Tim Arthur, former Managing Director of the homeless charity Cardboard Citizens, is a man who knows how to get the word out in the media. Before taking on his current role as Creative Director of Virgin Money, he worked as CEO of media company Time Out. Tim talks to Charity Insider about the benefits of breaking barriers and getting into the media and the clever ways he found to make this happen.
1 Look for opportunities
When working with the charity Cardboard Citizens, I became increasingly aware that really – people want to support charities! Utilising this goodwill is one of the ways that I found to get the charity’s name out there. I also found that a good place to start is by thinking about the seasons and when the charity could fit in with what is happening at various times in the year. Alcohol Concern’s Dry January gets a great deal of press coverage by cleverly using the time of the year when people are making resolutions to spread its message. Meanwhile, Crisis was borne out of the season of goodwill and Christmas remains at the heart of their message. So I began to look for obvious links between events or times of year and our cause.
If there is no obvious link to a season, I like to fall back on the power of the pun. Look at Movember and Stoptober; knowing a campaign will be happening at a particular time also helps TV, radio and press reporters plan a story well in advance. Throughout all of this, however, we always made sure we were prepared to be reactive to current events and new developments.
2 Think pics
Whether we were dealing with Facebook, our local paper or The Times – I found that a good picture makes all the difference. It’s amazing how many stories get dismissed because there’s no picture available so it felt important to make it easy for people to spread our message by having a variety of good quality, high resolution pictures ready to go. We found it helpful to host our pictures on a clearly-marked press centre on our site so that a stressed picture editor working late could grab them easily. When picking images, we tried to think about something which would ‘pop’, especially on social media – something surprising, quirky or amusing or arresting always tended to get more shares than something any other charity might use. Of course we always stayed sensitive to our cause, tried not to be afraid to stand out. There’s no place for shrinking violets so we used images and titles that made people stop in their tracks.
3 Listen up
Believe it or not, I found that radio remains one of the most powerful ways of getting your message across. There’s a natural trust between presenters and their audience and local stations in particular are always looking for good stories. We took the time to discover who was producing our favourite talk shows and contacted them with our ideas. We kept the pitch brief: just one or two clear paragraphs about the story we wanted to tell, plus we tried to make it personal and relatable. We also found that many radio stations are desperate for listeners to call in, so we would offer a potential subject that the host could throw out to the audience and encourage them to call in with their opinion.
4 Know your audience
Understanding who you want to hear your message and having a clear idea of the single action you want them to take is important so we would endeavour to choose the media outlet which was most likely to speak to that audience. Sending blanket press releases to everyone in the Press and PR contacts list tended not to cut through so we made sure to tell the features editors or news editors why we thought their specific readers or listeners would want to hear the story we had to tell. This also worked with print; the way each different magazine, newspaper, radio or TV show might want to tell that story could be different so we would tailor the offer to them. We also made sure to use language and tone appropriate to the audience we were talking to and to the channel we were talking to them through. Social media is ‘social’ – more relaxed and conversational. The Times is… well The Times. You get the idea.
5 a The media love statistics and new research
“Did you know eight in every ten men have never…”
“People in Kent are five times more likely to…”
“The women of Newcastle have the highest levels of…”
Research which brings your cause to life in interesting and quirky ways which are easy for a stressed feature editor to turnaround into a clickbait style piece are ideal.
5 b The media hate statistics…
There’s nothing worse than dry statistics; a lot of the time numbers are easy to ignore. However, it’s impossible to ignore a beautifully told story about one person. So no matter what the area, I find that making it about people is the way to cut through; making people care by appealing to their emotions. Not in a crass or prurient way or by being overly earnest but by being human and compassionate in storytelling and letting your passion for your charity pour out of every word.
6 Approach people nicely
I always reminded myself when part of a charity “Remember people like you, so like them back.” Knowing the name of the person you are sending your idea to (no ‘Dear editor’) and flatter their work (‘I loved your recent piece on…’) always really helps. By avoiding sending something generic and by giving them a unique angle that’s right for them, they were always more likely to pick up the story. So I would say to grab their attention, keep it short, offer all the access they need and then follow up politely – don’t pester, give it three emails before you call.
Download our takeaway
You can download the takeaway resources from this article – perfect pitch email to the media – and keep it handy for when you want to engage the Press with your story.
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