5. Working with the media
International media is key to fundraising and awareness raising. The longer the story stays prominent in the news, the more people are aware of the needs and reminded to donate to provide assistance. It is crucial that CARE International’s communications during an emergency are compelling, efficient, timely and delivered quickly to maximise on publicity before the opportunity passes.
Engaging with the media before, during and after an emergency helps affected communities share their stories and raise their voice.
Having a credible presence in the media also increases CARE International’s name recognition, fundraising and influence. Through the media, news about our women and girl-focused work and advocacy calls will reach policymakers, donors, the NGO community and influential decision makers.
Sharing and storing information in an emergency is critical, as CARE offices worldwide need rapid and ongoing access to up-to-date, accurate information to share with donors, media, governments, policy makers and the general public. See the CARE International Communications Handbook for detail about information sharing and storage.
When working with the media, SPEED IS EVERYTHING…
The first few hours in a crisis are the most critical. Typically, the media has a short attention span. In small and large-scale disasters, media outreach within the first 12 hours is most critical, with media interest often dropping off after the first or second day of a rapid onset crisis.
Press releases or statements should be sent out within two hours of an emergency being declared or six hours at the latest. We need to ensure that our communications are produced and signed-off quickly so our key messages get to the intended audience quickly.
CARE International by default: When referring to the agency, it is best to use ‘CARE International’ – without mention of specific countries. In some cases, though, you may need to indicate which member of CARE International is making the comment. Press releases should include mention of CARE International and its work in the ‘boilerplate’ at the end of the release.
Identify and prepare potential spokespeople. Carefully consider what role your spokesperson will fulfil, as media requests can be demanding and will impact on their core function. For this reason, it is best to select and train several spokespeople. The Country Director signs off on spokespeople.
Prepare a spokesperson contact list and make sure to include details about their areas of expertise, languages spoken, a biography and a digital headshot that features them with a neutral expression on their face (i.e. not with a huge smile!). Try to accommodate requests for interviews in different languages where possible.
It is important that all people interviewed by media receive media training or at a minimum are briefed on key messages.
Full resources and tools on media and spokesperson training can be found here: Media Training
List of available spokespeople for a given emergency should be made available to CARE media colleagues from across the membership with the following information provided:
|NAME||POSITION||EXPERTISE||LOCATION||LANGUAGES SPOKEN||CONTACT DETAILS/CONTACT PERSON|
Interview requests and available spokespeople should be logged in the Media tracking sheet maintained by the Emergency Communications Manager. Tracking sheet template is available HERE and below:
Key messages and talking points should be developed as part of your preparedness plan and updated immediately with relevant details about the current emergency. They enable CARE staff and spokespeople to respond to media enquiries and use consistent messaging.
CARE’s messaging should paint a dignified picture of disaster survivors. After all, they are survivors, not victims. Women and girls from within the affected communities are often the first to respond to their own situation: they are resilient and resourceful, not hopeless; highlight their strengths.
Talking point documents should provide the top 3 main key messages during a given humanitarian emergency; what happened, how it is affecting women and girls, and the ‘ask’ – what we want people to do.
Messaging should emphasise the impact on women and girls, as well as the role they play in the response, and should focus on the needs and CARE’s response. Your key messages will provide the foundation for all your communications and should be:
- short and to the point
- simple, “big picture” statements
- appealing to a global and diverse audience
- focused on women and girls and other excluded groups
- mention CARE work (current and past)
- where appropriate: contain key advocacy asks and messages of donors, international community or other actors
- stored internally for all CARE International staff use only. Messaging documents and other communications materials should be uploaded to the relevant country folder on CAREShares here
- Example of messaging document: Afghanistan earthquake
Talking points should also include a Q&A section so that CARE staff are provided with a set of likely questions that journalists and donors may ask. They are vital during complex emergencies with political or ethnic conflict, or where incorrect messaging could have a severe impact on our staff, programmes or the people we support.
Often communicators will need to work with their advocacy counterpart to develop the Q&As. Carefully chosen words or phrases should be used to help spokespeople navigate complex media questioning. As with key messages, Q&As should be used as guidance for internal audiences, not given to media contacts. Q&As should also include a reactive section with likely ‘tricky’ questions that may be asked and carefully formulated and signed off responses to help spokespeople avoid potential harm to CARE or the people we work with.
It is the responsibility of the Emergency Communications Officer (with support of CEG Communications and Lead Member) to upload all communications materials to CAREShares as well as sharing with the relevant CARE International email distribution lists.
Characteristics of strong messaging
- New information. If it’s not new, it’s not news. At the scene of an emergency we need to have a new message each day to provide to reporters, but it needs to be something that the reporter has not heard before from CARE International or from other organisations.
- Clear and unambiguous. Spokespeople have just a few seconds to get the message across, so make it count.
- People focused. People care about people, not things or organisations. All CARE International messages must be people=based. Use words like ‘children’, ‘families’, ‘women’, ‘mothers’ etc. as often as possible instead of more bureaucratic sounding labels like ‘programme participants’ or ‘households’. Do not use abbreviations.
- Passionate. The message must have feeling and not sound like it comes from a cold, detached robot. This is true not only in the development of messages, but also for delivery in an interview.
- Memorable words and phrasing. Use language that will stick in people’s minds. Rather than ‘the mortality rate is 1.5 children per 100,000 per day’, calculate and translate it into some like ‘six children are dying every minute due to hunger’.
(Adapted from ‘Communicating in emergencies guidelines’ published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies)
The press release is the basic tool in media relations, but it never can take the place of personal relationships with reporters who are covering an emergency. Often in the early hours and even days of an emergency, events are likely to be developing so quickly that you are not relying on press releases but rather short and compelling quotes and the direct pitching of spokespeople.
A press release is a public statement that offers current, accurate, interesting and newsworthy information. Press releases (sometimes called media release, media statement or news release) should be short and direct, approximately one page in length.
Full CARE guidance on how to write a press release can be found on the CAREShares Global Communications Hub here: Press release writing – training and tips
Basic tips on how to write a press release
- Women and girls are our area of expertise and our unique selling point – make sure they feature centrally.
- Come up with a strong headline.
- Use clear embargo/release details.
- Use the inverted pyramid structure: put the strongest information in the opening paragraph.
- Don’t mix too many issues. Keep it clear and concise by focusing on the ‘headline’.
- Provide accurate and compelling information.
- Make it conversational and don’t use jargon/abbreviations.
- Know your audience: what does the reader want to know about?
- Include at least one quote. Ideally this should be about how women and girls are affected. The more quotes the better as these can be taken verbatim by media when they write up their interviews.
- Include information on spokespeople available.
- Include information on other materials available such as photos, audio and video/b-roll.
- Give details of who to contact for more information.
- Email by blind copy to journalists (BCC on email) and send to yourself in the ‘To’ field
Examples of CARE press releases:
Example of a shorter media statement featuring a quote: