How to use the media

Social workers are often wary of the press but media coverage can
be positive for the profession, writes Nathalie Towner. Why not try
actively seeking publicity to give your project a boost? Promoting
social work in the media needs to be well thought through, to make
sure you get the outcomes you want. Securing good coverage is not
as simple as just picking up the phone and asking for column
inches. Instead, it involves detailed planning. Before you start,
you need to be clear about what to say and who your target audience

Have a strategy
Media coverage is not an end in itself – it should be used to
achieve a longer-term goal. Before you speak to anyone outside the
organisation, talk through exactly what you want to achieve.
“Create a media strategy: outline the objectives and the key
messages you want to get across,” advises Richard Bunting, media
consultant for NCH, the children’s charity. “Once you have a key
message the work will be a lot easier, as this will give you the
framework for everything you do.”

Who to involve
Make sure all the key people in the organisation are involved in,
or at least aware of, publicity plans. Social workers are not
expected to be savvy media professionals and – depending on the
scale of the project – your organisation may choose to bring in PR
experts. Flintshire social services employ a full-time marketing
and recruitment officer dedicated to promoting teenage fostering.
“We wanted to use her expertise, and by employing someone skilled
in this area we have made significant progress,” says Peter Robson,
service manager of resources for children’s services at the
council. “She works alongside us in the planning process and
establishes links with the media.”

Have target audiences and clear goals
The choice of media is vast – coverage can range from
features in national papers to interviews on local radio. Identify
your target audience by working out who you want to communicate
with. When you know who they are, you will be able to identify the
best media outlets for your project. “We targeted the local media
as we wanted to recruit carers, and as a result of our campaign
have done so,” says Robson. Be focused on what you want to achieve,
and then you are more likely to take steps to reach this goal.
Having clear goals will also make it easier to judge how successful
you’ve been, and to see what you can do differently next

Reaching the media
“Try and think like a journalist about what is news,”
advises Bunting. “Think of a hook to pull the media in. Give out
new information, new findings – as we did when we put out figures
on a sharp rise in the number of people using our services.” And
don’t be scared of the media. “Local media won’t want to challenge
you to a Jeremy Paxman-style fierce debate. They just want a good
story.” It is worth spending time building up good relationships
with local journalists: they will get the story and you will get
the publicity you want.

Communicate outcomes
When it’s all over, pay attention to internal
communications. Share your strategy with colleagues and explain
highs and lows. If the strategy is successful, seeing their work
receiving positive coverage will give staff a real lift. Colleagues
who have given up valuable time to talk to the media should feel
their efforts are worthwhile and have achieved something. And if
you make sure they realise how valued their contribution has been,
they are more likely to agree to an interview next time.

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