Blogs by Author: Rebecca Boteler. [Show All]
So, you have a great story and you’re ready to pitch it to the media. You’ve checked all your facts, written your media release and got your spokesperson lined up. But the first question a journalist is likely to ask isn’t about any of that. What they’ll want to know is: have you got a case study?
News organisations ask for case studies (i.e. ‘real people’) for one main reason: they know that most of the time for a story to truly engage their audience, they must be able to relate to it on some level. And the fact is that people don’t relate to facts; they relate to people.
Having a ‘face’ of the story you’re trying to tell can make it far more powerful than all the beautifully crafted words or meticulously checked facts, or even articulate organisational spokespeople. A case study can tell a story in a personal way that audiences can connect to, often in very different ways. Your case study could act as an inspiration, or a warning, they could highlight the human impact of an issue, or pull at the audience’s heart strings.
Case studies can also be used to illustrate and interpret complex information in a way that audiences can understand. Take the state budget as an example. It’s a huge document filled with an overwhelming amount of numbers. If the media were to simply list all these figures in a story, audiences would switch off pretty fast. Instead, publications like The West Australian use real people in different financial situations to highlight how the numbers translate into real effects, which readers can then relate to themselves.
If your story doesn’t have a case study, you’re potentially missing out on communicating with the audience in a way they can understand; through a shared human experience. Having a ‘real person’ to talk about how the facts and figures in your media release actually affected their lives, their family, their health or their finances sends a powerful message in an authentic way. Real people are likely to be perceived by audiences as unbiased because they’re not trying to sell anything; they’re just talking about their experience. And while audiences would expect your organisation’s spokesperson to talk up your story, it carries more weight if the endorsement comes from a third party. Case studies aren’t usually media trained, they don’t repeat key messages and they may not be eloquent, but they are often the one part of a story that makes it real.
But while most organisations are happy to ask their clients to take part in a media story about a positive experience, they don’t feel comfortable asking people who have had a difficult or traumatic experience, even if they have been helped through it by the organisation. Generally, this is because the organisation is trying to protect them and to respect their privacy. And while these are very valid reasons not to ask, the point they could be missing is that some people who have been through a difficult situation actually want to share their story. Time after time in my role as a media advisor, I speak to really brave people who are willing to share their experience, and in difficult situations the reason is often the same; they want to warn others about what happened to them, so that other people don’t have to go through the same thing. Naturally, assisting people in delicate situations requires caution from your organisation, but there are many steps that can be taken to ensure the talent is comfortable and supported in talking to the media.
Of course, there are some stories where it is not appropriate to give the media access to a case study. Stories which affect disadvantaged or very vulnerable people, or children, or which could have legal implications may carry too great a risk for the person involved. In these cases, it may be possible to quote your case study anonymously, or your organisation’s spokesperson may choose to speak on their behalf.
But the next time your organisation has a story to tell, it’s at least worth considering whether you can find someone to tell it with you. It may give your story the impact news organisations are looking for.
By Rebecca Boteler
Listening is something that not necessarily everyone would think of as a skill. But while it is something that’s technically easy to do, it takes practice and skill to do it well.
Most of us would’ve had conversations with someone who is not listening, with the result often being a communication breakdown. We are all probably guilty of not concentrating, drifting off, cutting people off mid-sentence, talking over the top of people and listening only to respond, rather than listening to truly understand what the other person is saying.
As a journalist, listening is a skill that is developed through necessity. Being a good interviewer is based on being a good listener. It’s your job to ask succinct questions, properly listen to and concentrate on the answers, understand and process the information and then use that information to formulate your next question. An interview where a journalist sticks to a set of pre-written questions does not make compelling viewing (or listening). Because interviews are recorded or listened to live, it’s immediately apparent if a journalist isn’t listening properly because they misunderstand basic information or ask questions that the talent has already answered.
Working in the corporate world, listening to your colleagues, customers and clients is just as important. To have really good communication, you might want to practice the skill that has now been dubbed ‘reflective listening’. Reflective listening is basically listening to what the other person has to say, and then repeating it back to them. Yes, it’s used in counselling, but it can also be applied in the workplace. Wikipedia defines it as ‘an attempt to reconstruct what the person is thinking and feeling and to relay this understanding back to them’. This can often be started with the phrase “So what I’ve just heard you say is…”
Five tips for reflective listening:
- Ask succinct questions that don’t offer an opinion or suggestions for how the person should answer.
- Listen quietly – don’t interrupt, wait for the person to completely finish speaking.
- Concentrate on everything that’s said, and take notes.
- Understand and remember the main points and language.
- Feed the points back to them using the specific words they’ve used without adding your own values or judgements.
The benefit of reflective listening is that the person feels like they’ve really been heard and understood. Conversely, if you’ve misunderstood what they’ve said, it gives them the chance to clarify what they mean straight away. Hearing their words come back to them can also assist individuals to get really clear on what they mean and gives them the opportunity to change the language they’re using to pinpoint their true intention.
Reflective listening also has benefits for the person asking the questions. It allows you to really understand what your colleague, customer or client is saying, improves your communication and relationship, and ultimately, helps you respond to what they really want so that you provide them with a better service.
With Australia’s media landscape continuing to shrink, new approaches are needed for organisations who want their messages and stories to reach their target audiences.
Falling newspaper sales, declining free-to-air TV audiences and the subsequent fall in advertising revenue made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic have again forced news organisations to cut their bottom lines.
In the past month, News Corp and the ABC both announced significant staffing cuts. News Corp so it can pursue its move toward digital production, after announcing it would stop printing 112 community and regional newspapers, and the ABC to save costs after the Federal Government’s decision to freeze funding increases.
This latest round of cuts follows decisions this year by Buzzfeed Australia, which closed its Australian news operation, Network Ten, which scrapped its digital news site 10 Daily, and Foxtel, which cut more than 250 jobs as part of a restructure.
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped the situation media outlets find themselves in, with advertising sales plunging as many businesses went into lockdown and stopped advertising their services. For media outlets already facing falling advertising revenue, partly due to the rise of streaming services, job and programming cuts have been the sad result.
But the news isn’t all bad. After originally being targeted for closure, newswire service Australian Associated Press was brought back from the dead, after being saved by a consortium of investors and philanthropists. The West Australian newspaper is also having somewhat of a resurgence, bucking the national trend by increasing its audience by 4.5 per cent year on year, led by younger readers.
Despite the West’s increase in readership, the amalgamation of our two major newspapers, when Seven West Media acquired the Sunday Times, and the subsequent buy-up of Community News has seen the diversity of our media landscape continue to contract in WA.
For those of us working in PR, this means fewer news outlets and journalists to pitch to, meaning we have to consider different strategies, as well as alternate ways of giving our clients a voice.
Fewer journalists at traditional outlets means those remaining are inundated with requests for coverage. Doing the groundwork ahead of time, knowing when to pitch, and having established and trusted working relationship are imperative to getting stories published in this environment.
Tailoring releases to media outlets, rather than sending them out en-masse, is critical, with producers and Chiefs of Staff having little tolerance for stories that aren’t relevant to their audience.
Identifying what we can do to assist time poor journalists with case studies, photographs and other supportive content is also important.
The rise of independent online news sites provides an opportunity for a story to be published online if matched with the correct outlet. Online stories are more likely to be shared on the outlet’s own social media channels, increasing audience reach, and can have better engagement through the use of video or interactive images.
Clients can also take responsibility for telling their stories directly by addressing their intended audience through a brand journalism practice on their own digital platforms. Doing so provides a home for media releases that have not been taken up by journalists, as well as human interest stories that lack a traditional news hook.
Podcasts are also an increasingly popular news source and there’s one to suit almost any client’s needs. Taking a strategic approach to engaging with this new medium can enable clients to reach new audiences and engage in a deeper conversation than traditional radio programs can offer.
Increased competition, financial pressures and technological innovation will ensure that the most recent changes to Australia’s media landscape will not be the last. However, by continually monitoring these changes, as well as opportunities for innovation, we will ensure that our clients will always be able to get their message out.
In the COVID-19 world, most of us have had to adapt to working via Zoom or other technology, and the media is no different. As social distancing and isolation kicked in, journalists quickly ‘pivoted’ from conducting interviews in person to doing them via webcam.
While this was not only necessary during isolation, it was also an efficient way of conducting interviews, both for the journalist and the interviewee. For those being interviewed, benefits included not having to leave the safety and comfort of their own home, feeling more at ease by conducting interviews in familiar surrounds, not having the uncomfortable sensation of having a big TV camera in their face and not even having to wear pants if they didn’t feel like it (personally, I don’t recommend this, just in case).
But despite these benefits, there are also many pitfalls to doing interviews via your webcam. As a viewer, I’ve found it fascinating getting a glimpse inside people’s homes. But as a media advisor, I’ve often been alarmed about the quality of the interviews. Poor choices in background, camera angles and lighting can be, at best, amusing and, at worst, distracting. And that is where the danger lies: when viewers are distracted, you’ve lost your opportunity to get your message across, which is, presumably, why you agreed to do the interview in the first place.
And while we don’t all need to have TV studio-quality set ups at home, there are a few things you can do to ensure your webcam interview isn’t a disaster (and doesn’t reveal more than you want it to).
Here are a few tips to help you navigate the brave new world of webcam interviews:
Find somewhere quiet. If there are other people in the house while you’re doing your interview, find somewhere quiet and private to do the interview (preferably with a lockable door). We all remember the professor whose two children made an unscheduled appearance during a live BBC cross as their mortified mother commando rolled across the floor to retrieve them. And while it went viral, few people would remember what the point of the interview actually was.
Position the camera at your eyeline, or above, NOT below. I’m sure we have all seen up more people’s nostrils than we ever thought possible. As a viewer, it’s really hard to concentrate on what someone is saying when you’re mentally counting their nose hairs. Putting the camera at eye level during your interview gives you a chance to connect with viewers to get your point across. It’s also a much more flattering angle.
Choose your background carefully. You might love the ‘tasteful’ nude art hanging on the wall of your office, but think about whether it’s really appropriate for viewers to see, or whether it could be a distraction. As well as removing any controversial or distracting items from behind you, you may want to consider actually placing items in your background that reflect the tone of the interview or illustrate the point you’re trying to get across.
Choose a soft light. Any photographer will tell you that a yellowish, soft light is much more flattering than a harsh, white light.
Check your internet connection and webcam beforehand. It’s a good idea to do a test, with or without the interviewer, before going live to air. Watching someone try and work out how to switch on their microphone does not make great viewing.
For more in depth interview skills, CGM Communications runs full media trainings, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org