do think about them, not you

“Think about what the organisation you’re pitching to wants to get across, not what do you want to get across - it’s a fundamentally different thing,” he said.

“You’ve got to network with journalists and find out what floats their boat.”

Sarah Greenwood agreed, saying that getting to know journalists and mapping their interests is core to the way the Tearfund press office operates. They also run stories past journalists within the media team to ensure it’s something they could see a newsroom being interested in.

Alexandra said the Pilgrims’ Friend Society team has learned from experience, by seeing which of their stories have appealed to the media and which haven’t.

“You’ve got to go outside yourself and the echo chamber of your team and say: is this interesting?” she said.

2. Do give it a reason

Why should a journalist run your story, and why should they run it now? Giving a journalist a good reason to do so is key to its success, said Tim.

“You’ve got to think about what’s topical about it. Does it tie in with something the government’s going to speak about next week? Christmas is coming, is there a link?”

This approach has worked well for Pilgrims’ Friend Society, which has had significant media coverage for topical stories, such as their intergenerational nativity in the lead-up to Christmas and sharing residents’ memories of World War 2 just before Remembrance Day.

“When we’ve been able to do things that have caught a bit of a zeitgeist, they’ve been much more productive,” said Alexandra.

3. Do get to the point

Journalists are inundated with emails, Tim explained, so you’ve got to grab their attention right from the subject line.

“I’ve seen pitches where the thing that’s interesting is buried in the fourth paragraph -I’m really not going to read the fourth paragraph,” he said.

4. Do get your interviewee to mention your charity

Tim said it’s common to get calls from charities following interviews complaining that they weren’t named in the story. It can be difficult to change this retrospectively, but the surest way to get the charity’s name in is to train the case study interviewee to say it.

He said that most media outlets will be happy to feature your name or let your spokesperson ask people to take an action – such as to sign a petition – so it’s worth working with your interviewee to make sure they’re clear what you would like them to say.

“What’s the one action you want someone to take?” he said. “Make sure everyone is aligned.”

5. Don’t leave it too late

Tim says getting a story to him in advance is always going to work well – particularly if it’s an exclusive – but last minute pitches can end up falling flat because the media outlet isn’t able to cover them.

“I sometimes do get really great stories, but the pitch says this is happening tomorrow and our timelines can’t set it up.”

6. Don’t suggest people who are no good

Even if someone is integral to the story, don’t suggest them as an interviewee if they’re not a good talker, said Tim.

“If you’ve got a choice between someone who’s the absolute pinnacle of your story but doesn’t express it, and someone who’s not but can express it powerfully, go for the person who can speak powerfully.

“You want people at home to be moved and galvanised, if people at home aren’t motivated, their attention might evaporate and then they are lost.”

At Tearfund, they look out for spokespeople who can bring a story alive, Sarah explained.

“We invest in our spokespeople to make sure we have interesting people that journalists can come back to us for.”

Sometimes a talented spokesperson can have a huge impact, as Tearfund discovered when one of their team trained waste pickers to be spokespeople on rights for waste pickers.

“As she was training them, she was also identifying who were going to be our best spokepeople,” Sarah said.

“She identified a guy called John who lives in Nairobi, who as a child started off being a waste picker, now he’s representing waste pickers at the UN.”

The Guardian, the BBC and the Daily Mail have featured John and he’s also been one of the Times’ 100 people to watch.

7. Don’t blame it on the sunshine

(or the fact that something else is happening), said Tim.

If you don’t get coverage the first time, you may be able to get a second chance.

“It might not be the right time for it, but don’t be afraid to go again. You might be able to cook up your case study again and re-pitch it in two or three months’ time dressed up as something completely different and most people won’t notice.”

By Charis Gibson, Director of Communications, Jersey Road PR

If you missed Sourcing powerful charity stories, you can watch it here. Follow us on social media and sign up to our e-newsletter to be the first to find out about future Jersey Road events and resources.

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