Philanthropy as a broccoli?

Last week I had the opportunity to present some of the findings of media monitoring on philanthropy, on Annual Conference of PR Society of Serbia; the panel was exploring media relation toward CSR and corporate philanthropy. Though findings – some of which some were already shared here – seemed to confirm opinions of corporate PR experts (media are not that interested, they do not provide sufficient information etc.) presence of the “other side” made panel discussion really interesting. Zoran Stanojevic, editor and presenter of Oko Magazin, one of the Serbian Broadcasting Agency (RTS) TV shows with highest ratings shared his opinion:

 ‘Imagine media as a restaurant, where editor is maitre d’ and we, journalists are waiters; public is customer. So, restaurant needs to decide what should be offered –  a steak and potatoes and rich chocolate dessert or maybe a healthy meal such as kale or broccoli? Well, restaurant needs customers and to make money so it will offer the most attractive thing on the menu. Honestly – at least in the region – that would be steak and potatoes. Yes, broccoli is good, broccoli is healthy but… it’s still broccoli!”

And – as it turns out – stories about philanthropy are often broccoli! So can we change that? And If yes, how? Zoran believes that we can, but we (those of us who want to put story in the media) need to learn more about how media works. And he was kind enough to share some of his knowledge and experience…

First, forget about press releases! Zoran says: “I don’t want to see some press release that doesn’t answer any of my questions. I don’t want to hear usual lines. Even if I see something that might sound interesting I’ll want to ask more questions”. So, make a direct contact, either with journalist or editor. It is better if it is editor, but journalist that carries enough ‘weight’, whose word is listened can also work.

Next, you need to pitch the story. So you give your story and this is what happens next: “My first question to anyone is a difficult one – but this is the question that will make or break the deal. I ask: ok, but why should I care about that? If you don’t have good answer on that question, then no one else is going to care as well. And saying – this is a good thing is not a good answer. Because this is me asking you – why should I eat this broccoli? If your answer is – because broccoli is healthy, well I certainly am not going to eat it!” 

This approach won’t work with media!

And then comes a moment when journalist or editor says, NO – that is, s/he actually says Yak, broccoli! But Zoran warns: ‘if you give up after my first difficult question or if you go away after I say no to you after two sentences, that for me, means that you don’t believe in your story. If you really believe that your story should be out there you will be persistent and on my first no, you’ll say wait a minute – you didn’t hear everything!”

And if you cross that bridge, and editor/journalist says ok let’s hear more, then it is the time to be prepared to answer all sort of other difficult questions; these are questions with which journalist/editor is checking your credibility, credibility of facts in the story (it has to be genuine story – not made up for media or TV – which apparently happens more often then we know), is there something lurching behind that will come and bite journalist’ backside once when story gets out, your motives, angle, how much this will cost network/media etc…  

And… it’s not over! If you answer all of those, you get to work together with journalist/editor to serve your broccoli so that everyone will want to eat it. What your story needs to be, for example is: unusual – something that is rare, something that is not every day event or already seen; OR your story must ‘connect’ with people, it needs to tell about something that they personally recognize, sympathize with, understand, identify with… OR it needs to be an example, something that people can look at and say – look this is good, maybe I/we/ can do this… Zoran says “You need to think about how to add some incentive… Add some tasty sauce on the side by making an interesting action! Bring famous sportsperson so that we can say to the public: look we are offering you broccoli, but you’ll be eating it with Novak Djokovic! Make your broccoli more attractive and tasteful!’

Sounds like a lot of work to get one story out, definitely! Still, according to Zoran, good thing is that when you make two or three good stories, you’ll become a trusted source, and work gets easier, because editor/journalist trusts you and they will make an exception for you, even if – sometimes – your broccoli isn’t that tasty or perfectly served! And since we need media to get our stories about philanthropy out, seems to me that we’ll definitely need to learn to cook that broccoli in a different way!!

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Aleksandra Vesic