Engaging the media
In addition to engaging in formal processes to have your say, you should also consider using the media to raise awareness of your issue and seek public support of your position.
Press releases and press briefings keep the media informed of your campaign.
Press briefings (a one to two page summary of the issues and campaign activities) are useful to provide to journalists who specialise in environmental reporting, or who have expressed an interest in reporting on your issue.
Press releases are useful to notify the media of major events relating to your campaign.
- express your most important point in the heading and first paragraph;
- avoid getting bogged down in technical detail;
- deal with one issue at a time;
- keep your press release clear and concise (maximum one page); and
- include the name of your group and contact details.
Press releases sent to a particular person are more likely to be read. Contact relevant journalists before and after the event you want them to cover.
Radio and Television
Prepare what you are going to say before an interview and condense it into about three sentences. In a thirty second timeslot on television or radio news, you will often only be able to make one point.
Decide on that point in advance and repeat it during the interview, rather than trying to make many points and possibly having only having what you consider to be a minor point reported. If possible, have a chat with the reporter beforehand to make sure they have enough information to ask relevant questions of you.
The internet can be useful for raising awareness about your issue. This can involve setting up a website and using social media tools such as facebook and twitter. If you set up a website remember that defamation laws apply to material on the internet.
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in campaigning. Because of their wide reach and immediate nature, sites like Twitter and Facebook can help you to build your campaign, grow your supporter base, and get the word out about your action quickly.
An information sheet, or fact sheet, can reach a lot of people. Here are some useful tips:
- keep the information simple and accurate;
- keep it short, no more than one page;
- state the most dramatic or influential aspect in the first paragraph;
- contact other environment groups to find out if they have useful information you can use;
- distribute the fact sheet at community events, stalls or through a letterbox drop;
- avoid making defamatory statements;
- quote the sources of information;
- include suggestions for action, such as writing a letter, donating money or volunteering; and
- include telephone, fax and email contacts and a website address.
Winning and Losing
Issues are often not won in a single battle but may be successful in the long term by changing public opinion. Failure can be demoralising and burn-out is common for individuals who take on the burden of a long campaign.
'Winning' or 'losing' may also be a false dichotomy in many (but not all) environmental issues. Community involvement in many proposed developments has often resulted in the considerable modification of proposals (through conditions, etc.) which may satisfy or at least placate the community. In this respect, always be aware of and defend your bottom line.
Campaigns can hibernate for a while. This can give you time to revitalise, reorganise and get new blood into the campaign. Consider keeping your network and mailing lists active so you don't lose contacts.
There is nothing wrong with admitting defeat, or in putting a campaign on hold until circumstances change. This is particularly so if the issue is one of general principle, rather than a particular development issue. Social change may take time and the right set of circumstances.
The message: be patient (in some cases), but be prepared. If you decide to pull out, try to record the circumstances so that other groups can learn from the experience. There is as much to learn from failure as from success stories.
This project has been assisted by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust.