Five top tips on packaging hard-to-sell stories for the media

Communication professionals working for NGOs can have a pretty tough gig, especially when it comes to getting the issues which their organisation represents covered in the media.
Last week at Deakin’s Melbourne City Centre a group of media and NGO practitioners came together for a panel discussion on how to package hard-to-sell stories for the media.
The event was chaired by Deakin University Lecturer Ross Monaghan and had a great attendance, largely made up of NGO professionals seeking some expert advice on the best ways to get their issues featured in the media.
The five panelists for the event were:

  • Norman Hermant – Social Affairs correspondent for the ABC
  • Chris Gillett – City reporter from the Herald Sun
  • Kate Stevenson – Senior Producer of 3AW’s Breakfast with Ross and John
  • Laura Hill – Communications Manager for CARE Australia
  • Sarah Price – General Manager – Media, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW


Here are the top tips from each panelist from the day


“Don’t just think of your target audience, think of your target media” – Norman Hermant

We often think about the audiences we’re targeting, but we may not think as much about the media we’re targeting to reach this audience. When seeking coverage, don’t just throw an email around to all stations and papers; be selective, personalise your pitch and consider exclusivity as a selling point.

“We want the good news too” – Chris Gillett

In a world where we’re all too familiar with the phrase “If it bleeds, it leads”, Chris provided a nice change of perspective. There is so much bad news covered that if you can be creative and pitch a story on a serious issue with positive angle, then it is much more likely to get covered. Be positive, creative and quirky.

“You have got to be contactable” – Kate Stevenson

For a feature on radio, being contactable is your story’s make or break point. With very little (if any) lead time, the station needs to be able to get in touch with the talent provided, often with little or no notice if they’re going to get on the air. Forget rain-checks, you have to be flexible if you want a feature. Kate also re-enforced Norman’s point of personalised pitches. “Send me an email titled ‘One for Ross and John’ or ‘Ross will love this story’ and you’ll guarantee my attention,” she said.

“Build and foster your relationship with journos” – Laura Hill

Speaking from the NGO’s perspective, Laura emphasised the importance of building relationships with journos, bloggers and key influencers. Having those connections in place will ensure that you have someone to go to when you come up with that newsworthy contact. You’ll also be much more likely to hear about any opportunities coming up to get your stories featured. Laura’s other key points were quality over quantity when it comes to coverage, and a high focus on persistence.

“Make it Matter” – Sarah Price

With experience representing what she calls an “un-sexy” and “stigmatised” issue, Sarah’s key tip was framing your story in a way which makes it matter to the people you’re wanting to reach. For issues such as Alzheimer’s, Sarah emphasised the importance of emphasising the ripple effect; spreading the message that you don’t need to be diagnosed yourself to be affected by the issue at hand. In a similar way, Sarah also mentioned that this ripple effect can be helpful in finding ambassadors for the cause.

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