Media coverage to influence policy

Media coverage to influence policy

If you’re a press officer at a campaigning charity or organisation, a large part of your role is likely to be securing media coverage that influences the political agenda or supports a campaigning goal like a change in legislation or increase in government funding. But what does this mean in practice?

Firstly, it means framing your story in the right way. It’s important that it’s a political story rather than, or ideally as well as, a straight news story, which will be easier if it leads with a strong criticism of government policy, a strong call to action or a strong warning about a particular policy’s implications. This positions your issue as one which is the government’s responsibility (rather than business or individuals) to address, and means it’s a story they’ll need to (or be asked to) respond to. It also means it will be of interest to political news programmes like BBC Radio 4 Today and Newsnight, as well as broadsheets like The FT, The Times and The Guardian, which reach a political audience.

Second – your story needs to be a talking point among political commentators, too. Yes, Westminster is a bubble but because it’s a bubble, if commentators are talking about your issue it will feed through to the wider policy world, and to policy makers themselves. This means trying to make sure your news story is followed up with some comment about its political significance or implications for the government and/or the two main parties. Try contacting comment writers in the main broadsheets or outlets like The Spectator or New Statesman in advance of your story coming out and offer them an interesting angle or take – why is your campaigning ask a vote winner, or why can’t the political parties afford to ignore your issue?

But most importantly your story needs to be a mainstream news story too, because if it’s seen as something voters are interested in and engaged with, that again feeds through to policy makers – particularly the political strategists who are looking for ways to win votes. If you have a raft of policy recommendations or campaign calls, majoring on or drawing out the one that will be most politically appealing or which has a clear political payoff could be important. For example, we recently launched an academic review of the private rented sector, funded by our client, the Nationwide Foundation. There were several recommendations in the report but the one we chose to draw out to help place the report in the mainstream media was the call for a ‘Property MOT’ for rented homes. Why? Because it was a simple idea that the public could understand and that could attract the votes of renters fed up with poor property conditions – and therefore might appeal to political strategists looking for ways to help their party win these votes. This helped us get coverage in The Sun, The Metro, LBC, Talk Sport Radio, BBC Radio 5 Live and other outlets, whilst we gave the more technical policy messages on issues like welfare reform to outlets like the FT, BBC Newsnight and The Guardian.

The 24 hour news cycle and the sheer wealth of stories charity press offices put out means it’s vital that your story is positioned well and targeted effectively if it’s going to cut through and reach those with the power to change or make policy.

Julia Pitman