Use of the media
SAVE was founded in the belief that endangered historic buildings are news. Only by drawing the attention of the public to these threats would the buildings we cared about ever be saved. Mobilising public opinion has been our watch word from the start.
Of course, there is another view. This was put by an MP of long experience to the House of Commons Environment Committee: 'If you want to save these buildings, you will only save them by stealth.'
The root of our belief is that people do care about the places where they live, work and shop, that they are concerned about the devastation meted out to historic towns since the Second World War. Simon Jenkins made the point forcefully; 'Go to any public meeting on an environmental issue and you will find it far better attended, with feelings running far higher, than any political meeting held in the same place'.
Articles in the local press are extremely effective. Most local papers are sympathetic to heritage stories and will give them space, particularly if there is an immanent threat. But even if the paper has been hostile do not be discouraged. Be sure to put your case as clearly and strongly as possible. It is important that you appear positive and optimistic.
Equally, do not be discouraged by hostile letters to the editor or even hostile editorials. Controversy adds to the debate and increases coverage. The more publicity you get, the more people will be likely to support you.
Compiling and keeping a press list
Many organisations have press lists, which they keep as closely guarded secrets. The truth is that reporters are constantly swapping jobs and assignments and that your contacts may be away when you most need them. So, while it is always worth seeking out the names of journalists who have a special interest in your subject, and if appropriate sending press releases to them at home as well as to their office, always be sure to send your releases to the newsdesk and perhaps to one or two others on the paper too if it is appropriate.
Find out which reporters on the local newspaper and radio are most likely to be interested. You can do this simply by thumbing through back copies of the newspaper and seeing who write environmental articles. Likewise, ring up the radio station and find out who reports on these subjects.
With the advent of social media, journalists find information more easily, however it is still a good idea to cultivate relations with them and establish who is interested in your story.
Radio and Television
Local radio stations are usually hungry for news and will be keen to interview anybody with a strong point of view. This is a key opportunity to get your case across. Stress the appeal of the building and make as much as you can of its history and contribution to the street.
Good television news coverage is of course a fantastic bonus, though it may be difficult to get for a modest but charming building. Ring or email the local television newsroom. There, they are likely to listen sympathetically and you may be lucky and catch them on a quiet day. But do not be downhearted if your story is not taken up, or indeed ousted at the last moment because a major story comes up: your campaign will not suffer in the long run.
Importantly, if you are interviewed for television or radio, prepare a few sound bites. This means that if your interview is cut down, you are still getting your message across.
It was Simon Jenkins who set out the basic modus operandi for SAVE's initial work - the press release.
Press releases must be pithy, and full of substance and strong, clear comment. Be positive about what your are trying to achieve; try to avoid word's such as 'saddened', 'ruinous', 'hopeless'. The release must contain all the relevant information - and preferably a local contact as well - that a journalist will need to write the story. The press will be looking for a strong statement of your own point of view, but you must not present a wholly one-sided picture. Be sure to say why owners wish to demolish a building, however strongly you may disagree with their view. A reporter has to present both sides of the picture and the developer may not be willing to speak to the press.
Reporters like facts, dates, statistics and, above all, the 'juicy quote'. Every press release should include a quotable, provocative statement from an officer or committee member of the organisation involved.
Press releases should be eye-catching and on boldly headed paper. They do not need to look smart; in fact, it is better if they do look rapidly produced, in response to an immediate threat. Leave the PR firms to produce glossy release and charge their clients accordingly, and let your look like the raw news that it is.
Most importantly, make sure that you have a good image, or images for your press release, that the press can use. This might make the difference between them running a story, and not. If you know a friendly photographer, ask them to take a picture. If you have taken images from the web, be sure to credit them, in order to avoid any possible copyright complications.
The key point in writing a press release is to encapsulate the message in the first sentence. Do not fall into the trap of trying to write an introductory paragraph setting the situation in context; you are not writing and essay. The main aim is to catch the interest of the reader in the first few phrases.
It is also important to keep your fellow campaigners in other groups informed of what you are doing as they will read your releases and circulate them further.
If it is a story aimed simply at the local media, two or three press releases may be sufficient, sent to the reporter on the local evening paper and the local radio station.
At the national level, press conferences can often prove to be a waste of time and effort. Journalists can digest a story from a good press release in a few minutes, while attending a press conference is going o take an hour, not including travelling time. Of course if there is a very important issue, such as the launch of a major campaign, a press conference may be worthwhile. The judgement you have to make is Who will attend? The top reporters may not be able to spare the time and you could end up with the story being written by someone rather less familiar with the subject, whereas a quick telephone call or fax could mean that the story gets to the person you want.
At a local level, a press conference can be very useful. A reporter's interest may be stimulated by attending an event, and you will have the chance to talk to them and gain a view of their interest and views. Even if only two or three people from the media attend, it may be a good moment to organise an interview, making sure to flesh out the story with quotations from a range of people.
In addition, press conferences are an opportunity to galvanise support.
If there does not seem to be any response to your press release, do not be afraid to follow it up with a telephone call. Journalists do not mind being reminded as long as they do not think you are pressing them to write something they cannot be sure will be printed. Once the media are interested, you and your fellow campaigners must make yourselves available for interviews and photographs. Most interviews, including radio, can be carried out on the telephone, with the reporter asking a few prepared questions. Try not to be nervous. Remember the most important thing is to get your message across clearly. Often the interviewer will need to play the devils advocate, to put the other side's case forward. Reiterate the arguments in you press release calmly but firmly. Prepare three points to make in advance and stick to them, almost regardless of the questions. Don't be put off by questions that you may think should not even have to be considered, such as, "Why should we keep old buildings?" - answer them as calmly and eloquently as you can. SAVE is asked this in almost all interviews!
Be sure to keep all links to articles/press cuttings. Circulate them as widely as possible. You can often get one of the national societies to write a rejoinder supporting your cause, which can be included in a dossier, together with notable letters and reports, for future use.