How to Navigate Media Relations: The Role of the Spokesperson Martha J. Kegel Executive Director
UNITY of Greater New Orleans UNITY of Greater New Orleans is a nonprofit organization leading a coalition of 60 organizations providing housing and services for the homeless. Our mission is to coordinate community partnerships to prevent, reduce and end homelessness in the New Orleans area. In addition to raising and distributing funds to support our member organizations’ work, UNITY conducts homeless outreach on the streets and in abandoned buildings, rehabs apartment buildings, helps the public locate affordable housing, and advocates for public policy to prevent and reduce homelessness.
I. Preparing for a Media Interview Remember your goal(s) for the interview. What are you trying to accomplish? Advocate for good public policies to end homelessness or against poor policies. 2. Advocate for the rights of homeless people. 3. Raise public awareness and understanding of the problem of homelessness and its solutions. 4. Persuade government or the public to support your organization’s work. 5. Get the public involved.
I. Preparing for a Media Interview
I. Preparing for a Media Interview
I. Preparing for a Media Interview B. Choose three main points to get across. Practice making them succinctly and quotably. For Example: Homelessness has more than doubled in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina and is still unacceptable, with over 6,600 people living in abandoned buildings, on the streets, or in homeless shelters on any given night. But the good news is that through a community-wide effort focused on permanent housing solutions, we have reduced homelessness by 23% in the past 2 years. We need everyone’s help to continue this work. The most vulnerable people in our community deserve the opportunity to have a home.
I. Preparing for a Media Interview C. Utilize successful talking points to draw people to the cause of ending homelessness. For Example: Messages centered on children, or families with children, consistently rated highly. Values and descriptions that test well are safety, performance, stability, families, working people, opportunity, education, and basic needs. Language that communicates housing as an entitlement consistently tests poorly. This includes messages which frame providing housing as a moral obligation (i.e. housing as a basic need vs. housing as a basic right). Specific Messaging Examples: Everyone should have the opportunity to live in a safe, decent, affordable home. Children who are homeless are more likely to become homeless when they are adults. Ending family homelessness is more than just an effort to help families now; it is also the best way to break the intergenerational cycle of homelessness and poverty in the future. Moving homeless people into permanent housing saves our community more than $16,000 per homeless person each year by reducing their use of public services. *Analysis and Comparison of Market Research on Affordable Housing and Homelessness, October 16, 2009. Prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation et al. Prepared by Seven November Inc. Special thanks to Bill Block, Project Director, Committee to End Homelessness, a regional coalition hosted by King County.
I. Preparing for a Media Interview D. Think through possible questions and answers, especially difficult or tricky ones you may be asked as well as typical misconceptions many people have about homelessness that you want to counter. It is extremely helpful if you are not experienced to actually write these out beforehand.
I. Preparing for a Media Interview E. Establish your credentials/expertise with the reporter and try to engage the reporter in developing his or her own expertise on the subject of ending homelessness. Note: This is best done by cultivating a relationship with a reporter over a period of time, but starts by giving him/her some basic research and data showing what works to end homelessness, encouraging him/her to call national experts if appropriate to strengthen the story, and giving him/her some of the most authoritative websites for reference.
II. The Interview
II. The Interview Your approach will be different depending on the type of media (print, TV, radio, internet) and the target population of the particular media outlet. Keep focused on making your three main points.
II. The Interview C.How to handle questions you don’t want to answer: Much depends on the interview, your relationship with him/her, whether the interview is live, and how central the question is to the story. If the question is fairly central to the story, authoritatively refute: For Example: “In fact, the Housing First Approach is proven to be cost-effective, and it achieves the same rates of sobriety as more traditional programs. For example, one of our clients suffering from schizophrenia and alcoholism had been living under the overpass for 25 years at great cost to taxpayers due to repeated emergency room visits for his untreated schizophrenia and to jail for public intoxication. With the help of a case manager who makes sure he goes to treatment, he has been stabilized in his own apartment now for the past 18 months at far less expense that the revolving door between the ER, jail and the streets. He’s doing great!” And then return the discussion to your three main points: “By being very practical and willing to implement what has been proven to work in other cities that have drastically reduced homelessness, we are reducing homelessness in New Orleans. That’s a win for the community. Everybody benefits when there is less homelessness.”
II. The Interview D. How to answer questions you don’t know the answer to: Never make things up! Your credibility is your most important asset with the news media. Once you lose it, you cannot get it back. If it is not a live broadcast interview, offer to get the information and call the reporter back. If it is live, say what you do know and return to your main points.
III. Tips for media work in small to Medium markets
III. Tips for Media Work A. Invite a reporter to watch you work (street and abandoned building outreach, Vulnerability Index surveys and Point in Time counts, emergency shelter triage, lease signings, move-in days, housewarming parties, HPRP central intake, PSH building groundbreakings or ribbon-cuttings, can all be dramatic and powerful illustrations of the new ways homeless programs are working to end homelessness).
III. Tips for Media Work B. While conventional wisdom is that press conferences are no longer effective, in fact in medium to smaller markets, press conferences can be very effective if: What you are reporting is truly newsworthy or prominent community leaders are speaking.
III. Tips for Media Work You feature compelling clients who are either still homeless, in process of being housed, or recently housed.
III. Tips for Media Work 3. You have great visuals (not just talking heads: the location of the press conference itself should help tell the story and/or you have enlarged graphically compelling charts with data that help your story.
III. Tips for Media Work C. How to turn organizational events into media events:
III. Tips for Media Work D. Reports on subpopulations, special problems or progress spark good media coverage (Point in Time data, family homelessness, veteran homelessness, abandoned buildings etc).
III. Tips for Media Work E. Editorials and op-ed pieces.
III. Tips for Media Work F. Ways to manage without a full-time communications staff person: Use a public relations consultant to call media/send out press announcements, releases. Designate someone on staff to be the central point of contact for all media inquiries. Designate a few people to be spokespersons and train them.
For More Information, Contact Martha J. Kegel Executive Director UNITY of Greater New Orleans (504) 821-4496 ext. 109 email@example.com www.unitygno.org www.unityghousinglink.org www.facebook.com/unitygno