Using the Mass Media Effectively
The mass media is a vast and powerful sector of our society that includes television, radio, newspapers, magazines, other mass circulation print vehicles, and outdoor advertising. For HIV/AIDS prevention public information outreach, this category also can include shoppers' weeklies, newsletters published by businesses, periodicals distributed by organizations, newsletters from major employers, school/college newspapers, closed circuit television, and broadcast radio stations.
Opportunities for Messages in the Mass Media
The media offer more than news and public service announcements:
Beyond "hard" news, consider "soft" news that you help create:
- an upcoming activity;
- an event;
- findings from a public opinion poll or survey;
- a local angle to a national story;
- news appropriate for health or community features; and
- community advocacy of an issue that creates news.
For entertainment, consider:
- features in print or on television;
- talk and call-in shows;
- health and advice columns;
- consumers' own stories; and
- interviews with local personalities.
In addition to news or public service announcements for television and radio, ask for the following:
- businesses to sponsor paid advertisements or add an HIV prevention message to their ads;
- stations to include reminders as parts of station breaks;
- broadcast associations to help negotiate better rates for paid ads;
- the media to help in producing PSAs or video segments;
- consideration before a newspaper editorial board;
- placement of your spokesperson on news, public affairs, talk shows, call-ins, or editorial segments;
- paid advertisements; and
- co-sponsorship of events within the community.
Editorial time and space includes:
- letters to the editor; and
- print or broadcast editorials (e.g., on local policies, access to services).
Table B3: The Character of the Media
What Makes News
Remember that you are competing with all the other news happening on a given day. Be sure that your story has something extra to offer, such as:
- Widespread interest or interesting angle.
- A local angle.
- Human interest.
- Celebrity involvement.
- Impact on the community.
Note: CDC's two guides, HIV/AIDS Media Relations and HIV/AIDS Managing Issues, provide additional information for working with the mass media. Also, the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) has prepared a "hands-on" guide for handling media interviews. (See
References p. 74.)
Working with the Mass Media
Involve media professionals in planning. Like many other people, they prefer to be involved from the beginning and to feel their opinions are valued, not just their access to media time and space.
Develop a media contact list. The public information office of the state health department probably can get you started. Also, guidance is provided in CDC's Media Relations guide. (See
Establish relationships with the media; concentrate on those media outlets your target population is most likely to see, hear, or read. Articulate a role for media that will contribute to objectives and capture the attention of the target population; build capacity to interact effectively with the news media.
Media relations can be labor intensive. To make sure that the efforts pay off, consider the following:
- Start with a media plan that includes a variety of strategies; coordinate that plan with other program strategies.
- Quickly and competently respond to media queries and deadlines.
- Plan media activities over time, rather than one event at a time.
- Track media results, report successes, and plan for improvement.
- Look for opportunities to turn existing events and stories into new angles to support the media strategy.
- Recognize the contributions of media, e.g., send letters.
- Periodically review what has been accomplished, what needs improvement, and what to do next.
To identify media strategies, consider:
- What has not been covered and could be covered.
- Which media outlets might be interested in doing more.
- Which journalists, columnists, or media personalities might be interested.
Media strategies should:
- Contribute to program objectives.
- Be within your means to accomplish.
- Consider benefits and limitations of business and other partners.
Prioritize media strategies by weighing expected benefits, resources required, and how each could be "sold" to the media. Then, work first on those with the greatest potential. Use information about the public's interest in HIV/AIDS to convince the media to participate.
Assess exposure in the media:
- Quantity – how much coverage (seconds, column inches) was received.
- Placement – where the coverage appeared in relation to the target audience's media habits.
- Content – whether it was likely to attract attention (e.g., with a provocative headline or lead in), favorable, accurate, incomplete, misleading, or negative information.
- Feedback – whether the target population and/or decision makers in the community responded in a tangible way.
Ways to track media efforts:
- Keep a log of media calls – track what was said, identify who to call back, identify when coverage will occur; use the log to update media contact lists.
- Clip and review print coverage; tape to review television and radio coverage (purchase videos of coverage from stations or commercial sources when high-quality videos are needed, e.g., for presentations).
- Request from stations a monthly printout that lists when PSAs were shown and the time donated (dollar value).
- Include an audience prompt in messages, and monitor who responds.
Provide media spokesperson training for staff who work with the media. Staff training should also:
- Follow the recommendations in CDC's Media Relations and Managing Issues guides.
- Explore options for working with the media beyond PSAs, including establishing media relationships and message placement.
Table B4: Media Idea List
Go to Hotlines