Cover Image
close this bookSanitation Promotion (SIDA - SDC - WSSCC - WHO, 1998, 292 p.)
close this folderGaining political will and partnership
close this folderPrinciples and guidelines
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAdvocacy for sanitation - Sara Wood1 and Mayling Simpson-Hébert2
View the documentMobilizing the media for sanitation promotion - WHO, Geneva, Switzerland
View the documentMobilizing partners for sanitation promotion - Sara Wood1 and Mayling Simpson-Hébert2
View the documentPrivate-sector involvement in promoting sanitation - Sara Wood1
View the documentSocial marketing for sanitation programmes - Sunil Mehra1

Mobilizing the media for sanitation promotion - WHO, Geneva, Switzerland

The media can be one of the most effective advocacy vehicles available. The objective is to get the media interested in sanitation and motivate journalists and reporters to write about it in newspapers and talk about it on radio and television.

Help to mobilize the media can be found among people and organizations that have had previous experience, such as multi- and bilateral organizations, NGOs, and external support agencies or from organizations which specialize in this function, such as public relations companies. You can, however, achieve much yourself by being systematic in your approach and following the practical steps outlined below. Because the media are organized in different ways in different countries, for example, in some countries media outlets are state run, while in others they are in the hands of the private sector, or it can be a combination of both. It is necessary to take this into account and tailor your approach to the circumstances of the media in your own country.


Develop a plan for mobilizing the media

Before you approach the media, you need to develop a plan outlining what you want to achieve and the actions you will need to take to be successful. This is often called a Media Strategy (see pg. 34 for an example). You will find, once you have read this article, and Advocacy for sanitation and Mobilizing partners for sanitation, writing such a plan will be quite straightforward.

Develop an information base

Good information is the basis of a successful relationship with the media. The media need facts from a credible source to use in their reports. One of the most important steps, before you even contact the media is to gather the data to make a case for sanitation. See “Developing an information base” in Advocacy for Sanitation. Do not underestimate the importance of having your facts well organized. The media will not take the time to research these things for themselves, and without facts they cannot make their reports or file their articles.

Choose only a few key messages

Many others are competing for the attention of the media. Your time may well be limited to a few seconds in front of a television camera, or a few minutes in a news conference. Therefore, it is necessary to select your messages carefully. Keeping to only one or two key points will enable you to repeat them more frequently which will help people remember them. Your key messages should communicate the one main point you want your audience to remember. More suggestions on how to develop effective messages are provide in Advocacy for sanitation under the heading “Building a persuasive case”.

Make sanitation news

Reporters and journalists are interested in “news”. This is what makes headlines and sells. You need to think of ways to present the problem of sanitation as news, make it interesting by releasing new information, or by putting it in the context of other issues which may be attracting media attention. For example, if education is receiving media attention, release facts and figures which show how sanitation improves child health and school attendance rates. Take advantage of media attention created by others by tailoring your own messages to be relevant to “the topic of the moment”. Remember that issues which are of local interest are more likely to be published so try to provide facts specific to your area and country.

Establish a media focal point

It is important to establish a point of responsibility for mobilizing the media. This can be one person or a group of persons in your organization, or a team created from a group of interested parties. Your focal point should reflect the local situation and the scale of your activities. Where possible, people that have worked successfully with the media in the past should be included.

Box 1. Focal point responsibilities

- developing a plan for mobilizing the media;
- implementing the plan (writing press releases, organizing news conferences);
- monitoring results;
- modifying the plan;
- organizing training for media spokespersons; and
- acting as a spokesperson.

Research the media

You need to familiarise yourself with the newspapers, magazines, television and radio outlets in your area and in your country and identify those which you think will be most interested in sanitation. Media personnel are more likely to pay attention to you and give you more time to present your case if you show you have done your homework and that you know something about the publications and programmes they work on. Developing a mutual respect for each others' work is an important aspect of building an effective media relationship.

Target the media

Once you have identified the media outlets you want to target, the next step is contacting them. First, you will need to find out the names of reporters or journalists specialising in health, environmental issues, government spending, or other issues which can be related to sanitation. Identifying a common area of interest is the first step towards establishing contact. You can make your contacts more successful by using the tips set out in Box 2.

Box 2. Tips for effective media contacts

· Do your homework.

Know the name of the person you want to speak to and know something about the publication or programme they work on.

· Plan ahead.

Think carefully about why you are calling, what you will say, and what you want to achieve from the contact.

· Practice.

· Be concise.

You only have one or two minutes to get your point across, and get the interest of the journalist.

· Be polite, professional and enthusiastic.

If they are not interested don't be discouraged. Ask what would be of interest to them.

· Contact the media well in advance of their print or broadcast deadline.

· Don't contact the media unless you have something to say that is of “news” value.

Preparing information for the media

Journalists work to tight deadlines. Therefore, information that is concise, clear and well presented is more likely to be used than material which requires extensive rewriting, researching, and confirmation. Specific guidance on how to prepare press releases and other key materials is provided later in the article, but the following general suggestions outlined in Box 3 should also be helpful.

Identify sanitation spokespersons

Reporters need to have access to people who will give interviews. They often need to interview people at short notice, so it is important to prepare well in advance to make sure the interview goes well and your point of view is put across effectively.

Select your spokespersons carefully. While some people make it look easy, don't be fooled. Their polished performance is usually a result of long hours of training, preparation and practice in front of friends, colleagues or the mirror at home. Most people are not naturals, and even if they are, they never neglect the golden rules of preparation and practice.

There are certain skills and techniques which can help people become more effective in interviews. It is advisable to organize this type of training for people selected as spokespersons, if they have not already had it. This is often called media training and courses are usually on a one-to-one basis. Participants are taught the basic techniques of effective interviewing and then practice these in simulated “live interviews” in front of a video camera. They can then see how they actually perform and where they need to improve. This type of training is most likely to be offered by public relations companies.

When spokespersons are first selected, they do not have to know about the subject, because preparing them and training them in effective interviewing techniques is part of the process of making a person an effective advocate.

Do not leave the result of an interview to chance. Carefully select your spokespersons (see Box 4), brief them well, and organize for training if it is needed.

Box 3. Tips for preparing information for the media

· Do prepare information specifically for use by the media. The media have specialised needs and you should tailor your information to meet these needs. This will always be better than pulling together more general information prepared for other purposes.

· Put yourself in the position of a journalist. Now prepare your information in a way that would help a journalist quickly put together a story to meet a tight deadline.

· Be concise. Rework your material by cutting and condensing it until there is no repetition or superfluous information. This saves a journalist time and makes your information more useable.

· Provide information in a summarised format, such as fact sheets, executive summaries of lengthy reports, and lists of commonly asked questions with answers.

· Make your point in an interesting way in the first few sentences to catch the attention of the media. This is sometimes called a “creative opening” and it means presenting your point in a different or unusual way to grab attention.

· Get straight to the point. Put the important information first and then provide any background detail necessary to support it. Don't do it the other way around.

· Use phrases that are easy to remember and make your point succinctly.

· Include direct quotes from influential people that express their belief and commitment to change.

· Provide sources for journalists to confirm statistics.

· Give your media contact a list of names and contact information of people available to give interviews.

Box 4. Tips for selecting spokespersons

Choose people who are:

- confident;

- influential;

- articulate;

- authoritative without being dictatorial;

- personable, that people can warm to easily and feel comfortable with;

- quick, organized thinkers, who can respond well to unexpected questions without taking much time to prepare;

- calm under pressure;

- enthusiastic about the subject; and

- already attracting media attention like film and sports stars, actors, academics or musicians.

Contacting the media1

1 Quoted from Owens B, Klandt K. TB Advocacy: a practical guide 1998. Geneva, World Health Organization 1998 (unpublished document WHO/TB/98.239). Chapter 3 pg 19-22, 26-29. The word sanitation has been substituted for the word TB.

Once you have done your preparation, you are ready to contact the media. Some of the main ways of contacting the media are outline below, with suggestions on how to do this effectively.

Press release

Journalists usually receive hundreds of press releases each day. For your release to get noticed, the headline and first paragraph must catch their attention. You should spend as much time getting the words just right in the headline and first paragraph as you do on preparing the rest of the release. (See Box 6 for a checklist on preparing effective news releases.)

Sending announcements or advisories

Advisories are used, along with phone calls, to alert journalists to a media event or news conference. An advisory should give all of the basic information on the purpose, date, time, location, and speakers at an event. A good advisory should also build some anticipation concerning the news which will be announced.

Placing feature stories

Feature stories are usually longer than news stories. They go into greater depth on how an issue affects people and may offer a number of different perspectives. In magazines, they can span several pages and be accompanied by pictures. On television, they can become hour-long programmes.

The best way to encourage a feature is to describe your idea in a two or three-page story proposal. You need to do a substantial amount of research yourself before handing the story over to the journalist to follow up. Your proposal should provide an outline of the story and list interesting people who could be interviewed. The newer, more unusual, significant or dramatic the story, the better. For example, a journalist will be more interested in an unreported outbreak of cholera, than a general story on diarrhoeal disease.

Writing for the media

Opinion piece

Most newspapers print opinion pieces called “opinion editorials” (op-eds) or guest columns. An op-ed is an expression of opinion rather than a factual statement of news. Although style varies according to different countries, an op-ed tends to be lively, provocative and sometimes controversial. It is a very effective way to register concern about sanitation to policy-makers and to inform communities about why they should care about controlling sanitation-related diseases.

Op-eds are usually around 1,000 words. It is best to call the newspaper first and request their guidelines for submitting an op-ed. If possible, speak to the appropriate editor to convince her or him of the importance of the issue.

Letter to the editor

Newspapers and magazines have a “letters page” which gives readers the opportunity to express their view or correct previously published information they feel to be inaccurate or misleading. Letters are widely read and provide a good opportunity to promote a cause and/or organization.

Letters should be short and concise. Those over 500 words are unlikely to be published. Short letters of no more than 100 words can be very effective. A letter should aim to make one main point and to end on a challenging note, with a call to action.

Make sure you refer to your organization. Letters can also be signed by a number of signatories, representing various organizations or interests, which may increase their impact. If it is responding to an article carried in a daily newspaper, it is important to fax or deliver it to the paper within a couple of days.

Planning media events

News conference

A news conference can be a very effective way to announce a news story to journalists. Speakers take the platform in a venue and make presentations after which journalists can ask questions. This is a tried and tested formula which, if you follow the rules (See Box 8), can make life easy for journalists and for yourself.

Be sure that your story warrants holding one, as news conferences can be quite expensive to organize and it can be disheartening if few people attend. In some cases, you may find you can achieve the same results by handling the story from your office. For this, you need to send your press release and briefing materials under embargo until the date of the launch to journalists, highlighting who is available for interview.

Press briefing

If journalists, who cover hundreds of stories and may know next to nothing about sanitation, are to produce informative accurate stories, they need to be properly briefed. Consider organizing an informal press briefing which also serves to build good relations with journalists.

For example, invite half a dozen selected journalists to attend a briefing at your offices in advance of a major event you are planning. Brief them on key developments and issues relating to sanitation and your organization's relevant work and policy. You may want to conduct this as a breakfast meeting and provide refreshments. It is a good idea to have clear briefing material, such as advocacy publications or fact sheets, to distribute.

If you attend an important national or international conference, you may wish to brief journalists in your community about important developments upon your return. Or, use an informal briefing to introduce a major new strategy or initiative in your organization.

Editorial meetings

In some countries, newspapers invite policy experts to give an “editorial briefing” at their offices. These provide an excellent opportunity to gain the editorial support of a newspaper which can be very influential in shaping political decisions.

Profile the kinds of editorials/columns that appear in the paper and the position they tend to take, particularly in relation to health care issues. Arrive armed with facts and figures that are relevant to the newspaper's audience. Make a persuasive argument to the editor that his/her readers should be concerned about lack of sanitation. Be ready to answer any questions the editor might have.

Photo opportunity

Television news and magazines need good pictures or visuals in order to report on a story. When you plan a media strategy, think about what images you need and how you will supply these.

You may want to pay for a photographer to take pictures and then distribute them to selected publications. You may also want to prepare a video news release (VNR) for broadcasters to use. Or, arrange a “photo opportunity” for photographers and television news people to take pictures themselves.

To announce the photo opportunity, send an advisory that gives the “Who, What, When and Where” of the event to media.

Box 5. Important international media

The following are a few of the most important media which have global influence. Sometimes your story will have regional or national but not international significance. But other times, it may be of international importance, and you should check to see if there are correspondents from these media located in your city you can contact.

- AP (Associated Press)
- Reuters
- AFP (Agence France Presse)
- International Herald Tribune
- New York Times
- The Washington Post
- The Economist
- FT (Financial Times)
- CNN (Cable News Network)
- BBC (British Broadcasting System)

Interviewing for the media

When an organization publicizes a story, it needs to have a number of spokespeople available to be interviewed. They need to be familiar with both their material and the basic rules of interviewing. It is very important to prepare. Find out about the show and if possible watch/listen to it. Find out who else is appearing with you.

Profile the audience and have in mind a typical viewer/listener. Ask whether the show is live or pre-recorded and if the audience will be calling in to ask questions. Anticipate the questions you may be asked and prepare a Question and Answer sheet. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Phone-in/discussion or talk show

Radio or television phone-ins, discussion and talk shows are a good way to put your point across live and unedited.

Talk show producers are always in search of new guests who can talk with authority on issues that concern their viewers and listeners. It is a good idea to research programmes and make contact suggesting yourself, your director or even a whole panel of speakers with different perspectives on the problems caused by lack of sanitation.

Contact phone-in programmes to establish when health issues are scheduled. Mobilize your supporters to phone in. When you call, strict first-come, first-served rotation applies, so hang on and you will be answered. Never read your contribution as it will sound stilted and people will stop listening. Aim to make two or three points succinctly and remember to mention your organization.

Access programmes

In some countries, broadcasters air what are known as access programmes. For example, in the UK, charities and NGOs can promote an issue or cause in a three-minute piece to camera known as a Public Service Announcement or Community Service Announcement, broadcast on regional television after the regional news. Contact your local TV station to see if they broadcast access programmes.

In some countries, TV and radio programmes are assigned a duty editor who logs calls from the public about specific programmes. Comments, passed on to the producer of the programme, are reportedly taken seriously. When a programme on sanitation is scheduled, mobilize your supporters to call and register their views.


When you have only a few seconds in front of a microphone or in a meeting, you need to use memorable phrases or soundbites that will stay with your audience long after you have left. The best soundbites get to the heart of the problem without lengthy qualified explanations. Broadcast producers can't resist them, and listeners and viewers remember them. The soundbite should capture and communicate the one key idea you want to leave with the audience, if they remember nothing else. Try to repeat the soundbite at least once during an interview with the media.

Box 6. Checklist for preparing an effective press release


· Make sure the headline and first paragraph are very interesting and newsworthy. The most important information should be in the first paragraph.

· Use the pyramid principle to order information, most important at the top, becoming more general for background.

· Aim to use a direct quote within the first three paragraphs of the press release. Use quotes to bring the issue to life and express strong opinions.

· Include the five Ws:

WHAT is happening?
WHEN is it happening?
WHERE is it happening?
WHO is saying it?
WHY is it important?

· Attach a fact sheet or background briefing material, rather than make the press release too long or cluttered.


· Use short sentences of 25 to 30 words.
· Use paragraphs containing only two or three sentences.
· Try to limit the release to one or two pages.
· Use a simple, punchy news style.
· Avoid jargon.
· Avoid lots of adjectives and adverbs.
· Use active rather than indirect verbs to tell the story with force and urgency.
· Proof-read the release carefully!


· Put the date and release details at the top of the page. State if it is EMBARGOED FOR RELEASE at the specific time and date, or is FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.

· At the end of the press release put END or -30 - or *** to indicate the final page of the release. Follow this with contact names and numbers for more information.

Box 7. Television interview tips

· Focus on getting one main message across in the interview. Come back to your main message again and again.

· Don't be afraid to turn around irrelevant questions and come back to your main point. Don't allow the interviewer to side-track you from your main message.

· Don't use jargon or highly technical medical language. Don't try to make too many complex points. Keep your answers simple.

· Be yourself. Rely on the strong points of your own character.

· Be enthusiastic about the subject. People will often remember the level of your passion for an issue more than what you specifically say.

· Look at the interviewer when talking with him or her. If there is an audience, look at them when appropriate.

· You don't have to know the answers to all questions.

· Don't allow yourself to become defensive or angry.

· Ask the producer what you should wear.

· Sit up straight and lean forward slightly.

Box 8. Checklist for an effective news conference


· A big, newsworthy story.
· New information relating to a big story being followed by the media.
· A statement on a controversial issue.
· Participation of high profile speakers or celebrities.
· Release of important new findings or research data.
· Launch of a major new initiative.
· Announcement of something of local importance.

Location and set-up

· A central well-known location, convenient for journalists, and appropriate to the event.
· Avoid large rooms which give the appearance that few people attended.
· Make sure the noise level of the room is low.
· Reserve space at the back of the room for television cameras, possibly on a raised platform.
· Reserve a quiet room for radio interviews following the news conference.
· Ensure light and sound systems are in working order.
· If possible, have fax, phone and e-mail capability available.
· Make sure there is a podium and a table long enough for all spokespeople to sit behind.
· Consider displaying large visuals, such as graphs, logos or charts.
· Prepare a “sign-in” sheet for journalists.
· Determine if you wish to serve coffee and tea, or light snacks, following the event.


· Hold the event in morning or early afternoon of a work day so reporters can meet deadlines.

· Check that you are not competing with other important news events on the same day.

· Start the event on time - avoid keeping journalists waiting.

· If you distribute material prior to a news event, use an embargo to prevent journalists from publishing before the event.

· Wait until the event to release information to create an element of suspense.

Possible materials

· Press release.
· List of news conference participants.
· Executive summary of report.
· Case studies and stories.
· Fact sheets.
· Biography and photos of speakers, and copies of speeches.
· Pictures (colour transparencies/black and white photographs).
· B-roll (broadcast quality video background footage).
· Consider putting all of the printed materials together into one “press kit.”

Inviting journalists

· Keep an up-to-date mailing list or database of journalists.

· Make sure you know who the health and social affairs correspondents are.

· Monitor which journalists are reporting on health.

· Focus on getting the most influential media to attend.

· Remember to invite international and foreign media.

· Get your event in journalists' diaries seven to 10 days before the event.

· Always make a follow-up call to check that the right journalist has received the information.

· Build interest and anticipation for the event without giving out the story.

· Consider providing general, background briefings to important journalists prior to the event, without disclosing to them your main news story.

· Consider offering “exclusive” angles on the story to key media.

Preparing speakers

· Select appropriate speakers.
· Select strong speakers who are charismatic, articulate and authoritative.
· Brief speakers carefully on the main message of the event.
· Prepare speakers in advance on how to answer difficult questions.
· Try to hold a meeting to brief all speakers before the event.
· Ideally, each speaker should present for only three of four minutes.
· Have each speaker make different points.
· Make sure that each makes one or two important points.
· Keep speeches short and simple aimed at a general audience and avoid technical jargon.
· Select a moderator who will manage questions from the floor after the presentation.
· Encourage lots of questions. Keep answers short.


· Within a few hours of the conclusion of the news conference, fax or deliver information to important journalists who were unable to attend.

· Make sure the switchboard of your organization is advised on where to direct follow-up calls from journalists.

· Gather news clippings of the coverage which results from the news conference and distribute this to important coalition partners and policy makers. A good source is the Internet.

Improving your performance

One of the most important things you can do to build your relationship and the continuity of contact with the media is to improve the way you work with them. By becoming better at what you do and understanding more about what the media can and can't do, you will build a greater mutual respect for each other. To improve the way you work, you need to evaluate your activities carefully. You need to work out what went well and why and what didn't go well and how you can overcome these problems. Investing time in evaluating activities and modifying your them accordingly will pay big dividends in your future relationships with the media.

Box 9. Example Media Strategy

This has been simplified to illustrate the sort of information which might be included in a media strategy. This is an example only, it is not exhaustive nor is it a template for what to include because you will need to create your own plan which reflects the local situation and your own priorities.


1. Put sanitation on the front page of two daily newspapers three times this year.

2. Have our sanitation spokespersons interviewed on radio once a month throughout this year

3. Have our sanitation spokesperson interviewed on television once this year.

Media targets


International Herald Tribune

National Newspapers




Local relevant magazines

Radio Stations:

BBC World Service

Voice of America

Local relevant radio stations



National public and private TV channels

Action plan




(write name
in this column)

1. Collection of key facts, statistics and research findings on sanitation.


2. Organization and preparation for Nov. Sanitation Conference


3. Preparation of media material including key messages, fact sheets, report summaries etc.


4. Development of sanitation logo and slogan, e.g. Sanitation. A right of every citizen.


5. Media training for sanitation spokespersons

May (1 week course)

6. Mobilization of partners and organization of joint activities to coincide with November National Sanitation Conference


e.g.-school childrens' artwork competitions

-street rally of supporters

-fun run with other events in support of sanitation

-ceremony to present a petition to politicians

-site visits

7. Press briefing


8. Press release(s) announcing


- National Sanitation Conference

- Joint activities to raise the profile of sanitation

9. Invite journalists to News Conference on last day of Sanitation Conference

10 days before Sanitation Conference

10. National Sanitation Conference

12-15 Nov

11. Joint Activities

12-15 Nov

12. Press release(s) to announce actions resulting from Conference.


Each of these activities will need a detailed plan of its own.

Monitoring and evaluation

· News clipping service to collect all articles published on sanitation
· Record of number and duration of radio and television interviews
· Record of actions taken by policy and decision-makers to advance sanitation.


Total: x dollars