4. Working with the media

When deployed to an emergency, the Emergency Communications Officer is seconded to CARE International and works on behalf of all CI offices. Different CARE offices will have different needs for communications materials; what may be of low media interest in one country may be extremely newsworthy in another. It is therefore the responsibility of the Emergency Communications Officer to work with COMWG and the CO to anticipate and respond to media requests and opportunities worldwide. While each emergency will be different, the following are the main communications activities required in an emergency. In some emergencies these will be quite simple, but in others they may be more complicated; media outreach for an earthquake will be fairly straightforward compared to media outreach for a multi-country conflict, for example. An ECO or CO Communications Officer should use as many different tools as possible to get coverage in traditional media and social media: meeting regularly with reporters, taking reporters on visits to the field, posting on social media, issuing press releases, setting up and doing interviews with journalists, writing op-eds, sending tailored ‘pitches’ or story suggestions to individual journalists or publications, etc.

Before engaging in communications activities, it’s important to conduct a rapid communications risk assessment to determine if there are any risks we need to be aware of or that might present safety concerns for our staff, beneficiaries or partners. Consult with other staff as appropriate depending on the nature of the emergency, such as program, security and advocacy colleagues. This could take a few minutes, or several hours; the point is to stop and think before moving ahead with public communications. See the CARE International Communications Handbook for more information about how to identify and mitigate risk. Some key questions to answer:

  • Is this a natural or complex disaster? A conflict?
  •  Has CARE or other NGOs been threatened or attacked?
  •  Are there government laws or sensitivities that limit how NGOs can communicate about the disaster, i.e. do we have to wait until the government declares an emergency?
  •  Are there cultural or gender issues that might affect our messaging, particularly about women?
  •  Are there any political or military sensitivities we should be aware of?
  •  What are the risks associated with engagement with the media?
  •  What are the risks of NOT speaking out?
  •  Are there risks for CARE staff, partners or beneficiaries? For example possibility of retribution for speaking about human rights abuses or rapes?
  •  Is there a risk of distorting CARE’s image?
  •  Does the importance of the message outweigh the risks, or can we mitigate the risks?

The Emergency Communications Officer (in coordination with the LM and CEG Communications) should develop a media strategy as soon as possible. This strategy is to provide guidance on how we plan to manage media outreach and will ensure a consistent global approach to the media. CARE should be able to answer the following questions for any engagement with the media. This does not have to be a lengthy document! It can be explained in short bullet points and updated as an emergency evolves, or it could be more detailed in the case of a complex emergency with sensitive issues. If you’re involved in a chronic or long-term emergency, prepare a work plan to plan ahead over a period of several months, to identify potential opportunities, activities, and news ‘triggers’ that might push the emergency up the news agenda again. If advocacy support is available, the media strategy and advocacy strategy should be combined. You can find examples here.

Checklist: Developing a media strategy

What are CARE’s media objectives in relation to the emergency?

  • How will engagement with the media support CARE’s response to the humanitarian situation?

What are CARE’s key messages?

  • How does CARE wish to affect the public’s understanding of the emergency?
  • Is this grounded in CARE’s expertise/programming and is it aligned with CARE’s vision, mission, mandate and existing CARE policies?
  • What messages and stories will be most appropriate for fundraising? Think from the donor’s perspective: what will help them understand how supporting CARE in particular will help those suffering.
  • What are CARE’s key advocacy objectives? What messages will be most effective?

Who is CARE’s target audience?

  •  Who does CARE want to reach to meet our objectives? How can CARE interest them? What media outlets are interested in the story?

What is our communications approach?

  • What stories does CARE have to tell? Who is best placed to tell those stories?
  • Who should be the key spokespeople?
  • What are the best means of communicating: press releases, interviews, news and human interest stories, blogs, press briefings, inviting journalists to site visits, etc.?
  • Who are our partners? Are joint media activities with partners appropriate?

What are our approval procedures for communications materials?

Are there any sensitivities or special guidance to CARE staff engaging in media work?

All advocacy and communications – whether conducted locally, nationally or internationally – have the potential to affect other parts of the organization. It is therefore important for all advocacy and communications to adhere to CARE International’s approval procedures. This applies to both public and private messaging; although the risks associated with private messaging are lower, it can be assumed that private messaging could become public. Sign-off procedures in emergencies are designed to be fast and CO and LM staff must be prepared to approve communications materials within one hour. The CO and Emergency Communications Officer must clarify approval processes at the beginning of the emergency to speed up the process and ensure everyone is clear. Find out more in the Communications Handbook (page 12).

Sensitive or controversial issues for CARE can vary from country to country and depend on the context, but in general they include anything that could have a negative impact on staff safety, programs, beneficiaries, government, partner or donor relations, or CARE’s global reputation. CARE generally handles sensitive/controversial issues through private advocacy or joint messaging with other agencies. CARE can and does engage in advocacy and communications on controversial or sensitive issues, but this must only be done after following a process of due diligence and adhering to the guidance provided in section 2.3 of the CARE International Communications Handbook. This also applies to joint messaging with other agencies. For explanation on why certain issues/countries are sensitive and existing CARE approaches and public messaging, see Annex 1 of the CI Communications Handbook: Explanation and potential risks regarding messaging around sensitive issues/countries. Any additional issues that may be considered sensitive in a particular emergency should be identified as soon as possible in coordination with the Emergency Communications Officer, Lead Member and CO. If there is only one small issue that is sensitive in an emergency, i.e. saying ‘acute watery diarrhea’ instead of cholera because a government has requested this, that can be included in the communications guidance/instructions for messaging; the full procedures for sensitive issues do not need to be followed. This should be clarified with the CO and LM at the outset of the emergency. Please also check the guidance on language in humanitarian settings, explaining which words can be used and which are rather inappropriate in a sensitive context (Annex 13.18)

Note: These are simplified sign-off procedures for basic media and communications materials. For the full sign-off protocol (which includes instructions for how to get sign-off for advocacy/communications targeting governments, UN agencies etc.), please see section 2.5 of the CARE International Communications Handbook.

4.4i Simplified emergency sign-off procedures

Target group Person responsible Input potentially required Approvals needed
Media (particularly new messaging): i.e. Press releases, talking points, Q&A Emergency Communications Officer Sector specialists CO (CD, ACD or Emergency Team Leader)
Blogs, stories, photos Emergency Communications Officer   NOTE: usually the CO agrees that stories and blogs do NOT need approval, provided they follow CARE’s communications principles. This should be agreed with the CO in advance.

4.4.ii Natural disaster or complex emergency – sensitive issues

Target group Person responsible Input potentially required Approvals needed
Media (particularly new messaging): i.e. Press releases, talking points, Q&A Emergency Communications Officer Sector specialist, REC, security advisor, advocacy advisor (depending on nature of emergency) CO (CD, ACD or Emergency Team Leader)Lead Member*
Blogs, stories, photos Emergency Communications Officer Sector specialist, REC, security advisor, advocacy advisor  (depending on nature of emergency) NOTE: usually the CO agrees that stories and blogs do NOT need approval, provided they follow CARE’s communications principles and previously approved messaging guidance for the emergency. This should be agreed with the CO in advance.

*Lead Member point person is the Media/Communications Manager for communications materials. It is their responsibility to consult with/obtain approval from the relevant Lead Member senior staff, such as Head of Program, Security Director, Legal Advisor, etc. or regional offices, where these exist. If the Media/Communications Manager is unavailable, contact the CO Line Manager directly.  

When disaster strikes in a country where CARE works, CARE’s communications and fundraising teams should be fast and nimble in customizing a statement about CARE’s response for use on CI member websites and with media. Ideally we will get information/approval from the CO in the affected country and we will make every effort to contact the CO, but this is not always possible. Because every minute we wait can mean thousands of dollars in lost support for those in need, it is critical to simply let the donating public and journalists know that we have a presence in the country and are monitoring the situation, even if that’s all we know. Below are boilerplate (standard text) emergency statements that can be quickly customized for two distinct types (natural and manmade) of sudden-onset, high-profile disasters. The statement should be issued as soon as possible: ideally within one-two hours of the disaster. When posted on websites, the statements may be accompanied by “donate” buttons and legally vetted language (based on local laws) such as “Please make a tax-deductible gift today to help us rush lifesaving aid to COUNTRY and better prepare us to carry out our critical, poverty-fighting work in the world’s poorest countries.”

Approvals for the boilerplate emergency statement:

  • Approval is required by the CI Humanitarian Director (or designate, i.e. a senior staff member from CEG or the Communications Office in Charge). Approval from the CO is only required if the statement includes specific information about CARE’s actual or planned response. No additional sign-off is required for sensitive countries.

Where to find information for the statement:

  • Date of CO opening: in the CO fact sheets here.
  •  List of programs in a CO: in the PIIRS program database here.
  •  Basic info about the disaster: media reports or UN OCHA sitreps/alerts available on ReliefWeb.
  •  Details about CARE’s planned response: the CO or the CO Emergency Preparedness Plan (EPP); however, in many emergencies, this information will not be available at this time so this will not be part of the initial statement.
  •  Details about CARE’s past responses: in the Emergency database here.

Natural disaster boilerplate emergency statement

DESCRIBE DISASTER BASICS HERE. CARE’s humanitarian workers on the ground in COUNTRY are on high alert and are assessing the situation. ADD ANY DETAILS OF CARE’s RESPONSE OR PLANNED RESPONSE IF KNOWN. Initial media reports are that DESCRIBE MORE DETAILS OF SITUATION AS REPORTED BY MEDIA, ADDING ANY DETAIL AVAILABLE FROM CARE STAFF ON THE GROUND IF THEY ARE REACHABLE. CARE has worked in COUNTRY since YEAR, providing LIST PROGRAMS HERE and emergency relief when disaster strikes. CARE’s past responses in COUNTRY have included DISASTER in YEAR and DISASTER in YEAR.

Manmade disaster boilerplate emergency statement

DESCRIBE DISASTER BASICS HERE. CARE’s humanitarian workers on the ground in COUNTRY are on high alert and are assessing the situation. ADD ANY DETAILS OF CARE’s RESPONSE OR PLANNED RESPONSE IF KNOWN. Initial media reports are that DESCRIBE MORE DETAILS OF SITUATION AS REPORTED BY MEDIA, ADDING ANY DETAIL AVAILABLE FROM CARE STAFF ON THE GROUND IF THEY ARE REACHABLE. CARE has worked in COUNTRY since YEAR, providing LIST PROGRAMS HERE and emergency relief when disaster strikes. CARE’s past responses in COUNTRY have included DISASTER in YEAR and DISASTER in YEAR.

While each CO and CI member can tailor the boilerplate to their market, there are five key things every boilerplate must include:

  • CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting poverty and providing assistance in emergencies
  • CARE was founded in 1945
  • CARE works in 93 countries, supporting 950 poverty-fighting development and humanitarian aid projects, reaching more than 62 million people directly (in FY17)
  • CARE has a special focus on working with women and girls
  • CARE website URL (optional: Twitter handle)

For the standard CARE International boilerplates, see the Standards for the Use of Words – Standard Language to Describe CARE’s Work section in the CARE International Brand Standards.

Example boilerplate emergency statement: Support for Families, Children Part of CARE’s Response Following Fuego Volcano Eruption
GUATEMALA CITY (June 7, 2018) — The global humanitarian organization CARE is responding to the Fuego volcano’s massive eruption with psychosocial support for affected families, particularly children in shelters. On the ground in the affected areas, teams continue assessing the impact of the blast, mobilizing financial resources and determining how best to meet the needs of affected families and communities.


Guatemalan authorities are conducting search and rescue operations in hard-hit provinces of Chimaltenango, Escuintla and Sacatepéquez, where the eruption has killed at least 99 people and affected 1.7 million.
“In crises like this, it is vital that families, particularly children, feel supported,” said Amilcar Miron, Programme Quality and Resource Mobilization Manager. “Some communities have been buried under the lava and ash, and many have lost everything, including loved ones. Our psychosocial activities help them cope with their losses and reclaim some level of stability in a desperately chaotic situation.”


With more than 3,600 people having already fled their homes and communities, the primary needs include shelter and household items such as mattresses and blankets, as many families are sleeping, unprotected, on the ground. CARE is active in the affected area and anticipated response plans include assistance with water, sanitation and hygiene; food security; and protection – in particular for women and girls at risk of gender-based violence.


CARE also supports communities in their coffee and avocado production. Significant crop losses are being reported, and the volcanic blast and risk for new eruptions have forced families working in the agricultural sector to flee their homes and farms. CARE has personnel on the ground and is in close contact with local leaders, coordinating a response with humanitarian international NGOs, UN and CONRED (Coordinadora Nacional para la Reducción de Desastres). CARE has activated an 8-member CARE team to assist in the response as needed.
CARE has worked in Guatemala since 1959. Beyond the psychosocial support, we will continue to monitor and assess the impact of the eruption and the needs of those affected, particularly around the loss of livelihoods. CARE is especially concerned about the well-being of women and girls who often are most vulnerable when disaster strikes, whether natural or man-made.


About CARE
Founded in 1945 with the creation of the CARE Package®, CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. CARE places special focus on working alongside women and girls because, equipped with the proper resources, they have the power to lift whole families and entire communities out of poverty. That’s why women and girls are at the heart of CARE’s community-based efforts to improve education and health, create economic opportunity, respond to emergencies and confront hunger. Last year CARE worked in 93 countries and reached more than 63 million people around the world.

Learn more at care.org.

Media Contacts
Nicole Harris, nharris@care.org, 404-735-0871
Mahmoud Shabeeb, mshabeeb@care.org, +962-79-146-39-03, Skype: mahmoud.shabeeb_1 (based in Amman)


4.5.1 Example boilerplate emergency statement: Haiti 2010

The first press release should be issued within three-four hours of an emergency. Please see above an example.

4.6.1 Including Maternal Health Figures in a Press release

In emergencies, pregnant and breastfeeding women can be at particular risk of food shortages, lack of access to health care or shelter, or exposure to unhygienic practices. Calculating the number of pregnant and breastfeeding women and issuing a press release about the risk to them is a simple way of moving the news story forward; highlighting an often neglected population sector at risk and what CARE is doing about it; and profiling CARE’s work as having a focus on women and girls in emergencies. See Annex 13.16 for how to calculate the number of pregnant and breastfeeding women in an emergency.

Our key messages should emphasize the following:

  • Women and girls are disproportionately affected by disasters; state how women and girls have been affected by this particular crisis.
  •  CARE focuses on women and girls; state how CARE’s response is helping women and girls.
  •  CARE is a leading humanitarian agency with more than 70 years of experience in responding to emergencies.
  •  Advocacy messages related to the disaster (coordinate with advocacy/program staff to develop these).
  •  Donate to CARE. Urge people to donate at website of CARE member in country where media outlet is based.

The generic key messages and talking points document serves as a starting point and will give concrete advice around messaging in certain humanitarian settings. (Annex 13.20)

The media landscape is changing; in additional to traditional media, social media is now a crucial tool for us to get our message out and to make ourselves available to journalists for interviews. Social media channels such as Twitter are regularly used by journalists and the public as a key source of information about breaking news. Increasingly, stories appear first in the social media. CARE must therefore be extremely fast to share information on social media channels, or we will be bypassed. This includes initial social media posts about the disaster and CARE’s reaction, as well as regular, ongoing posts about any breaking news, new events in the emergency, or news about CARE’s response. Posts can be made as often as every few minutes immediately after a rapid onset disaster as new information comes up, or as infrequently as every few weeks in the case of chronic crises where we will only post information if it is new or has a news hook. While the choice of which social media to target depends on the emergency, the two agreed target channels are Facebook and Twitter.

Although communicating on social media networks on behalf of the organisation is the primary responsibility of the communications staff, CARE acknowledges that other staff can add value, and further the organisation’s goals by engaging in social media activities.

For example, if the CARE staff is perceived to be experts or can provide fast, valuable information during an emergency, this could lead to media/fundraising opportunities or media interviews. CEG Communications or the ECO will help staff who are deployed to emergencies¬ (emergency coordinators, sector specialists) to engage in the use of social media, especially Twitter – which is becoming increasingly more influential and an easy tool to raise awareness, share information, participate in discussions and influence decision making. For practical information, and a step-by-step guide on how to engage on Twitter, please refer to: CARE Twitter Training Module for Emergency and CO Staff.

A social media policy helps ensure staff are aware of how to use social media channels on behalf of CARE, and it is the responsibility of the ECO, the Lead Member or CEG Communications to inform staff about it. All staff deployed on behalf of CEG must follow the CI Secretariat Social Media Policy (available August 2013).

CARE International has launched a global media training program in 2011 with the on-going objective to deliver full-day media training sessions at global meetings such as regional conferences and CD meetings to train all CDs, ACDs, and senior program staff. The Communications Training Database lists all staff who have received media training, along with recommendations for what type of interviews they would be good at; languages spoken; nationality and hometown; and photo.

The following training materials are available:

In large emergencies in particular, journalists will approach CARE staff in the field for information. A simple CO Media Policy (Annex 13.8) will ensure CARE staff know what they can and can’t say to a reporter, and who is the appropriate spokesperson for the emergency. If you do not already have a CO Media Policy, the CO Media Policy should be explained to staff at the staff meeting as soon as possible in the emergency, and shared via e-mail and internal information boards. Staff speaking to media without permission can lead to inaccurate information being shared or cause problems for CARE.

Checklist: Key points in a CO Media Policy

If staff are approached by a reporter, they should:

  1. Explain to the reporter that CARE is happy to help, but the reporter must contact the Emergency Communications Officer or approved spokesperson to ensure the reporter is speaking to the correct CARE staff member.
  2. Give the reporter the phone number for the Emergency Communications Officer or approved spokesperson. Or, take the name and phone number of the reporter, and pass this information immediately to the Emergency Communications Officer or approved spokesperson. (If neither are available, contact your supervisor.) The Emergency Communications Officer or approved spokesperson will then determine which CARE staff is best suited to do the interview.
  3. If approval for the interview is given, go ahead and speak to the reporter using any suggestions or guidelines provided by the Emergency Communications Officer or approved spokesperson and following CARE’s principles for talking to the media.
  4. Always immediately report any contact with a reporter to the Emergency Communications Officer or approved spokesperson.

Competition for media attention is intense during an emergency. The Emergency Communications Officer needs to take a proactive approach to building relationships with journalists on the ground and demonstrating that CARE has an interesting story to tell. Find out where key journalists are staying and let them know what CARE is doing.

Being a good host to a journalist can provide an opportunity to influence the journalist’s understanding of the issues. CARE should identify and promote opportunities to show journalists our work. Many journalists will be keen to accompany CARE to the field and to view emergency relief being delivered. Briefings and site visits should be planned carefully and managed by the Emergency Communications Officer in cooperation with the programme staff to show CARE’s best work to the media and to make sure that the media presence does not interrupt relief delivery. Remember: a journalist visit is not a VIP visit: no organized tours or lengthy visits with local officials! Journalists want to talk to community members; find a good story to tell; and get good photos/video of the situation. See Annex 13.9: How to arrange media field visits for details on how to arrange a visit to the field for a journalist. You can also find examples of media visit agendas and pitches here while the session of the 2018 Skillshare on how to organize media visits is also available.


Local media are the main source of news for CARE beneficiaries and the public in the affected country, and efforts should be made whenever possible to provide information to local reporters, preferably in the local language. However, working with local reporters can be tricky; in many countries, different media have different political biases, or could be government-owned. Just as with international media, it is important to understand the potential bias or angle of a reporter or media outlet before engaging them; if not, you could create problems for CARE’s staff or programmes. If they are present, Internews, an NGO that is present in most developing countries with the mandate of training local journalists and improving communications in emergencies in particular, is a good source of guidance for working with local journalists. Working with the local media is the responsibility of the national Communications Officer or another CO-designated staff, with guidance from the LM or ECO if available. The priority of the ECO is the international media.

Local communities, governments and civil society groups have a right to information about the response and CARE’s activities, and to provide feedback to our work. Information can also save lives and empower communities to be part of the response. If time permits, find out who the Communications with Disaster-affected Communities (CDAC) coordinator is in the country (if there is one); this will be organized through OCHA and Internews. CDAC will coordinate information from the INGO community to the local population. This is an opportunity for CARE to broadcast important information about the response, such as health messages, safe handwashing, etc. Benchmark 6 of CARE’s Humanitarian Accountability Framework commits CARE to be transparent and share information publicly, especially with beneficiaries. This is mainly the responsibility of the CO; while the ECO can support and provide guidance, the ECO’s main priority is working with the media as outlined in the roles and responsibilities of section 1.1.

The Emergency Communications Officer is responsible for keeping a media log (See Annex 13.10 for a template) of the following:

  • A contact list of journalists covering the emergency at the CO level including a record of all interviews conducted or interaction
  • A list of published media articles about CARE in the emergency across CI, and when possible, copies of news stories

When the Emergency Communications Officer’s assignment is over, the log books and clippings will enable a replacement Emergency Communications Officer to get quickly up to date. The information is also important to evaluate CARE’s media outreach during the emergency, and to follow up if questions are raised over press coverage or if a controversial story is published.

During an emergency, institutional donors often ask us for photos and updates and might deploy their own communication officers. Coordinating with them helps the CO and CIMs manage donor relations and fundraising for emergencies. In addition and if time permits, coordinate with local/ deployed UN and other NGO Communication Officers to receive updates on journalists visiting the area and potential joint media messaging (especially for emergencies where a joint press release might be the only way to communicate sensitive issues). In large-scale emergencies, the UN OCHA Information Officer creates a distribution list and convenes regular Public Information Officer meetings, which can be good opportunities to meet communications colleagues and identify possible areas of collaboration.