Is This On the Record? Women Take Charge of Media Relations

In the brief time I've lived in Los Angeles I've found myself in some amazing justice-focused spaces. Yesterday it was Women Action Training Project's "Taking Charge of Media Relations" workshop held at the NCJW-LA Council house in West Hollywood. What I have come to love about LA is that everything happens here. Whether the city publicly gets credit for it or not, there is a long and strong network of social activists and from what I can tell a majority of them are women.

Gender aside, it is not a secret communications professionals are vastly underutilized by many non-profit organizations. Upon this realization Women's Action Training Project tapped dynamic duo Emily Lezner of Lenzner Strategies and her principal Sandra Fluke to explain what to do and what not to do when reaching out to the media.

Led by NCJW-LA Director of Community Engagement & Special Programs Maya Paley, the training goal was straightforward. Arm anyone working in communities and for causes with a useful understanding of how to obtain media coverage and what to do when the reporter wants to talk to you.

Prior to the workshop a media familiarity survey was sent out to identify the communication challenges participants were grappling with most. Based on Lezner's presentation three key needs emerged:

  1. When organizations do not have a huge social presence or staff, steps for presenting their own work, achievements and success stories
  2. How to make the pitch to reporters and what do you do to make sure your pitch is successful
  3. Having relations with journalists. How organizations and individuals should court them so they can get favorable media coverage

Getting your foot in the relationship door with journalists is of the utmost importance and may even require some cold calling. Still, it's a necessary first step to knowing who the journalist is, what he or she writes about and the best way to communicate with them.

Attendees ranging from intern to Executive Directors were especially keen on how to create their own buzz in anticipation that journalists would notice them. Lezner expressed the importance of utilizing bloggers and social media in achieving this aim. These days everyone, including the journalists are online, be it Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr. Moreover, when publications decline to publish a story on their main pages, it may be posted on the publications official blog or that of the writer presenting alternative outlets for exposure.

No successful media training could ignore the process and need for crisis control when a story takes an unforeseen or unusual turn. Lezner moved deftly between all of these points, incorporating her own stories and examples from the field, especially her work with Fluke. It was equal parts best practices and also learn from my mistakes.

Women's Action Training Program Chair, Sandra Fluke

It was under Lezner's instruction that public interest advocate Sandra Fluke maneuvered the national media as she spoke out on behalf of women's health in 2012. As urgent as it is for activists to know how to connect with media for coverage, they must also know what to do when the mic or camera is pointed at them and they become the interview subject.

Finding out who's in the audience, interview length, format, who will be interviewed with you or after you, for a truly successful interview. Another pro tip Lezner suggests? Practice your message points incessantly. The primary goal of any in person interview is to stay on message. Having this information up front and at top of mind will insure you sound knowledgeable and alert you if the coverage you're receiving is even going to be helpful in advancing your mission. Lezner noted, "You don't have to be a part of the story to be a part of the story." Meaning sometimes it is ok to turn down the interview as you can still get the results you want with out going on the record.

The four-hour training concluded with q & a and participants sharing what they learned or how they intend to use their newly enhanced media skills. Through Women's Action Training Project, NJCW-LA will continue to equip both women and men for effective media organizing in two additional trainings happening in August and September. Space for upcoming workshops are limited, but will hone in on how to frame the message now that you know how to reach journalists. Followed by crafting the all important opinion editorial, which continues to be a tried but tested means of galvanizing local communities. Visit for more information.