Talking to the media – what IBT members say
Last week, at IBT’s networking breakfast our members met in-person to share what they have learnt from working with the media during the Ukraine crisis and discuss how this could impact their relationship with the media during other crises. Katie Tiffin reflects on the main takeaways from the discussion.
As the war unfolded in Ukraine, media interest in the conflict was so great that the general consensus during the discussion was that NGO media teams found their main task was meeting the demand for stories, rather than trying to generate media interest in the crisis.
DEC’s Ukraine appeal generated 18,000 media mentions in its first two weeks compared with 900 mentions in the same time period for its Afghan appeal. This clearly reflected the media’s appetite for stories about Ukraine. Barney Guiton, Communications and Brand Manager at DEC, explained that the media were particularly interested in stories that connected the conflict to the UK in some way. He also highlighted the media interest in the story of an Afghan family who sought refuge in Ukraine after fleeing Afghanistan last summer only to be forced to flee again as Russian troops advanced. It was picked up by a range of outlets, including Sky, ITV and The i.
Insights from media trips to Moldova and Ukraine
Whilst DEC’s team was working with the media from their UK base, Emily Wight, Global Media Manager at Save the Children, spent two weeks in L’viv as a spokesperson, highlighting the impact of the war on children. She was interviewed live by a number of TV and radio outlets, including CNN and LBC. Emily was surprised to find that she didn’t get the tough questions she expected. The media wanted first person testimony of how things looked on the ground.
Being based in Ukraine helped secure media interviews, but it was also a challenge to find new angles to push to media given the limited time in-country and long distances to travel to programmes. Her advice to other charity spokespeople is to make the most of connections with colleagues based in the country, using every opportunity to meet partner organisations and meet others who could verify what was happening on the ground.
Plan International had a similar approach to working with the media but also chose to emphasise the work of their local partners in Moldova, where tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees have fled to. Kathryn Irwin, Head of Global Media and PR flew over to Moldova to deliver media training to local partners and work through some of the challenges of conducting interviews and sharing stories from displaced and potentially vulnerable people.
Will coverage of Ukraine help generate interest in other international stories?
The appetite for stories about Ukraine and generosity shown through the record breaking amount of money donated to the DEC’s appeal indicate that there is a strong public interest in international issues and a willingness to help from people in the UK. Our members felt that NGOs need to do more to capitalise on this public support. Perhaps the media relationships developed during the Ukraine crisis will help to shine the spotlight on other international issues in the future.
There was a consensus that the media has been too slow to respond to reports of famine and drought in the Horn of Africa and the worry is that media interest might not pick up until the death toll is much higher. And then many lives will have been lost unnecessarily.
Katie Tiffin is IBT’s Communication and Membership Officer