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Getting the message across

This page provides guidance on different ways getting your message across to the media - using the telephone, radio and television, interview techniques and letters to the media.

Press releases

The most usual way of disseminating information about a campaign or reaction to an event is through a press release. In a news release you can marshal the facts, gather together the people involved in a story, and make sure everyone is saying roughly the same thing.

See Writing a press release for guidance on putting together a good release.

Using the telephone

Much press relations work is done over the phone. As you become adept at getting a media angle for UCU views and build up relationships with journalists, so your confidence in giving information over the phone and in dealing with phone calls will increase.

Golden rules for dealing with phone calls from journalists.

• Always give yourself time (sometimes a few minutes will suffice) to think about what you want to say.

• Tell the journalist you will phone back and when. Make sure you do - even if you've decided that you can't comment.

• Never give a comment off the cuff unless you're absolutely sure of your facts and what you want to say.

• If you don't have the information the journalist wants, say so. They won't thank you for speculating or waffling. You may be able to direct them to someone else who might help.

Radio and television

Local radio stations are usually news-hungry, so it's fairly easy to get on to a programme with a story. Phone-ins are a regular feature and callers are often in short supply. TV coverage is more difficult to secure but there may be occasions when you are asked to give an on-the-spot interview or take part in a discussion, especially if you have already made a name for yourself in the local press and on the radio.

Most people are nervous about being interviewed, but here are a few hints to help you be more confident and effective.

Preparation is the key. Find out which programme you are going to be on, who will do the interview and what they will be likely to ask.

Think over what you want to get across, but don't write a speech or you will sound wooden. Decide how you will illustrate the points you want to make with real examples.

If the topic is controversial, decide how you will respond to difficult questions. Always imagine how you will sound to an ordinary listener or viewer who may not be sympathetic to your case and may know very little about the subjects you are discussing.

You want to provide your listeners with some strong points, but you don't want to overburden them with too much information. So three is a good number: work out three good strong points you want to make and think of a real life example to back up each one. Don't be afraid to repeat them or reiterate your main arguments: without being patronising, assume that your audience needs everything to be explained very clearly. The PROEP formula may be helpful here.

The PROEP interviews technique

  • Proposition
  • Reason
  • Opposition
  • Example
  • Proposition

This formula can be really useful when giving a short interview, for example

'UCU is calling for a substantial pay increase for university lecturers'

'Because lecturers' pay is way below the professions' from which they're recruited.'

'A 30 year old professional engineer would be earning around £3bn whereas a university lecturer gets 5p.' (Give real facts!)

For example: 'The country can't afford it.'

Your response: 'The economy needs highly skilled employees who have been taught by well-qualified, highly motivated lecturers.'

'That's why UCU says lecturers need a substantial pay rise.'

Letters to the media

Letters pages in the local and national media are usually well read, so a letter can be an effective way of drawing attention to an issue or responding to something that has appeared.

Local papers are often short of letters and you stand a good chance of having your letter published. National newspapers, on the other hand, are much more difficult. Whether your letter is published will depend on the subject, whether it is of interest to readers generally and how well you express yourself.

When writing a letter to a newspaper or magazine you should indicate clearly that the letter is 'for publication' and add your contact details. Newspapers will not publish anonymous contributions. Keeping your letter concise is crucial. It may seem important to spell everything out in detail, but you have to try and keep the main points down to under 200 words. Even then your letter may be cut by the paper's sub-editors. (That is their right: unless they have changed the sense of your letter in an important way, do not complain.)

Use of letters

• to draw attention to an issue
• to respond to an editorial, article or another letter
• to answer criticism
• to correct inaccuracies
• to lend support to a campaign

Be conscious of deadlines. The letters page will usually go to press before the news pages, so get in early - if you want to respond to anything in the paper, it is best to do it straight away.

Study the letters pages of the newspaper to which you intend to write to get a feel for the kind of letters they are likely to publish. Give your UCU position if you are writing on behalf of the union.

Try writing to the national media. Letters from members who can 'tell it like it is' in the workplace are often far more effective than a letter from head office. Don't give up if you do are not immediately successful - the very receipt of correspondence on a particular issue can influence the seriousness with which it is treated.  

Last updated: 30 January 2007