When your organisation is embroiled in a major media story, maintaining and adjusting strategy as events unfold is risky, stressful and time consuming.
But it’s worth taking the time and care. After all, the most important element of an effective media strategy is to be absolutely clear about your message, says Phil Glendenning, President of the Refugee Council of Australia and Director of the Edmund Rice Centre.
The Council has maintained a high media profile throughout the continuing controversy over the treatment and processing of asylum seekers. Does the media strategy come up at every board meeting?
"Yes, both the CEO and I report to the board. Board members then discuss the strategy, considering ways we can better represent our members and promote the policies that we’re advocating for, as well as just responding to things we’re advocating against.
"Stories often break outside of your management control and the scope of your strategic plan, so we need to keep things flexible but on track. The board sets the parameters for comment and we’re able to trust in good professional staff who can use their judgement."
What’s your feeling about nominating the media spokespeople for an organisation? In the Council’s case it’s both you and the CEO. Should it always be both?
"No, it depends on the issue and there are things we’d work out in advance. An issue that relates to the day-to-day implementation of policies set by the board should go to the CEO. Issues about the council itself or the council’s position, or about a particular area of expertise that I might have, that’s when we would work out who does what, and when.
"Also, in this job, both of us have to travel a fair bit, so it’s good to have somebody else who can speak publicly when needed."
Do you have any tips for NFP directors who don’t have quite as much media experience as you?
"The main thing is to be prepared. You want the media on tap, not on top. You have to be very clear what you want to say and make sure you say it, rather than find yourself arguing about things that aren’t essential to what you want to communicate.
"The second thing is, don’t get yourself caught in ‘a holding pattern over Mascot’. If you’re talking to media you have to know how to ‘land’ so your message is succinct, clear and it’s over."
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