Getting media coverage may feel daunting, but you don't have to be a communications specialist to achieve it. You just need a great story, a few tips, and a lot of passion.
This is important work. Coverage of road safety and sustainable transport in the media is vital for raising awareness among everyone and supporting any government efforts to effect change through positive policies and regulation. Communities and NGOs across the globe are getting road safety and sustainable transport on the media agenda, and there are lots of ways that you can help too.
Whatever events you are planning, whether it's a memorial to remember local people who have died on roads or a sponsored buggy-push by local Mums in aid of Brake, promote your road safety initiatives in your local media by telling journalists from your local paper, radio and television stations all about it. Read on for suggestions on gaining media coverage.
1. Have a strong story
Your story needs to grab people's attention. Consider including some of the following elements:
- up-to-date evidence, including the latest data on collision rates, road deaths and injuries, increasing traffic or levels of air pollution;
- a human angle: victim case studies - access to families who have been bereaved or seriously injured in road crashes and their stories
- calls to action with a clear campaign agenda for change - e.g. sustainable transport, reducing speed limits, rules for drivers, or police enforcement of traffic regulations;
- supportive evidence: this could include results of any surveys that you have undertaken, e.g. 'Nine out of 10 people in our community are scared of traffic and say it is too fast';
- support for your campaign from people who are known locally - officials/celebrities;
- support for your campaign from children and young people - they are powerful advocates for change and speak simply about the need for safety and sustainable mobility;
- a photo call such as a group of people representing the number of people killed on your streets in a given time period.
2. Write your story
Turn your story into a press release. A press release should have a good 'news hook' at the start to attract an editor or journalist's attention. Consider: Why is this news? What is new and interesting about what you are saying?
A great way to learn how to write press releases is to look online at other people's press releases, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
- Include a strong headline.
- Use one or more quotes from an identified spokesperson. This is useful for print/online journalists.
- Include 'notes for editors' - a section at the end of the press release that explains who you are and how to contact you for more information. This section is not for publication or broadcast.
- Send the press release to all journalists who may be interested, via email. Your mailing list will probably include journalists working in print, broadcast or online media, and should include anyone with a specialist interest, such as media aimed at companies operating fleets of vehicles, or writing for a particular consumer audience that you are trying to reach, e.g. parents. Make sure you think about all media opportunities when distributing your press release.
- Keep an up-to-date list of media contact details to enable you to send out your press release quickly.
3. Talk to journalists
It is important to talk to journalists and build relationships with them, particularly when you have a strong story to sell. Journalists may tell you they are busy or can't talk right now, but don't be put off by this. Ask them when would be a better time to call. Be ready to answer their questions. Be prepared to go away and do more work for them; for example, finding out additional information that they request.
Avoid ringing your journalist contacts every day though, they are busy people. Only contact them when you have something important to say that you think they may want to hear.
4. Broadcast interviews
The following tips will help you to excel in broadcast interviews.
Ensure you know what's happening. Have full details of the story; the type of interview (TV/radio, national/regional, pre-recorded/live); the show it will appear on; information on who else is being interviewed.
Be clear about what your headline messages are. Think of your top three and practise how you will get these across in interview. These are usually your main calls for behavioural or policy change. You need to know how to communicate these and how to link them to the news story, for example: 'These survey results show XYZ. That's why we're calling on drivers everywhere to XYZ'.
Have facts and figures prepared to back up your main messages, and work out how you'll put these across effectively and clearly. Breaking statistics down by day or week makes it easier for people to visualise the numbers, i.e. talk about five deaths per day rather than several thousand per year; 'two-thirds of drivers think...' rather than: '65% of drivers'. Ensure you are familiar with general road safety facts in case you need them too.
Practise saying your main messages in an easy to say, easy to understand and powerful way. Statistics are the easiest thing to mess up in an interview. If you're having trouble saying a statistic because it's too complicated, then you need to come up with a simpler fact to back up your point. Consider what phrases/language you'll use to make people listen and believe in you (see below).
Consider what you'll be asked and how to respond, especially to trickier questions. Ensure you'll be able to get your main message across in response to likely questions. Your priority is communicating these messages quickly and smoothly in a limited amount of time.
Expect the unexpected! An interviewer can divert to a completely different aspect of road safety or work, so make sure you're prepared to deal with questions on other related topics. Have tactics bring the interview back on track - phrases like 'But our main focus through this campaign is....' can help pull things back round.
Dress appropriately for TV. Smart casual works well but avoid complicated patterns such as small checks on ties or clothes that are light blue or green. Both can cause problems in studios. Bright colours are good for grabbing attention.
Avoid using the term 'accidents'. Road crashes are not accidents: they are devastating and preventable events. The term 'accident' undermines work to improve road safety by suggesting crashes are chance/inevitable mishaps, and is highly offensive to most road crash victims. Also avoid car crashes (crashes involve all sorts of vehicles, not just cars).
- Use strong but appropriate language - road crashes, casualties and death and injury on roads;
- Talk about death on the road being a major disaster and a daily tragedy;
- Refer to the importance of road safety to families and communities.
For example: 'The sentence imposed is worryingly low and appalling for the families bereaved in this terrible tragedy.'
When relaying educational messages, your language should be inclusive and non-alienating: 'We all need to...' rather than 'They should...' when talking about drivers. Phrases like 'We would appeal to everyone/all drivers/young people to...' can also work well, as can empowering statements like 'All drivers can play a part in preventing these tragedies, by committing to slowing down/never using a mobile phone while driving.'
Make sure your messages are clear and specific. It is pretty meaningless telling people to drive carefully or watch out, because everyone thinks they are doing this anyway. It's much better to say 'stay within the speed limits', 'slow down to 30 or less around communities' and 'look twice for bikes at junctions', etc.
Don't only focus on negatives. Speak positively and encouragingly about road safety - highlight the difference drivers can make to communities by simply slowing down and how this can benefit people's health and happiness; as well as preventing needless tragedies. Be welcoming, with comments like: 'This is an important step in the right direction, but ultimately we want the Government to go further...'
When giving statistics, do so in a way that is meaningful and accessible to the average person. It can be helpful to give analogies, like saying 'that's a class full of children' or 'it's the equivalent to a plane full of people crashing once a month and everyone on board being killed'.
Additional tips for broadcast interviews include:
- Talk in threes - e.g. 'We need speed limits. We need speed guns/cameras to catch speeding drivers. We need all drivers to stop speeding by slowing down today and every day.'
- Emphasise words that are important - e.g. 'NO death is acceptable. EVERY child's life matters. We ALL use the same roads. If it's not your child who dies today, it could be yours TOMORROW.'
- Be inclusive and talk about the humanitarian aspect of road safety, e.g. 'Lives matter and we all have people we love, who we wouldn't want to be hurt or killed on roads. So, there's no excuse for any of us to drink alcohol and drive.'
- Talk calmly and clearly. You may need to talk more slowly than you normally talk. Articulate every word. Use simple language. Do not overcomplicate with road safety 'jargon', e.g. say 'killed' or 'dead', not 'fatalities'.
- Unless told otherwise, look at the person interviewing you. Do not look at the camera, or flick your eyes to the camera at any point in the interview.
- It's not appropriate to laugh or be overly happy if talking about deaths and injuries on roads. However, be yourself. You will be a better interviewee if you act as naturally as possible, while also talking passionately about your cause.
- Make sure you can be heard. Don't agree to do interviews too close to very busy, loud roads.
- Learn from others - watch broadcast interviews and think about how interviewees say things to get their messages across. What works? What doesn't?
- Practice doing fake media interviews with your friends.
- If you have been bereaved or seriously injured in a road crash, or you are campaigning alongside someone who has, consider how being interviewed may stir up emotions. Consider any steps that can be taken to protect emotional wellbeing. This could be as simple as attending the interview with a friend.
Case study of a TV anchor woman
Rungthip Chotnapalai is an anchor woman for Thai Television Channel 3 and is passionate about ensuring road safety is given the media coverage it deserves. She participates in training road safety campaigners to give effective road safety interviews. Rungthip says: "In Thailand we have one of the highest rates of deaths and injuries and despite increasing awareness there is still not enough coverage in the media. Road safety campaigners are critical in getting the message 'out there'." Journalists need to have access to communities and victims to hear their stories. It is vital that campaigners, journalists and NGOs are trained in understanding road safety messages and communicating them clearly and effectively in the media.
Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)
Monitoring and evaluation is crucial to determine whether your media activity has been successful. Did you get media coverage from your press release? Record what happened - how many pieces of coverage did you get in print, online and broadcast? How does this compare with the previous press release you issued?
Was there any coverage that went wrong? Did any journalists misunderstand the story or portray you in a poor light? How can you stop that happening next time?
What can you do better next time? How can you make your stories stronger, or your photo calls more interesting? How can you engage more journalists? Seek creative ideas from the people around you and your wider community.
Don't be disappointed if you do not get much media coverage. Learn from your efforts, and move on. You may have been competing with stories that the journalist thought were more important on that day, but tomorrow you might have a story that they think is the most important.
Think positively and keep trying. You will quickly build your reputation as someone who works.