SAUCE: media relations

Media relations

Why do it?

Media coverage is free, influential and can reach hundreds of thousands of people. Editorial coverage gives your message credibility. Good publicity can build your reputation and the reverse applies, bad publicity will eventually begin to erode goodwill in the marketplace. Establishing a professional working relationship with journalists is the key but you must be realistic about what the media are likely to be interested in and recognise that while you may be able to influence what they say, ultimately the control lies with the media outlet.

Building fruitful relationships with the media

The needs of the media

'For profit' media organisations earn revenue from advertising, and to do this they must attract and retain readers, viewers or listeners. They want stories that will interest their readers first and foremost and will spend a lot of money ascertaining what drives their circulation or motivates their audiences.

Public broadcasters such as the ABC and SBS are funded largely by government and, like funded arts organisations, need to show a return on the taxpayers' investment. And that means two things, being true to their charter and attracting an audience.

The publicist's job is to:

  • be a subject matter expert (that is, know the company or arts event inside out)
  • identify what will interest a media outlet's audience
  • sell the idea to the journalist, arts editor or producer
  • respond to media enquiries
  • provide a first rate service to the media, even when the going gets tough

Sauce uses the word 'publicist' to refer to the person within an organisation whose role it is to work with the media. However, even if media relations is contracted out, the same principles apply.

The media universe is:

  • highly competitive both internally within an outlet and externally with other media
  • responsible to their readers, listeners and viewers and advertisers (and must keep circulation up)
  • deadline driven
  • bombarded with a huge amount of information on a daily basis

To cut through you must be:

  • clear, concise and professional
  • knowledgeable about your subject and each media outlet
  • creative with tailored angles

The two factors that drive our business are revenue and audience.
General Manager of a Tasmanian Radio Station

Different kinds of media

The media is traditionally divided into the following categories. Increasingly content is being syndicated and served to a range of outlets from print to radio or the online environment, for example. Despite this, each media category has its own defining characteristics which must be considered.

Getting to know the media

The best way to get to know the media is to consume it! Channel surf, listen to lots of different radio stations, read papers and magazines and make regular trips to a good newsagent and to the websites of various outlets.

You can also learn more about a particular outlet by requesting the advertiser's pack or by accessing these online. The pack for advertisers will carry demographics, circulation and readership figures and sometimes more in-depth information about the audience.

For key media put yourself on the mailing list, so you get regular updates about staff and format changes, new programs that are coming on stream, etc.

There are also useful media guides, such as Margaret Gee's Australian Media Guide and Media Monitors' Media Directory which provide regular updates to their subscribers. If you can't afford these, the local library should have them. Journalists move around within an outlet and across outlets, so building and keeping your media list current is a never-ending task.

Organising your database

How you decide to organise your media mailing list should be determined by how you intend to use it. That is, what you will send to whom, why, when and how.

You may use your media list to:

  • target specific information to certain kinds of media (youth or family outlets, for example)
  • invite them to openings
  • invite the media to attend a media call or launch
  • provide information about your event in time to meet an outlet's deadline (always a good idea!)
  • develop a target list that you will use to pitch stories about a particular event or program

You will also want to be able to search your list by title of a position, so you can easily select social editors, picture editors, listings editors, Chiefs of Staff, producers, reviewers, etc.

Many use an Excel spreadsheet, FileMaker Pro and a range of other software to manage their database. A relationship management system such as Tessitura also allows more sophisticated tracking so that you can record:

  • contacts with a particular journalist
  • acceptances
  • no-shows
  • stories run
  • a journalist's interests, major stories working on, etc
  • dates of calls and items discussed
  • commitments made that need to be followed up
  • tickets purchased

Some systems such as Microsoft Outlook will also enable you to set up reminders in your calendar so the computer alerts you that you have promised a journalist images by a certain date, etc.

Where there is more than one person dealing with the media, this database will ideally be networked and protocols agreed about how records are to be updated and so on.

If you don't have a whiz bang database, then a big diary, one or two pages to view, can work well. Annotate and date all conversations and make a big to-do list that you update daily. Keeping track of all your conversations with journalists is crucial.

Mailing the media

Many journalists will say, the earlier they receive information the better. It gives them time to plan, make links with other events that are happening, and most will file the media releases - those that aren't binned! - by the date of the event.

At the very latest a media release should be mailed six weeks prior to an event. But, remember this is far too late for long-lead media outlets.

Many companies manage the media's varying timelines by mailing their yearly or quarterly program when they announce it. This is then followed up with more detailed mailings closer to the event. How frequently you mail depends on how dense your program is. If you have a one-night show most nights of the week, it would be wasteful and confusing to send out an individual release for each act.

How the media like to receive information differs from outlet to outlet and from journalist to journalist. The fax machine can be on another floor and the release may never find its way to the right desk, even if you have the recipient's name in large print on the actual release. Releases that are posted to a publication without the name of the appropriate journalist, are likely to be binned. Some prefer hardcopy because that makes it easy to take to an editorial conference. While others prefer email. And some desks do not accept email attachments.

So, laborious though this sounds, for your core media contacts you will need to find out from each person whether they would like to receive information by:

  • fax
  • email (check if an attachment is okay)
  • snail mail

So Tip No. 1 is don't email press releases, because we get inundated and I read them once and then they're forgotten. Fax or mail, because no matter what it is, it will get put in the right file... don't make email your first approach. At 9.15am we have our first news conference in which the editor and senior staff run through what's on and who to assign where... the hard copy is preferred because they're not going to waste time printing stuff.
Arts Editor, Metropolitan Daily

I hate faxes and I hate mail. We never go to the fax any more, so to get to us you have to send in an email and then we respond in that way.
Producer, ABC Radio

Building rapport

Publicists provide a service to the media and build their reputation based on:

  • accuracy and meticulous attention to detail (journalists do not like to make mistakes)
  • truthfulness
  • presenting solutions (the complete 'media-ready' package: talent, picture, great angle and the right timing)
  • empathy and enthusiasm
  • their understanding of trends and movements that are happening in the broader spectrum and an ability to see how stories fit
  • in-depth knowledge of their subject and of the outlet
  • clarity (and brevity is much appreciated too)
  • follow-up on media requests and mailings of releases
  • timely and regular contact
  • creative ideas and a good understanding of the needs of the media
  • their availability to the media and the effort they put in to providing quick answers and spokespeople, when asked
  • follow up (they deliver on their promises, are ready for camera crews)
  • fairness (they make sure they don't have three journalists in the same outlet chasing the same story)
  • their ability to give journalists tips and information about what is happening in the larger arts world

In an industry rich in individualists, there will inevitably be at least one person who becomes a problem for you. Remember you don't need to like a person to conduct a professional relationship. Also remember, it's a two-way street. A journalist needs you as much as you need them. A frank chat over a cup of coffee can sometimes clear the air. Don't be afraid to set limits. If a journalist is continually putting you through impossible hoops, politely draw the line.

New to the job?

Use your arrival in the publicist's job as an opportunity to meet all the main journalists and personally introduce yourself and to find out all about their needs, interests and any major projects they are working on within the outlet.

Do your homework. Find out what I want, who I am, how to spell my name, my deadlines, my busy times, how do I want information... simple, straightforward and accurate, that's what's needed rather than terribly smart and overly complicated.
Arts columnist, Metropolitan Daily

Developing a media relations plan

Why do it?

Think strategy first. Media second. Making it onto the 7 o'clock news is not a strategy. First you must know what you want to achieve, and what you want the coverage to convey.

The discipline of developing a media relations plan ensures you know:

  • what you want your media coverage to achieve
  • all about the product you are publicising
  • what it is you want to convey about the event or show
  • which media are most likely to reach the target audience
  • the angles that are most likely to appeal to the readers of each media outlet you plan to target
  • any competition you may encounter for media space during your campaign

Ringing the arts editor and pitching talent without any prior planning may result in coverage. But, will it convey your messages? Will it reflect well on the company? Will it make people want to buy or see your product? Media coverage is not the 'end goal'; it is a means to achieve your objectives. And this is why a media relations plan is essential.


You will need to research

  • the background and development of the product
  • artists
  • venue
  • the environment (competing events, school holidays, etc)
  • target audience (which outlets are they most likely to consume?)
  • key media outlets
  • past coverage that is relevant to the product or company

If there's a major state occasion, for example, it's unlikely the media will be able to attend a media call at the same time. If an artist is appearing in Australia for the first time, why would readers be interested in her? Is there something unusual in the style of work? Is it the subject matter of the work? Or is it the fact she has an aviary of exotic birds which inspire her work?

Situational analysis

A situational analysis is a scan of what's happening inside and outside your company or event. It helps you to understand what will impact on your media campaign. It is really, really important to find some time to do this, even if it is done very quickly and more superficially than you would like.

The savvy publicist will do this on a campaign by campaign basis. And, indeed, probably does it mentally minute-by-minute!

The scan breaks into two categories:

  • Internal strengths and weaknesses
  • External opportunities and threats or challenges

This is usually called a SWOT analysis.

The kinds of things a publicist will be looking at in a SWOT analysis will be:

  • timing
  • place and geographic reachv
  • synergies, links and clashes
  • product
  • resources

Objectives are the outcomes you hope to achieve for the organisation as a result of your media relations activity. These should link with the organisation's mission and vision and also the goals outlined in the overarching business plan. If you wish to position the national remit of your company, you will use every campaign to deliver this message. It is very important to keep your corporate goals in mind during every campaign.

Sample objectives

  • To position X as a leading arts provider of national significance. (corporate)
  • To reach a young audience (under 35 years) and encourage them to subscribe to X (campaign specific)
  • To position X as an emerging artist to watch. (could be a corporate and a campaign specific objective)
  • To increase the number of weekday visitors to the museum. (corporate)

As you can see from the above, some objectives relate to overall corporate objectives, while others are specific to a particular campaign. Any campaign is likely to have both types of objective.

Identify the target audience

You need to identify the target audience and their characteristics in order to select the key media you will want to target for your coverage. This could be older audiences, audiences seeking light entertainment, younger audiences interested in hip hop culture and so on.

Key messages

Identifying and then agreeing the key messages for any campaign with the CEO is absolutely vital. The key messages position the organisation and the specific event you are publicising. There will be some generic key messages that you will use constantly because they are about the organisation, while others will be campaign-specific and convey the essence of an event.

Key messages are not 'copy ready' and can be adapted to suit specific needs, such as interviews, media releases and so on.

Sample key messages

National company [generic key message]
Creating dance history [generic key message]
Family, fun, free [campaign specific]

Key selling points

The key selling points (KSPs) are those factors that will appeal to the greatest number of people in your audience.

KSPs usually have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • known quantities: celebrity artist, well-known title, popular work, awards, winner of popularity polls, etc.
  • rarity: the first, the last, unusual juxtaposition of ideas or techniques
  • scale: the biggest or the smallest, number of artists represented, the most expensive, kilometres travelled
  • topicality: links with current issues of the day
  • inherent appeal: animals, babies, romance, aaah factor, free
  • human needs or desires or benefits: learning, safety, fun, socialising, stimulation, family-friendly etc

The KSPs can sometimes also be your key messages and your media hook.

Media hooks

A media hook is the strongest element you have to secure a story in a particular outlet. The hook is what will most interest the journalist you are pitching to. Clearly the hook will be different for different kinds of outlets and audiences.

The resulting story is a vehicle for the KSPs and key messages.

You need to be careful about the hooks you use as these can hi-jack the story and this means you will not get across your key messages and KSPs. For example, if you pitch the story around a debate about reconciliation, the key messages and KSPs about the festival it is designed to promote could be overlooked.

Sample hooks

  • Opera singer learns how to stilt-walk for a new role
  • 2 tonnes of sand to be delivered from the central desert for sand painting exhibition
  • First public appearance since artist recovered from breast cancer
Next steps

After you have done your situational analysis, defined the objectives, key messages, key selling points and media hooks, the next steps in your media plan are to:

  • make a list of key media you will target
  • match the hook with the media outlet
  • agree campaign timing (dates for launches, mailings, media calls, etc)
  • identify the publicity materials you will need (images, sound, footage, biographies, etc)
  • identify key spokesperson, usually the director or CEO, and possible talent for interviews
  • issues management: areas that could be contentious and decide how these will be managed

Finally, your media plan should cover the major headings as listed below.


Describes the event, content, dates, artists, etc

Situational analysis

SWOT analysis, issues to be considered, etc

Campaign objectives

List campaign-specific objectives and also show how this will connect with your corporate/business objectives.

Key messages

The key messages that position/differentiate event and/or company.

Key selling points

Factors that will appeal to the greatest number of people in your target audience (i.e. sell the show).

Media hooks or angles

List most compelling angles you have that will get your story up in the media.

Target media

List media under the headings provided in the Example table above and angles that might suit each target media

Promotional materials

Images, footage, copies of the book, etc.


Key dates and how these relate to other communications activity, needs of the media, availability of the artists, etc.

Key spokespeople

Issues management

Identifying any negative elements that might occur and how these will be handled.

Writing for the media


Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
Albert Einstein

For the media you will write:

  • media releases
  • media alerts
  • captions
  • biographies and backgrounders

The media is busy and inundated with hundreds of releases on a daily basis. Keep it short and keep it simple. Inaccurate, sloppy and badly worded materials will be trashed.

When you are writing for the media, remember:

  • save opinion for a quote from the director or CEO
  • do not write a review of the show before it opens
  • prove your claims with facts and avoid the use of too many adjectives
  • journalists are not experts in the arts (and neither are their readers), so don't use jargon or 'in' language
  • the man from Mars... would he understand what you have written?
  • to leave out the kitchen sink - only include the most important, telling facts
  • make it interesting
  • sum it up in the first two paragraphs, making sure it contains the 4Ws (Who, What, Where, When - and sometimes Why)
  • be true to the work and the artists involved
  • check and check again all facts: dates, times, spelling of artists' names, correct title of the show, etc

You don't have to tell the whole story in the one media release. Just enough to tempt their interest and get them curious.
Arts Editor, National Daily

I have 88 emails waiting for me because I haven't had time to check them yet. So be straightforward.
Arts Columnist

Sending out an inaccurate media release is a pain. You need to ring around all the journalists and ask them to rip it up and then send out a new release. If incorrect releases aren't withdrawn, sod's law will make sure a journalist uses the incorrect release for the facts when writing the story!

Media releases

The role of the media release

1. The media release is your calling card.

It introduces the story to the media and gives you the opportunity to call, after a decent interval, to make sure they have received it and to test interest.

2. The media release is the media's fact sheet

The media will use the release as their essential reference document, when they come to do the story. It should contain all relevant details. This is why accuracy is VITAL.

Less well-resourced local print media may well print the media release without any change at all. Consider whether it is better to supply a specially written piece for this kind of publication.

Remember the 4 Ws

and sometimes

3. The media release sheds the best light on your product.

The media release should be designed to make your product shine in such a way that it will grab the attention of the media. This doesn't mean hyperbole. It does mean clear, crisp prose and lots of interesting verbs.

Anatomy of the media release

The media release should be one A4 page long and must always have the publicist's contact details at the bottom. A frequent complaint from the media is they have no contact details or that when they ring, no-one returns their calls. You must be available when a media release has been sent out.

Media Release

Sub-heading (further points of interest)


First 2 paragraphs
MUST address the 4 Ws
Attract attention
Tell essentials of whole story (many will read only this)


Body of release

Background info
Quote from CEO or artist
Keep planting story ideas


Sign off

Booking details
Venue and address, opening hours
Person media can contact 24/7

Media release - example

Journalist Harriet Cunningham selected Pinchgut Opera's media release for Sauce as one that she thought had worked well. It was a release about Pinchgut Opera's 2006 production of Idomeneo, directed by Lindy Hume.(PDF available to download at bottom of page)

Harriet wrote:

Formatting plus points

  • It's superficial, but formatting really helps journos trying to process large amounts of info in a short amount of time.
  • Headline in the subject line of the email
  • Information in the body of the email plus a .doc or .pdf attached but note that certainly at Fairfax many desks do not accept attachments.
  • Images attached or suggestions for images are included
  • Short paras and use of bold to pick out key names

Content plus points

  • Three W's up front
  • Factual, putting facts in context, making connections rather than just giving a description
  • Quote from relevant person which ideally sounds like something someone would say rather than corporate speak
  • Optional - more meaty information on subsequent pages, but only if it's useful - more is not necessarily more.

Sauce: - also note this release was sent out nearly 11 months prior to the opening of the production, in plenty of time for long-lead publications.

Media alert

You send out a media alert, when you are inviting the media to come to a media call or a special event of significant interest to the media. You are particularly seeking interest from picture editors, TV, Radio and Press Chiefs of Staff. Unlike a media release, which you might send out weeks or even months prior, you will send a media alert out a maximum of one week prior to the call or event. Then, on the morning of the event you will ring around the various news desks to check whether it's in the diary and whether they are planning to send someone.

It is very easy for these events to be upstaged by breaking news, so nothing is ever guaranteed. Just make sure there are excellent opportunities for moving and still images.

The alert is focused on the 4 Ws, with the critical three usually given in headings, as follows:

The alert will also contain a short synopsis or context for the event, as this is going to news, rather than arts journalists, who will need some background. The most important thing is to tell them what will happen at the call and what pictures will be available.

Listings advice

A year-round publicist will send out a listings advice to listings editors on a weekly basis. This is not an arduous thing to do. You just need to keep a list of all your events and update or delete items each week, and, of course, keep your email list current. This is usually a Friday morning job. It is not enough to send out a listings advice once or to think the media release is sufficient. Make the journalist's life easy and this way you can also exercise a bit more control.

A listing carries the 4W's with a very brief description of the event (1 or 2 short sentences). Don't forget to give the address of the venue, especially if it is not well known, a telephone number and the URL for your website.

Many listings carry images. Find out which and how they would like to receive images (by post, on disc or be email). A terrific image on a what's on page can do as much to sell your event as a feature length article.

Listings advice - fictional event example


June 7, 2006

What's on at the Gulgong Opera House


A 'feel-good' play by John Rood about a city couple who need a change and decide to plant grapes. But, at Broadmeadows they get a lot more than they bargained for. An X-Theatre production, featuring Pam Dunstan and Dan Hopgood (Red Heelers).
Friday June 13 at 8pm
Opera House
Main Street Gulgong
Tickets $30 from the Gulgong Newsagents

Don Hollows

Jazz legend to appear for one night only at Gulgong Opera House.
Friday July 12 at 8pm
Opera House
Main Street, Gulgong
Tickets $40 from the Gulgong Newsagents

Media enquiries
Jean Kelly, Gulgong Arts Council
Mobile 0417 000 000
Production photographs available.

Sauce:- Depending on the circumstances, you may also include the media release. This would be addressed to the person responsible for listings, weekend planners, etc.

Pitching a story to the media

The 'IDEA' model

A pitch involves presenting a story idea to the media. You are the seller and the journalist is the buyer. The media has the right to say 'no' so don't take a 'no' personally.

You can pitch to the media:

  • By telephone
  • Or, in writing, usually by email, though a more formal proposal sent by snail mail can have more impact for a major assignment

Before you do anything, you must research the product and the media thoroughly in order to identify possible hooks and appropriate outlets to reach your audience.

You have to know what we do and who we are... most people have 2.2 radio stations in their lives and don't know what the rest do. A publicist has to know.
Radio and TV producer, Adelaide.

What makes the news

There are a number of characteristics commonly associated with a 'news' story. The more of these characteristics connected with an event, the more coverage it is likely to get.

  • Novelty
  • Rarity
  • Innovation
  • Shock and conflict
  • Surprise
  • Human interest
  • Triumph over adversity
  • New data, record sales
  • Awards and recognition
  • Kids
  • Animals
  • Social issues or a symbol of a social trend
  • Celebrities or prominent figures
  • Humour
  • Action (moving footage, drama, emotion, etc)
  • Bright props and images
  • Links with the news of the day
  • Local impact
  • Holidays and anniversaries
  • Simplicity (easily understood)

What keeps the media away

Here are some characteristics of a media event or idea that will keep journalists away:

  • people reading scripts
  • private, profit-oriented goal (sell more widgets, or tickets for that matter - journalists see this as the role of advertising)
  • complexity
  • unknown participants
  • bad timing
  • remote location that is hard for the media to get to
  • lack of good images

Note: image-based or ironic stories can be just as newsworthy as a report full of new statistics.

Adapted from
MAKING THE NEWS, A Guide for Nonprofits and Activists
by Jason Salzman
Published Westview (1998)

Start to read the media differently and analyse why a story has got up. It will give you good ideas about the sorts of things that might work for you.

A lot of publicists don't look much at trends or movements or the broader spectrum. You might have something that you don't think is very newsworthy but we could link it to something else and then we have a story. So always look outside the box.
Arts Editor, Metropolitan Daily

Respect the objectivity of the media

Beware giving journalists gifts as this can be perceived as buying their opinion. Policies on air tickets, accommodation and tickets vary between different outlets. Many outlets will also not want reviewers/critics to write advance pieces about a work or to write program or catalogue articles as this will erode public perception about their ability to review a piece objectively.

It's always thoughtful to say thank you when a piece has run. But again this requires some thought. Better to say 'great piece', 'terrific placement' or something else that is a comment on the story itself rather than 'thank you' for doing it. This would imply the story was done as a favour to you, which it almost always never is. It's the media doing their job, which is to interest their readers, not sell your tickets.

What makes a good hook

'Relevance' is the golden rule when you are looking for good stories. Test out your ideas by putting yourself in the shoes of the reader, viewer or listener. Why would they find this interesting? Is it going to be relevant to them?

For example, you may wish to secure a story in a national outlet. For this you need a national point of interest. If something is touring to two states, this is a start. But even without this geographic reach, you could have a great national angle. You might be breaking new ground, tapping into something that is in the news, celebrating an anniversary of national significance or have an extraordinary human interest angle. And remember, despite what you might think, city-based metro papers are keen for stories that will appeal to their many regional readers. Nobody will mind if you try out an idea for a story provided you have thought it through - from the reader's point of view.

Target media

When you are building your list of media and journalists to target, one of the areas that needs most thought is who to pitch to within a media outlet. You might have stories that are suitable for an arts page, the weekly entertainment lift out and possibly also a magazine story. Should you pitch to all three? Should you start with the most desirable working down the list? Or someone from a fairly obscure radio program might have requested a story but you really wanted to see if you could get that story to run during that station's more high-profile breakfast program.

Tricky stuff. The relationship with a journalist needs to last far beyond any particular campaign, so this must be the priority. And always remember that today's junior reporter might end up as Editor one day, so you always need to be respectful.

Possible solutions:

  • Pitch to different sections of the outlet and ascertain interest, making sure you provide a totally different angle and talent for each journalist (this is essential). Then make sure each person within the outlet knows what's happening elsewhere. 'Jack and I have been talking about X and he won't be covering this territory at all.' If you are asked for an angle that someone else in the outlet is covering, you have to come clean about this. This approach requires great care. No outlet wants three different stories about the same event running on the same day in the same newspaper.
  • Start by pitching to the section or program you most want to be in. When this is secure (though nothing is ever one hundred percent guaranteed), then work around this with other sections of the outlet.
  • It is perfectly okay to buy time. Find a way to delay a decision until you have all your ducks in a row.


If journalists ask for an exclusive - and they will - think very carefully before you agree to this. If you have hot property that all the media is after, you would be crazy to limit yourself to one outlet. And not having an exclusive is unlikely to deter a journalist if the property is really hot.

You might give a journalist:

  • First bite of the cherry, provided the story or image will appear early enough to give other outlets a chance
  • An exclusive with particular talent but only if you have enough talent to give your campaign reasonable spread across all outlets
  • An exclusive angle... though this can be dangerous because stories have a habit of changing tack so 'do your best' is about the most you should promise
  • A partial exclusive - i.e. this particular angle won't be offered to a directly competing outlet (there is often great rivalry between the quality metro daily and the national newspaper, for example)

Relationships can quickly sour over exclusives that have gone wrong or misunderstandings about what was originally promised. Make sure both you and the journalist are clear about what has or has not been offered.

Never promise an exclusive to two different publications. It causes a lot of bad blood and a red line goes through your name if it happens.
Arts Editor, National Daily

Preparing the pitch

You've done your research, prepared your target media list. It's almost time to pick up the phone and make that call. But first run through this checklist:

  • Do I have everything I need close to hand so that I can answer any questions?
  • Do I know when the talent will be available? Will this fit in with the outlet's deadlines?
  • Is the talent suited to this kind of outlet or story? (A person whose English is heavily accented or who is very shy may not be good for radio or television)
  • Do I have images, footage or sound, if needed?
  • Have I considered picture opportunities?

Experienced publicists are subtly sounding out ideas during daily conversations with journalists. So it is not necessarily always about the one make-or-break phone call. You might simply be asking a journalist if he or she is still interested in a particular idea or interview. This is the ideal and shows how important it is to build a rapport with journalists.

Making the call


  • check if this is a good time to talk up front
  • be concise and get to the point
  • remember, with hundreds of other events on their mind, journalists need the 4Ws, so get this in at the outset (rehearse summarising the key points in a couple of natural sentences)
  • be enthusiastic but not over-the-top
  • put forward your idea for a story as something that you thought might be of interest
  • listen carefully and be prepared to quickly adapt your idea on the basis of what you hear - this is VERY important
  • summarise what's been agreed
  • take a 'no' gracefully
  • buy time, if necessary ('That sounds great, can I get back to you on that?' is better than accepting a journalist's idea only to find out later the talent refuses to do a piece because of the angle the journalist wants to take)


  • waffle
  • tell a journalist how to do their job (for example, suggest where a story should run or insist on a particular angle or picture idea)
  • over-promise
  • put forward the idea as a sure-fire winner or as an instruction or get heavy-handed (e.g. 'my father is the Chair of your outlet')
  • pull out of a story at the last minute (though journalists will understand if it's illness or something catastrophic)
  • telephone when an outlet is in production mode (afternoon for TV news) or when a journalist is on deadline or, worse, on air
  • exaggerate or fudge the truth to make the idea sound better

Don't be over anxious to sell your story. Think of it like a job application. Just the right amount of interest, but don't overdo it. Try not to sound desperate.
ABC Radio Morning Show Host, regional NSW

Remember, unless you are pitching directly to the editor or the producer of a segment, the journalist needs to upsell the story. So it's important to give them the ammunition they need.

When you are pitching a story to me you are pitching twice. Because you have to pitch it to me and then I have to pitch it on your behalf to the editor.
Arts journalist, National Daily

Email pitch example

[Producer of a weekly national music program]

Dear Stuart

[The W's]

Blindforce, a Melbourne independent dance company, is kicking off the year with Bushfire, a new dance-theatre piece.

It opens on February 14 at Selkirk House in Ballarat - the first anniversary of the major bushfire that threatened Ballarat -- and then has a season at the studio space in Melbourne's Arts Centre, opening on March 1.

Music is an equal partner in all of our work and wherever possible we commission new work and the music is always performed live.

Australian-born David Williams has composed the music - I hope you received the media release and a CD of Bushfire which I sent express post yesterday. Jill Blighton, from Tasmania, is the choreographer/director.

[The Hook]

I wondered whether you might be interested in an interview with the composer David Williams for your music program? (see his bio below). He is probably most famous for the very funny and inventive score he created for the Disney movie Rooful Raiders and he is very articulate on the role of music in narrative.

Bushfire will be released in Australia by Fungus Records in March this year.

By the way, David has an amazing collection of film music - around 1000 albums on vinyl and CD!

The piece is written for piano, alto saxophone and guitar, and the musicians (names) could perform an excerpt for the live studio segment.

There's a two-minute slow movement that evokes the aftermath of a bushfire, which might work well. (Track 5 1:60).

[Sign off]

I will give you a quick follow-up call in the next few days to discuss this or any other angles you might be interested in.
Best wishes

Jane Miles
07 000 0000
0412 000 000

Sauce: This is given as a hypothetical example of an email pitch. This idea would probably be pitched first by telephone, after the Producer of the radio show had received the media release and CD, and then followed up with an email.

Follow up

The devil is in the detail and follow up is critical.

You will need to:

  • line up the talent
  • brief the talent
  • confirm arrangements with both the journalist and the talent in writing
  • provide biographies or backgrounders on the event along with images or sound
  • if there is to be any recording of a show, you may need to get clearance forms signed by the artists (this isn't usually required if the recording is purely for publicity purposes) and certainly everyone involved will need to be fully briefed
  • notify the venue, security and so on if crews are on site
  • make sure all relevant people know when a journalist will be on site
  • build a great relationship with the stage and company managers, artists' agents and curators to ensure everything runs smoothly
  • accompany your talent to the interview to make sure there are no hitches

If the talent forgets to give the 4Ws during a radio interview, you can always ask the producer of the program if they can cover these off in the wrap up. Keep remembering what the coverage is there to achieve. If it is a press interview, journalists often prefer to be alone with the talent and it is polite to respect their wishes.

If a journalist finds it easy to work with you, your next story is going to be that much easier to place. Keep building the rapport.

Bringing the media to you

The media conference, media call, launch and media briefings

Every publicist will at some point invite the media to come to their organisation for:

  • a media conference
  • a media call
  • a launch
  • the opening of a season or special event

For TV we need pictures and sound. If there are no pictures, we don't have a story. With plays, we usually shoot them wide first then do the same thing a couple of times, so we get different angles, then we piece it altogether. We're not there for the launch of anything and it actually makes it harder for us to get good pictures when there are 30 people in the room also looking at the pictures. It's good to get us there before the launch. We want someone who is natural and energetic and is going to tell your story.
Chief of Staff, Free to air commercial television station

Creating images for the media

A photo shouldn't be so explicit that it tells the whole story in a few seconds. There should be an element of intrigue... an enigmatic lead-in that makes the reader want to turn the page or read the story.
Greg Barrett, photographer

Media relations involves:

  • Commissioning images for use by the media
  • Creating opportunities for the media to take their own images or footage

Images are the lifeblood of a publicity campaign. Great imagery - both still and moving - will greatly extend your reach and the effectiveness of a campaign.

A picture tells a thousand words and can often reach and move many more people than a feature article.

The media is hungry for good images and this is where the arts often has a head-start over other sectors. Drama, passion and the unexpected are our stock-in-trade.

Don't forget that most media outlets are also online, which means that even radio stations are looking for images and print media may also be able to use video online.

Photography requires just as much skill as writing, so always treat the photographer and the cameraman with the utmost respect and let them get on with their job!

Commissioning photography

Most publicists will commission photography. Often this will be shooting dress rehearsals, photographing artworks or artists.

Here are some basic guidelines. The photographer/cameraman needs to know:

  • where, when and how long you expect the shoot to take
  • if you intend to use the photos for purposes other than the media (brochure, catalogue, advertising, etc)
  • if it's digital photography, whether you need a printed proof sheet (a very good idea, because it saves you scrolling through hundreds of images on your computer) and will pay for editing (that is, the photographer selects the best images or usable images)
  • what are the 'iconic' moments in a show or what it is you want to convey about the artist or company
  • when he or she can become familiar with the project/product (watch a rehearsal to make a shot list, tour the building or meet the artists)
  • who will organise props, make-up and costumes if this is a set-up shot
  • how you want the images delivered (digital, large format slides, prints, SP Betacam, etc)

Sometimes, a newspaper or television station will allow an arts company to use their images and footage. There will usually be a fee involved and there needs to be a written agreement about how, when and where you can use the imagery and the credits required.

A photographer charges a daily or hourly rate for the shoot and will charge additional time if you would like he or she to do the editing and for out-of-pocket costs such as film and processing, if digital photography is not used.

Selecting images

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you are selecting publicity images.

What story does the image tell? Is it the right story?

If the picture makes a show look like a frivolous night out when it's a challenging four hours of theatre, then this probably isn't the right shot to use.

Will it help to sell the product or event?

In other words, will it appeal to your audience? Does it have emotion, drama, intrigue? Does it make you feel happy or sad?

Does it suit the audience of a specific media outlet?

Readers of a glossy women's magazine have different interests to readers of the street press, so images need to be selected accordingly.

If it is a colour image, will it reproduce well in black and white?

While most print media run at least some colour, there is the likelihood an image will run in black and white. This means a colour shot needs lots of contrast. A dark red costume against a black background will not reproduce well.

Will it reproduce well at a small size?

A busy, full-stage shot will look awful when reduced in size. Strong, simple close-ups are usually preferable.

Will it appeal to the media?

Is it eye-catching, does it convey action and emotion? Is it heart-warming or unusual? Children, animals and novelty are sure-fire winners. You can also add interest with unusual props or by juxtaposing different ideas, such as a fully frocked-up opera singer with surf lifesavers (which makes sense if the singer is a life-saver in her spare time).

Does it do justice to the artists?

Closed eyes, grimaces, backs of heads, feet in the wrong position (particularly for ballet), an unflattering angle that gives the actor double chins or makes him look fat are likely to annoy the artist and don't look good on the page. Always protect the image of your artists.

Providing pic-ops for the media

Some outlets insist on using images or footage that have been taken by their own in-house specialists. A notable exception being reviews, when they will use external images. Incidentally, make sure competing papers do not receive the same image.

Pitching a pic-op to a Pictures Editor is always a good idea. The media on any given day is looking for a range of experiences for their readers and feel-good or startling images are much sought after.

Always send a Picture Editor the media release. They might see an angle that the journalist does not. And it never hurts to call and pitch an idea for the news pages either. You can email an image to give the Picture Editor an idea of what it looks like. Or describe the elements you have that could make a great picture, for example:

  • stars light a cake for Sullivan's birthday (of G&S fame)
  • Isigawa's designs on the dance stage - this is no fashion parade but dancers wearing costumes for new work created by famous fashion designer
  • how many rose petals make a work of art - picture of artist in popular local rose gardens (artist creates art out of rose petals)

It helps to think in a single concept or idea. Some call this thinking in headlines.

If you are pitching to TV, don't forget this medium is hungry for material. Three paintings will not be enough to fill even the shortest news segment... and even worse, they don't move!

I can live or die by what's offered to me on any day, so I appreciate every phone call and suggestion... don't just send the media release to journalists because they don't know photos necessarily.
Picture Editor, Metropolitan Daily

Pic-op checklist


It needs to be somewhere that's easy for the media to reach. Somewhere that's recognisable to the reader or viewer - if there is an interesting/meaningful juxtaposition of ideas -- can work very well because it has local impact.


You need talent who are comfortable with a camera. They also need to be ready in goodtime. Camera crews are expensive to run and will get very grumpy if they are kept waiting.

Costumes, props, hair and make up

All of these add to the story. No-one wants to have to photograph a bunch of scrubby actors sitting around the drink fountain in the green room. If the media outlet makes an effort to come, you need to lay on the works. For example, a museum might have some artefacts on hand that will help to add meaning to the story a picture tells.


If there is no light, there is no picture. TV crews sometimes carry lighting but good natural light is safer.


Always check the background. The poster, telephone or sign behind the talent can sometimes add an unintentionally ironic twist to a picture. Always look after your talent by keeping an eye out for these potential bloopers (though always be tactful when pointing something out to the photographer or camera person).

Interview: Vanessa Duscio, Media Relations Manager for The Australian Ballet

Vanessa Duscio, Media Relations Manager for The Australian Ballet, talks to Sauce about one of her creative approaches to getting coverage.

If it isn't news, you need to find an angle and a pic-op is a great way to go.

Media are highly averse to be treated like 'free advertising' so a genuine newsworthy angle was required to secure upfront news coverage surrounding our 06 season launch in addition to arts stories. Our team needs to be constantly savvy about how to achieve cut-through in this highly competitive media environment. The arts journalists had been covered off in advance of our media briefing with a variety of angles. But we're not immune to the odd publicity stunt, so what we wanted to do for our 2006 launch was to create something for the Picture Editors that would attract wider coverage and interest new audiences in the world of ballet.

The must-see event in 2006 is a new production of the 19th century Petipa ballet, Raymonda by Stephen Baynes. His inspiration for the production is the golden age of Hollywood with an homage to the screen-goddess-turned-princess, Grace Kelly.

We held the launch at Her Majesty's Theatre, a wonderful historic theatre in Melbourne. We dressed a ballet dancer - the gorgeous Amber Scott - in character as the Hollywood star Raymonda with a glamorous dress, pointe shoes and a fur stole and sat her in a racy 1952 convertible pink cadillac at the entrance to the theatre.

Bang, great picture!

The hire of the cadillac cost $250 for one and a half hours (worth every cent) and we asked for the driver to be dressed in an old-style tuxedo and bow-tie. He parked the car on the pavement under the theatre awning with all the house lights flashing above giving it a Broadway feel. And on the front of the awning where they usually advertise what's playing in the theatre, we had: 'The Australian Ballet - Care to dance' (our slogan for the 06 season).


The media briefing was scheduled for 10.30am, so we invited all photographers to arrive at the call at 10am. This gave them about 20 -30 minutes to capture their best picture , offering each media outlet the opportunity to take a different shot of Amber . The set up outside the theatre also provided some extra drama and buzz on the street as media guests were arriving at the venue.

Inviting the media

My team sent out a special Media Alert to a national list of Chiefs of Staff / Picture Editors four days prior and followed up everyone the day before and morning of the event.

Who came

We enjoyed excellent results and attracted photographers from all the major daily newspapers including The Australian, Herald Sun , The Age and The Sunday Mail with The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph and Australian Financial Review choosing to publish another supplied pic. The Brisbane Courier Mail ran a story later specifically about the stunt.

The key messages

A stunning shot was designed to draw attention to the caption about the launch of The Australian Ballet's 2006 season (which in turn kick starts subscriptions sales). Readers are then delightfully surprised to learn that the gorgeous woman in the picture is in fact a dancer from The Australian Ballet (not a model or actress) in character as Raymonda without a tutu in sight. Raymonda is one of the highlights of the company's 2006 season and continues the tradition of breathing new life into the classics and engaging new generations of ballet lovers. It had all the right ingredients for a fantastic pic.

Other hooks

The company was also releasing highlights from recent audience research that showed ballet audiences are "intent on a good time", to quote The Australian.

Some of the headlines and captions

Pretty in a Pink Cadillac Herald Sun
Pic caption: Amber Scott was every inch a Hollywood starlet as she stepped out of a 1957 Cadillac yesterday to rev up the Australian Ballet's 2006 season launch at Her Majesty's Theatre. Raymonda is the first production.

Everything old is new in ballet revolution The Age
Opening paragraph: Wrapped in a soft fur stole as she perched oh-so elegantly on the back of a 1957 salmon pink Cadilliac, Amber Scott looked like a vision from another time. Every inch a dazzling '50s Hollywood starlet. Sitting in the Caddy outside Her Majesty's Theatre, Scott, an Australian Ballet dancer, was the flagbearer not just to another time, but several other eras, as the AB launched its 2006 season at the historic theatre.

Technical requirements


You will need images at 300 dpi (dots per inch) if you are supplying them digitally.

File type

A jpeg [joint photographers expert group] is a compressed image created from Adobe PhotoShop or similar, used to send images by email.

The size of the jpeg is no indication of the resolution of the image. This needs to be checked by opening the image in software such as PhotoShop.

Always check the format and resolution an outlet requires.

Colour transparencies

35mm film is suitable for most media use. Once lost the originals cannot be replaced. Your first generation transparencies should never leave your office, except to be duped. This means your dupes are only one generation away from the original. Dupes of dupes of dupes lose quality and the media will not use them.


SP Betacam, though analogue, is still quite a common format. Digital Betacam has established itself as the high-end industry standard and multiple generation copying results in no loss of quality. There is increasing acceptance of digital video formats, with 'mini digital video' - the domestic digital format - now frequently being used for broadcast documentary. Check with your local TV station what format they might accept.


Unless you have an agreement otherwise, the copyright resides with the photographer. The agreement you have with a photographer will need to assign the copyright to you outright or for specific use in specific territories.

As an aside, if the contract is with an individual rather than a company, you now also need to state the agreed fee includes superannuation contributions.

Storage of images & captions

Digital Storage

With the arrival of digital photography, storage and archiving of images has changed.

When you first move to digital photography, the most wonderful thing is how quickly you can access the shots and the fact everyone always gets 1st generation quality.

The most daunting aspect can be the sheer volume of pictures you receive; with the cost of film no longer an issue, photographers may take up to 25% more photographs during a shoot.

It is well worth paying the photographer an editing fee, so that he or she will cull the images down to the best 50, for example. It's the equivalent of the photographer's dots on the hard proof sheets you used to get in the old days of film. Whereas photographers used to charge a daily rate plus the cost of film and processing; now you are paying a daily rate plus an editing fee.

Some photographers will also provide hard and/or soft copy proof sheets to make picture selection easier for the client, or will load the photographs onto a website (with a secure login), where the client can download the images they require onto their computer.

Once you have approved images - i.e. those approved by the artist and the publicist for general use - these should be filed in an accessible place for others in the organisation to view. This might be a separate computer or a special place on a shared drive.

There are software programs for image storage that provide a form in which all the essential information is stored: name of photographer, copyright, name of performance/title of work, title of exhibition and name of the artist, year picture taken, etc. A bit like a website, you can file the images by artist, exhibition, year, play or opera... according to what works best for your company. A leading free online photo storage and sharing solution is flickr

However, there is always value in images not approved for publication, so these also need to be stored as useful for reference when a show is remounted. Or the spear carrier might later turn out to be a star and you will be glad you have that picture of his early career.

Hard copy storage

Each print is stored in a sleeve, which is contained in a ring binder folder for each production or exhibition.

Slides are mounted between protective glass, numbered and stored in customised plastic sleeves, that are the right size for the slide.


The caption must contain:

  • Name of work
  • Name of artist/s (from left to right)
  • Year of performance or exhibition or year in which the artwork was created
  • Photographer's credit (a legal requirement)

If you have space, it will also ideally include the names of the creative team or curator, whether this was a new production and the owner of the copyright. Remember, images may be all that remain of a production years down the track,

Digital captions

Captioning digital images is important. But at least you only have to caption an image once!

If you have PhotoShop - this is highly recommended if you are using digital photography a lot - you can reduce the image to 90% and use the white space below to write your caption. Careful publicists keep a locked master file of images at the right resolution complete with captions in a separate folder. This way they can't be tampered with.

Some publicists use the file name for the caption. But long file names can cause problems when sending to Picture Editors and are best avoided, if possible. When you are emailing the image to a media outlet, copy the caption into the body of your email, just to be safe.

Always check with the outlet in what format they would like to receive images.

Hard copy captions

The plastic sleeve should have pasted onto it, a caption to the prints of the photograph contained in the sleeve. This means you will know what photograph was there should the last photo be removed. This caption will also be pasted onto the reverse of each print (do not write on prints with ballpoint as this will show through). A company stamp with the company's name and the address for the return of prints is also a good idea.

For transparencies, a type-written sheet will provide captions relating to the numbers on the slide. If possible also stick a caption onto the frame that surrounds the slide. Indicate with an arrow which is the right way up, particularly important for abstract works of art. An orchestra with the violins on the conductor's right will also look a little odd, if the transparency is accidentally flipped.

I'm always after a fantastic picture. and if we get a fantastic picture we might even change the page to make that the main story.
Assistant Editor, Metropolitan Daily

Being interviewed by the media

Do your homework

The interview is not an end in itself. It is what is conveyed that matters.

Interview the journalist before they interview your talent or spokesperson. Journalists may be seeking comment as part of a story they are writing, in which case you need to know the context. Or, they may be seeking a stand-alone interview.

In order to help the journalist, you will need to find out:

  • what the story is about
  • are they getting comment from others (ask if they can tell you who these might be or what kinds of people are they seeking comment from)
  • what kind of information is the journalist looking for (journalists are usually prepared to email an overview of what subjects they would like to cover if not specific questions)

Not only does this provide a solid basis for your preparation, it helps make sure you are not caught unawares. It's always okay to buy time and it's also okay to say 'no' provided you have a good reason.

Remember respect for truth and the public's right to information are the underpinning principles of journalism. Journalists' Code of Ethics also requires them to use fair, honest and responsible means to obtain that information.

Speak to your audience

The readers, viewers or listeners are your audience, not the journalist. When you are crafting your key messages, have the audience in mind.

Identify & brief appropriate talent

It is usually appropriate to have one spokesperson for corporate issues, usually the CEO. It is a good idea to seek professional media training for people who are constantly in the media spotlight.

For specific stories relating to the 'art', work out who will work best for the story and the medium. Radio and television require clear, articulate and personable speakers, who will be easily understood by the audience.

When you are briefing the talent, make sure they know the 4Ws. One publicist used to write them on the palm of the talent's hand! It's a good idea also when you confirm the interview in writing with the talent to:

  • describe the key messages being used for the show
  • list the kinds of questions the journalist might ask
  • describe the type of program or outlet, when it is published or goes to air, and who will be listening or reading the piece, what the journalist is like.
Tips for the interview

Publicists usually give advice rather than being the interview subject. The following tips are, therefore, aimed to give the publicist some background knowledge of interview techniques. However, this is best delivered through professional media training.

Gain the attention of the audience not the journalist

  • Lead with your best lines
  • Be animated and enthusiastic
  • Use short sentences that standalone - these are great grabs (practise these in advance)
  • Localise - find a connection with the listener or reader

Deliver your messages

Earn the right to steer. Listen to the question, briefly respond, then steer the answer back to the points you want to make. 'I am not aware of that. The truth is....' Note that not answering the question at all creates a bad impression.

Spell it out. Stress the significance of your messages to the audience. 'I think the most exciting thing is it's the first time these artists have worked together since the 80s.' 'In a nutshell, this portrait is about X's battle with depression.'

Prove it. Back up claims with facts, statistics and anecdotes.


Say 'no comment': explain why you can't answer the question. 'I don't have the precise details right now'

Use negatives: always rephrase a journalist's negative words into the positive. 'risk' becomes 'benefits', 'danger' steer to 'track record' or 'safeguards', 'expensive' becomes 'value'. Respond to false accusations with 'On the contrary...'

Have an argument with the journalist, especially on air.

Be drawn into hypothetical situations.

Speculate on the position of others. 'You will have to ask them that question.'


Take control: 'before I answer that question, I'd like to tell you this story...' But don't forget to come back to the question.

Respect confidential information. 'This is information I am not at liberty to discuss'

Be yourself. A relaxed, enthusiastic person who is natural will always win hearts.

Listen well to questions to identify the springboard that will get your message across.


Everything is always on the record, even when the tape machine has been turned off.

Broadcast interview

The 3S's (simple, short and saucy) are most crucial during broadcast interviews. The audience can't review the material and will quickly get confused if you are too complicated, or bored if you use big words and long sentences.

Time is very limited in broadcast interviews, so every second counts. So try not to be sidetracked and keep to the point. Live-to-air interviews cannot be edited - which is an advantage - but time is limited so make sure you get your key messages and 4W's across.

Repetition is essential because the audience does not have the printed word to go back to. Repeat the name of the show, the title of the book as often as possible (within reason).

Avoid verbal tics like 'sort of' 'errs' and 'ums', rustling papers and unnecessary gestures.

Dress for the television program and its audience... but be yourself too.

Print interviews

Here you can take your time. Silence doesn't matter, so don't feel obliged to quickly leap in with the answers.

But you do need to be alert. As your relationship develops with the journalist, it's easy to say something personal or confidential that may come back to haunt you.

If you don't know the answer, you can always say you'll get back to the journalist.

Only in exceptional circumstances will a journalist supply their story for checking and usually only if there is complex information or data. Keep your comments to the 'facts' and if you wish to query their interpretation, again you must respond with 'facts'. Don't comment on journalistic style. It is not appropriate to ask a journalist if you can see a story before publication.

Interview - Anna Cerneaz talks to Sauce

Anna Cerneaz works with a number of music ensembles -- presenting everything from early to contemporary music -- in a range of roles from administrator to marketing, sponsorship and media relations. Anna talks to Sauce about some of the advantages non-mainstream arts companies can have when undertaking media relations.

Small is offbeat and often newsworthy

You can turn being 'small' into a positive. You can be that small, quirky, interesting 'something' that the media is looking for. You can sell that its off-beat and one of the best ways to find a story is to link in with something that's topical. For example, Martin Wesley Smith has written a song titled Recollections of a Foreign Minister for solo voice and piano. So I wondered if we could link this with the Cole Inquiry into the Australian Wheat Board and its exports to Iraq. I found the email address of the reporter who was covering this for ABC TV (and copied it to another news journalist who knew me). In the first email I outlined the idea, saying it might be a great adjunct to an AWB story.

I said the artists would be happy to come to the studio to record it and if they were interested I could send an MP3 file for them to listen to. (Never send an attachment with the first email, wait for the invitation.) I got an email back saying they were interested and so I emailed the MP3 file - always make sure attachments are small --- and he said 'this is terrific, let me work with it'. So fingers crossed it comes off. These things take time. You can't predict what will happen and you can never look as though you expect it either.

Australia handed over to France, for a day

One of the most successful media calls I organised was for the launch of Pinchgut Opera's production of the French Baroque opera Dardanus on Fort Denison on Bastille Day, July 14, 2005. Our basic line was 'If the French navigator La Perouse reached Botany Bay before Captain Phillip and the First Fleet, we might all be French by now. For Bastille Day the French are claiming Pinchgut Island back.' [Pinchgut Opera is named after the island]

We worked with the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the French Consulate, the Government Arts bodies and the Minister's Departments and achieved national coverage, The Sydney Morning Herald and AAP. We took everyone over to the island by water taxi where there was a flag handover from the then soon-to-be Minister for the Arts, Bob Debus, to the French representative. Pinchgut's musicians were dressed in French lieutenants' gear and they sang the La Marseillaise, the French National Anthem specially arranged by one of our chorus members. All for a total budget of $240 - and that was for morning tea and some French Champagne.

The name Pinchgut Opera was mentioned all over the place. And that's really all we were after, to raise the profile of our company and hits on our website went crazy.

As you can imagine it wasn't that easy to get all those people in the one place at the one time, with all wanting reassurances of substantial media coverage. It was touch and go right up to the wire. But I operate a 'total honesty' policy and never guaranteed a media presence until such time as I was sure.

Never break a promise

In the independent arts environment, there's always one or a few person/s who glue everything together and if that's you - you are run off your feet. When you are under-resourced, it can get a little bit hairy.

Even so, complete honesty is vital in your dealings with the media. Never break a promise to provide an exclusive. That journalist will always remember and because I work for so many ensembles any breach of faith would be detrimental to the other projects.

Make it fun and don't be too pushy

I will never forget visiting the 21st floor of The Sydney Morning Herald when I started out; the madness, the coffee cups, the tension and now when I send an email I always remember that early impression. You have to put yourself in the journalist's shoes. If a journalist has to think everything through in that environment with time on their shoulders, it's that much harder. You have to make it as easy as possible, thinking through what the story might be and what they will need to do it.

I was emailing as arts editor recently. I sent two emails one day, one the next and one the third day (all with different, vital information!) I said 'I promise this is my last email!'. Then the telephone call came through, and the story got up for the APRA-AMC Classical Music Awards. Try to keep the atmosphere light, have fun and don't be too pushy!!

It's not a matter of emailing a press release to a list (be it a great list). Find interesting fun ideas to convey your message for different journalists and then approach each personally, matching your story to their readers/listeners.

Managing a media controversy

The crisis A to Z

The following list provides examples of the kinds of things that might cause a crisis in the arts (or any organisation). Look through these and identify those that have or could occur in your situation. You might be surprised at how many apply. Don't forget that if you are funded by the taxpayer, then you are subject to public scrutiny in the media regardless of how big or small your organisation is.


Acquisitions and mergers
Acts of God
Annual reports


Bad debts
Bad reviews


Chemical abuse or dependency
Cost over-runs


Dwindling audiences


Employee injury
Equipment malfunction


Failing reputation


Government legislation
Government intervention
Government spending cuts


Human resource issues


Irritated reporters


Jumbled thinking


Knee-jerk reactions






No comment


Outrageous artworks




Quixotic response to serious situation








Unethical behaviour or content


Vexed employees







Characteristics of a crisis

A media relations crisis can exhibit one or more of the following characteristics:


An issue arises from left-field due to a leak or the vigilance of a particular journalist.

Insufficient information provided at the outset

A 'bad news' announcement that leaves too many questions unanswered forces journalists to dig deeper and go elsewhere to find the answers. Consequently, you lose some control.

Loss of control

A story grows legs and suddenly you are totally at the media's beck and call and find it difficult to control the messages conveyed.

Intense external scrutiny

Controversy is the life-blood of the media. Now you or your organisation are under the microscope with the media intensely interested in your every move.

Siege mentality

Under the fierce media gaze, an organisation ducks for cover utilising the 'I have nothing more to say' tactic in the hope it will all go away. 'No response' can create a vacuum, which the media may be determined to fill. A siege mentality can also inhibit the ability to think strategically and see things from the journalists' or readers' point of view.


The Board and CEO panic and find it difficult to think clearly under these circumstances, which can lead to the next point.

Short-term focus

In order to solve the immediate issue, messages and decisions are made that could commit the organisation to a particular unplanned course of action or a particular stance in the future. In the worst case scenario, this could conflict with the organisation's goals and business plan, leading to further crisis situations.

Preparing for a crisis

Be alert and detect issues early

For example, if you are about to release your annual report, look carefully at any major variations in the figures with previous years. Do you have your answers ready?

If you do not attend Board meetings, make sure you receive regular briefings with your senior manager or the CEO. Keep abreast of what is about to happen and feed into the decision-making process communications issues that you see arising.

Form a crisis management team

The composition of the crisis management team will depend on the issue. If, for example, it relates to a strike or pay negotiations, you will want to include the human resources senior manager. If you are a small organisation, you may decide to include the Chair of the Board. The team will always include the publicist and the CEO.

Define the issue

Defining the issue is not necessarily as simple as it sounds. The hot topic of a media controversy may be a cancelled production. But the issue is likely to run deeper than that. It could be the precarious financial situation which has been caused, at least in part, by new government legislation relating to employee entitlements. Or it could be you do not have a professional arrangement relating to understudies and covers. It is important to be clear about the issue as this will help you determine your key messages (and be prepared).

Gather information

You need to gather together everything you might need:

  • clippings about what has been written about this subject in the past
  • an understanding of the viewpoints different journalists are likely to take
  • facts and figures relating to an issue

Remember, truth first, spin second. In the face of a media controversy, truthfulness will be your best friend.

Identify the desired outcomes

When you are managing a media controversy, you need to know where you want to end up at the end of it.

You may want to ensure the financial deficit does not reflect badly on the artistic merit of what you do. You may wish to establish your credentials as being:

  • fair
  • accountable
  • well-managed
  • artistically challenging, independent, vibrant
  • a pioneer
  • a well-established and respected company

You may wish to be seen as supporting the right of artists to

  • artistic freedom, no matter how confronting or unusual a work may be

Clarify and agree key messages and be united

Decide on the three or four key messages that you will run through all your responses.

If poor box office is the cause of the deficit, the key messages could be as follows:

  • nine out of ten shows achieved or exceeded their budget
  • we misjudged the appeal of X, giving it too many performances at too high a budget
  • we will recover the loss by...

Your key messages will state the problem, put it in context, and explain what it is you are going to do to solve the problem.


Once you have worked out your key messages, it is critical you prepare a Question and Answer (Q&A). The time to do this is after you have all the facts and a good understanding of how the media is likely to respond. The questions will include the curliest questions you can imagine coming from the journalist who is least supportive of the company or this particular kind of issue. The answers you provide should be nutted out with the CEO, who is normally the sole spokesperson during a controversy.

Be united

Only one person, usually the CEO, should speak to the media on behalf of an organisation. If the media request to speak to another person in the organisation - the Chair, for example - make sure he or she is totally apprised of what has run, who is saying what, and works from the same briefing sheet you have prepared for the CEO.

Identify potential allies

In times of crisis, friends are important. Seek out friends with influence who may speak on your behalf. Give them the full story and keep them apprised of progress.

And don't forget important stakeholders, such as major funding agencies. You will also want to make sure they have your version of events and the context before the news hits the press.


Each controversy is different and may require different tactics. But here are some general tips.

Tell it all and tell it quick

Full upfront disclosure may be uncomfortable but it is almost always the best policy. Gaps or omissions are fuel for the media, make sure there aren't any. An upfront admission of the problem along with a statement about how this will be addressed is news for a day, and might leave the public feeling more sympathetic to you than before.

Make something happen for you, not to you.

Admit mistakes

The public responds well to an admission that you have got it wrong, provided this isn't a regular occurrence. Don't be afraid to admit mistakes and to explain how you will make good the mistake or how you will avoid this in future.

Don't add fuel to the fire

Of course, you must be resolute in defending your company or work. But don't add fuel to the fire through unnecessary rebuttals or debate. A letter to the editor is sometimes a good idea, especially if it corrects errors of fact. But it can fuel a longer running debate that could be damaging (and reach new audiences who might not have noticed the original story).

Don't avoid the media

A frequent complaint of the arts media is that publicists become elusive when it comes to a controversy. A publicist's job is to provide a service to the media at all times, even when the going gets tough. Always return their calls and remember you need the relationship to last beyond this particular issue.


This critical step helps you do better in the future and should also form a part of your report to the Board.

You will look at:

  • which media ran the story
  • headlines used for the stories (readers often only read the headlines)
  • themes that appeared in the coverage
  • possible implications of these themes to your business or for future coverage
  • whether your key messages were delivered
  • the negative and positive outcomes of the coverage
  • how you might have managed the controversy better (did you identify the issues correctly, were your key messages appropriate, etc.)
Three tips for managing a media controversy

David Lumb, General Manager (Sydney) for Porter Novelli, a national public relations agency in Australia, talks to Sauce about managing a media controversy.

The conundrum

The biggest decision a company has to make is to assess at the outset how important an issue may become in the media. Sometimes the correct decision may be NOT to respond, particularly if the issue has limited scope. But if you get this wrong, you're on the back foot right away because a vacuum quickly forms which the media needs to fill. And they will do so by obtaining views from wherever they can find them, government agencies, competitors, commentators, customers and so on.

A shining example

The way that I assess how well a company has handled a media controversy is by looking at the impact on company and/or brand reputation. If reputation is not adversely affected (or even enhanced) after an issue or crisis, then this suggests that the issue has been handled well. A recent example of a crisis that I believe was handled very well by the company concerned was Master Food and the Snickers/Mars bars extortion threat.

When the first alleged poisoning of a Mars and Snickers bar came to light, the CEO immediately became the face of the company. He provided information to the public on a regular basis, was available to media and even used media to demonstrate the extent to which Master Foods had gone in its recall, including for example inviting media to film transporters dumping millions of dollars worth of Mars and Snickers Bars that had been taken off the shelves.

They demonstrated the importance that Master Foods places on the customer, even though the extortion threat concerned a completely unrelated and separate company. The only possible silver lining in what was a fairly large grey cloud for Master Foods was if the episode actually enhanced the brands and increased consumer demand. In this case, I believe this was the outcome.

Three tips for managing a media controversy

  • Respond quickly and don't allow time for an information vacuum to develop and provide regular updates.
  • Respond in such a way that you are giving the issue the level of importance it deserves and which demonstrates a responsible approach. A major issue should be seen to be handled by the CEO or other appropriate senior representative of the company.
  • When you respond you must be as open and transparent as you can be. Companies who hide behind legal advice or similar, unnecessarily risk inviting suspicion which may well be unwarranted.

What role can an external PR firm play?

"A company may take advice from a raft of external specialists such as lawyers and public relations agencies and the PR company might also look after the logistics. But in my view it is the CEO who must be the face of the company during difficult times.


Why do it


Media relations is time-hungry and many small companies spend a significant proportion of their marketing budget on contracting a publicist. So it is important to know what worked, what didn't, and why.

A list of stories that appeared in which outlets on what date is a start. But it is by no means the whole story as quantity does not necessarily mean quality. Remember, media relations is all about achieving your objectives, not just obtaining coverage.

Future pitching

You need to identify who is interested in your work and the stories they have covered before you pitch a story to a particular journalist in the future. If they have already covered a particular angle, they won't want to repeat this same angle again.


By knowing what has worked and what hasn't, you can improve your media relations and extend your coverage.


  • results are not necessarily immediate and when assessed over a long time-period they could be substantial
  • evaluation is all about how you plan your media relations campaign - that is, if you do not know what your key messages are, who the key media were to target, or what the outcomes you were after, then it is impossible to evaluate the process or the results
Hierarchy of evaluation

There are three stages in conducting a media relations campaign and each stage needs to be considered during your evaluation.

  1. preparation
  2. implementation
  3. impact

Each stage is important. If you send out 100 media releases but only make two calls during stage 2, then it is extremely likely this may be the cause of poor coverage. If the preparation stage was beautifully considered and the content or offer to the media fantastic, then this will be a major factor in the success of campaign.

Monitoring the media

The essential component of evaluating media relations is to know what the media have said about you. Clippings are also important for other reasons: inclusion in touring kits for producers, quotes for reviews, acquittals to funding agencies, board reports, company noticeboards, brochures and so on.

1. Engage a media monitoring agency

You can engage a media monitoring agency who will, with the key words you supply, monitor the categories of media you request - that is, radio, television, dailies, weeklies, magazines and so on. You can narrow this down to a state or a city. A clipping service costs money, with fees usually calculated on a monthly subscription plus additional fees per clipping. With the acquisition of Rehame by Media Monitors, there is now one major media monitoring service across all media categories. in Australia.

Other monitoring services include:

2. Online

You can set up a free google alert (but be very precise with your search criteria) and request daily or weekly emails. Most major media outlets can be accessed online and some have RSS services (newsfeeds that are automatically sent to your computer). These systems aren't foolproof but they have the advantage of being free!

3. DIY

Buy, read and clip the relevant print media and order from the stations tapes or videos of broadcast coverage. There will be a charge for the latter.

4. Call the media

You can call all media that you believe have run a story and confirm whether the story actually ran. It isn't a good idea to ask a busy print journalist to send you a clipping of the article because this isn't their job. But you can see if the receptionist will send you a copy of the paper for the day the story ran.

Of course, if you have been accompanying talent to all broadcast interviews, you can track the media during the course of the campaign. The secret to this is good note-taking.

5. Libraries

Most libraries keep copies of major media publications which you can refer to and photocopy.

Methods & methodologies

1. Input measures

This involves you providing an objective assessment of whether the input into the media relations planning process and the content of the campaign were adequate and appropriate. This is an important component of evaluation as too often we go out to the media without quality content or sufficient background knowledge of the subject or enough information that is either newsworthy or suitable for the time and context. Experienced publicists will alert management of these deficiencies at the outset. But sometimes even die-hard publicists, with the benefit of hindsight, will realise planning was the weak link.

2. Output measures

Output measures relate to the number of stories pitched, the number of media releases circulated, the number of media events held etc.

3. Outcome measures

Outcome measures relate to what has happened as a result of the activity you have conducted (outputs). Outcome measures come in varying levels of sophistication, and effort and expense.

Research: because a story appears, it does not mean it was acted upon or even read. The ultimate evaluation includes systematic research and/or point-of-sale questions to ascertain whether the objectives of the campaign were achieved. Did the story change minds or encourage people to buy or visit your attraction.

Clippings: that is, the hefty tome of clippings you bind neatly into a book after a season or exhibition. This is sometimes referred to as the 'thud' factor, but this is an unsophisticated report if no attempt has been made to distil the contents of the clippings and evaluate their content.

Reach: this involves measuring the reach of a campaign by calculating readership or viewership figures, geographic and demographic spread, and possibly frequency levels.

Advertising evaluation equivalents: this methodology calculates the dollar value of the space if you had had to pay for it. While the figures can sound great in your board report, this isn't a stringent measure. Do you deduct dollars if the coverage was negative, the placement poor or didn't contain your key messages? What value do you place on a large image compared with a feature story? Do you use the casual rate or the contract rate?

Content analysis: this methodology is easier to implement than research and the methodology is more stringent than just supplying a bunch of clippings. Sauce recommends using this method if at all possible.

First, you start a simple spreadsheet with the name of the campaign.

On the left hand vertical axis, make a list of items you would like to measure such as:

  • 'pre-agreed' key messages
  • inclusion of a picture
  • placement on the page
  • whether the article was entirely positive, mostly positive, neutral, entirely negative or mostly negative (particularly useful for the release of your annual program). In some cases, you might even add the term 'hostile'.

On the top horizontal axis list the media you identified in your media relations strategy as prime targets for you to try to obtain coverage in.

Against this list you give a +1 or -1 value.

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