The Voice of Canadians With Breast Cancer

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Advocacy

Contacting Media Relations for Advocacy

Contacting the media as a form of advocacy allows you to share your story and the issue that you are advocating for on a large scale. Getting involved with media relations is a great strategy for issues where your proposed, or one of your proposed, solution is raising awareness.

Media relations is a large umbrella that covers everything from radio stations, to online magazines, to national publications. Your approach and preparation will therefore be determined by which route you choose. Regardless of whether you contact a print publication or a radio station, it is important to ensure that you tell your story and advocate for your issue in a manner that is newsworthy. Referring to our “Communicating Your Story” worksheet will help you balance newsworthiness with focusing on the advocacy issue, resolution and call-to-action.

Beyond the newsworthiness of your story, the overall advocacy message and the five W’s – Who, What, When, Where and Why – news stories are chosen according to the following criteria:

  • Audience impact
  • Controversy
  • Conflict
  • Credibility and public awareness of those involved
  • Emotional impact

The following tips and guidelines focus on two avenues within the media relations umbrella: publications (which you can contact through a letter to an editor) and interviews (which you can try to arrange via a media pitch note).

Publications and Letters to an Editor

If you choose to share your story via a publication, you might consider sending a letter to the editor – a letter sent to a publication about issues of concern from a reader. Oftentimes, the letter comes from correcting a perceived error read in a previous edition of the publication or from a point of opposition or support of a stance taken by a journalist. It might also come when the particular topic is current/relevant. Good examples of this are when the topic is up for debate by a branch of the government, or a high-profile story that has gained a lot of media attention. These letters are meant to be published verbatim, so anything you write must be accurate and appropriate for the publication’s audience.

Here are a few tips for sending a letter to the editor:

  • To find the email address of the editor, go to the ‘contact us’ tab on the publication’s website
    • This ensures you have the appropriate contact who has given their permission to be contacted
  • Submit the letter in the body of your email (do not submit it as an attachment)
  • Letters should be kept as short, clear and concise as possible
    • Confirm the preferred length/word count on the publication’s website
  • While newspapers welcome letters on any subject, they do reserve the right to condense and edit at their discretion
  • Where possible, localize the content to increase its chances of being picked-up by regional newspapers

You can use this sample letter to the editor as an example of what a letter to an editor looks like.

Interviews and Media Pitch Notes

If you are more interested in being interviewed, you might consider sending a media pitch note - a message meant to inform the media about your story. In a pitch note, you want to share your message in a way that can illustrate to the reporter how the story might unfold for their audience. The pitch note is your opportunity to introduce yourself, tell your story and explain why it’s important that they highlight the subject of your choosing. A good idea would be to, when and if possible, mention any local support provided and complement your story with Canadian statistics and/or facts to help illustrate the issue.

Here are a few tips for sending a media pitch note:

  • To find the email address of the right contact person, go to the ‘contact us’ tab on the website of the media platform you are interested in.
    • This ensures you have the appropriate contact who has given their permission to be contacted
  • Don’t overwhelm with too much detail
    • The pitch note should be about half of a page to one page long, maximum
  • Only send out a pitch note to the media if you know you will be available to conduct the interview
    • In other words, don't send your pitch note right before a big surgery or a long vacation
  • Cite relevant statistics whenever possible for credibility
    • Media can potentially use them as research points for any feature or more in-depth stories
    • Make sure you have consent of the sources that you are citing
  • Have a high-resolution colour photo available to share if someone asks for it. 
    • This photo could be of you – on your own or with your family and/or friends (get permission from them first). Make sure that there are no visible brand or company logos, and that the photo background is not cluttered

You can use this sample media pitch note as an example of what it looks like to pitch a story to the media.

Preparing for the Interview

It's important to be prepared to speak to the media when they get back to you to tell you that they are interested in interviewing you to learn more about your story. Speaking with media for the first time can be daunting, but preparation can alleviate much of the on-the-spot stress of conveying your message to an audience. 

Once an interview has been confirmed, get and write down the following information:

  • Name of the reporter/interviewer
  • Length and date of the interview
  • Deadline (date, time) for completing the story
  • Details on the topic or the desired angle
  • Names of people to be interviewed (is it just you or are there other interviewees and/or angles?)
  • If the interview will be live or taped
  • The type of interview (audio, visual or written)
Types of Interviews

Audio (Such as a podcast or radio)

Keep your message short and concise. There is no room for detail or long-winded answers, as audio-based interviews often work in “sound bites”. Use your words to create the visual imagery for the listener, such as active verbs or anecdotes. Be articulate and make your voice sound pleasant to listen to and keep notes in front of you for easy access to information such as statistics.

Visual (Such as TV or a documentary)

Visuals are king (or queen!), and the interviewer will likely want to record the interview in a location that supports the message you are trying to convey (e.g. your home, etc.). If it is in your home, choose a room ahead of time and prepare it for the interview. Ensure there is no clutter, no brand or company logos and nothing distracting in the background. A family photo on a shelf is a good background visual (get the permission of everyone in the picture first). Ask ahead if the reporter would want to film any clips outside, so you can prepare for poor weather.

When interviewing, look at the interviewer, not the camera. Avoid fidgeting or any nervous movement, as this can be distracting to the audience. However, be yourself; any artificial persona will show on camera.

Written (Such as a printed newspaper or an online blog)

Ensure you explain things thoroughly in a clear language. The great news is that with print reporters, you have the freedom to explain any specific terms and expand on a given topic as needed. Have notes with you so that you can continually refer to your key messages.

The interviewer may want an image to accompany your story; if this is the case, select one that is clear and recent. If you use an image with people other than yourself in it, get their permission before submitting it.

Final Thoughts
  • There is no such thing as “off the record”; don’t share anything that you would not want to read or hear in public about yourself
  • Treat the media nicely and attempt to build relationships
  • Turn negatives into positives at all opportunities
  • You can take control of the interview or re-contextualize if need be
  • Emphasize your advocacy message
  • Don’t answer questions if they are meant for someone else; if you are not a doctor, don’t give medical advice
  • Prepare to answer when the reporter says, “Is there anything else you wish to add?”
    • Use this time as an opportunity to reinforce your advocacy message(s)

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