Media Advice & Guides

The media offers a powerful, quick and effective way of communicating messages to many different audiences. It helps schools to raise their profiles, manage reputations and to promote partnerships in the community.

Engaging with the media provides enormous opportunities for schools to showcase their outstanding work and talents, and to demonstrate their offering to the wider community. While negative stories will still appear, a friendly and open approach can be beneficial through both the smooth and the rough.

Each school within the ATLP already manages its own PR & marketing activities. The aim of this document is to provide an overarching framework so each school can proactively maximise media opportunities, both individually and as part of the ATLP’s wider PR & marketing initiatives.

The role of the ATLP’s head of PR & Communications is to primarily raise the profile of the Partnership as a whole. While the post does not provide each school with a designated press officer for day-to-day PR activities, the function will support each school in the following ways:

  • Review existing PR & Communications structures and offer advice and information
  • Strategic support with media planning
  • Provide guidelines for best practice in key areas (Ofsted reports, internal communications)
  • Offer specialist services such as media training
  • Implement issues and crisis management – planning and delivery
  • Share resources (access to media opportunities and media databases)
  • Dovetail individual school activity to the ATLP. Each school’s media success impacts on the ATLP and vice versa

Anna Newson, head of PR & Communications, the Arthur Terry Learning Partnership, on 0121 323 1154/ 07557560274, email anna.newson@atlp.org.uk

Why engage with the media?

A good working relationship between the school and local media is mutually beneficial. Schools can reach core audiences and influence stakeholders, while journalists receive a regular stream of community stories – plus a ready-made audience of family and friends.

The Sutton Coldfield Observer’s online version of Mere Green Primary School’s CBeebies filming received 3-4,000 hits. The story was so popular that the journalist ran a follow-up article.

Some of the benefits:

  • Engaging with the media can enhance your school’s reputation, establish and promote partnerships with the community and influence stakeholders
  • Positive community relations motivate staff, students and parents
  • Good news inspires and attracts students and staff
  • News carries more credibility than advertising. Unlike advertising it involves no costs and yet can help to raise interest in the school
  • Talking to the media can help in times of crisis. It can be a chance to set the record straight
How to engage with the media

Ideally, each school should appoint a designated PR & Communications Officer. This could be a new role, an intern or an existing member of staff. This person will act as the main point of contact between the school and the media. The role will include:

  • Sourcing good news and photo opportunities
  • Building and maintaining strong relationships with contacts and other partners
  • Managing the school’s web and social media activity via Web, Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc.
  • Producing publications for internal/external audiences
  • Liaising with the ATLP PR & Communications Officer on stories and potential issues
  • Monitoring media coverage and evaluating press cuttings
Media relations

Proactive, not reactive. Keeping in regular contacts with journalists (by inviting them to visit the school, meet for lunch or by a regular telephone conversation/email) is a great way of building relationships, promoting your stories and of keeping up-to-date with the media’s needs. Developing and maintaining strong relationships can also help in times of crises.

The ATLP has developed a database of individual regional and national media contacts. Please contact the office for further details.

What makes a good story?

Schools produce a wealth of news through staff, students and community groups. Stories may come from staff briefings, meetings and events. Our pro forma ‘Have you got a story?’ may also be useful. People, topical, visual, quirky and celebrity stories all make for great copy. These include:

  • Ofsted –Journalists tend to report on Outstanding, RI and Special Measures
  • League tables – top and bottom or massive improvements/drops
  • Prizegivings, performances and other events
  • Guest speakers/visitors /alumni
  • School fete
  • School trip
  • Sporting events 

Forward plan: feed dates into a calendar so you can spread stories across the year and plan for forthcoming and annual events.

Putting the story together

Prepare a short news (please refer to the guide on writing news releases). Email the story out to your contacts (check their deadlines) and follow this up with a phonecall/email if necessary.  Never waste an opportunity: if a journalist is seeking out good news stories, then ensure you provide them.

News releases – the golden rules
  • Newsworthy: is your story of interest to readers?
  • Timely: old news is not news. Issue the story ahead of the event and ahead of deadline.
  • Make it easy: a short, well-written news release can be cut and pasted by journalists
  • Visual: support your story with attractive and good quality images
  • Accurate: check names, spellings, titles and explain acronyms
  • Quotes: attribute quotes to a named contact and add flavour to the story
  • Don’t hang around: be available for comment. Provide fast responses, contact mobile details
  • Be prepared: for last minute calls/changes to the story
  • Remember: Never ask to approve copy.  Your story may be spiked if bigger news breaks. Always get back to journalists
Stand out from the crowd 

Many schools run similar events: so how can you get your story published?

  • Get in their first! Send your story out in advance to a named contact
  • Make it quirky – a different angle on a traditional event
  • Invite the journalist to the event – to give out a prize
  • Get a VIP along
  • Tweet and re-tweet – journalists read your tweets
  • Offer a range of pictures for a photo spread

When Cinderella opened a school fair (a teacher was appearing in panto) a pre-event story appeared in the local paper (to attract visitors) and our own photo made the front page the following week.

Photographs: a picture sells a story

A photograph can double the readership of a story. Your story may not be strong on its own, but it can generate coverage alongside a good photograph – especially if the paper needs to fill space.

A photocall invites journalists to come along and take a photograph of your event. Alternatively, supply your own photograph, either ahead of, or after the event.

Photography – top tips
  • A digital SLR camera is best – though not essential. Make sure you know how to use the camera!
  • Check your composition: is the background messy? Are there too many people in a group? Think lighting, background and colour
  • Take a couple of different shots to offer journalists
  • Kids not staff. People not objects. Not too many people
  • Smile! Look at the camera
  • Email the image as a JPEG. Make sure the resolution is high enough
  • Caption your photograph from left to right
  • Check the safeguarding/ naming of individual children
National and specialist media

While it is relatively simple to secure local media and community coverage, national print, digital and broadcast coverage is harder to achieve and will require an exceptional story.

Education media (such as the TES, Education Guardian, and BBC Education) offer wider opportunities, through the following methods:

  • Letters
  • Comment: responses to policy, expert in your field (authoritative commentator on sector issues)
  • Research /publications
  • New: facilities, techniques or developments
  • Special features – a day in the life of….
  • Case study
Broadcast news

Broadcast coverage can be achieved, as Arthur Terry School discovered when the regional news came on site to cover results day. Local radio provides great interview opportunities, along with the chance to promote events. But pick your moments carefully. Do not email contacts about every fair or fete – unless, of course, Peter Andre happens to swing by (Arthur Terry School)!

Interviews – points to remember
  • What is the interview about?
  • Where and when will it take place and how long will it be?
  • Is it a live interview or pre-record? Are there other interviewees?
  • Brief spokespeople and accompany youngsters at all times
  • Practice and prepare questions and three key messages
  • Allow enough time: interviews can take much longer than expected

Plan for the unexpected…..when pop star Peter Andre decided to swing by Arthur Terry to surprise a member of staff for a TV series he was recording, word soon spread across school and social network sites. Cue cars of besotted mums and excited youngsters.

Digital & social media

‘The media’ is no longer restricted to traditional outlets: online and social media offer a wider reach.

  • Bloggers are influential commentators who have legions of followers.
  • Twitter and Facebook also provide huge platforms for promoting your work. But remember to keep conversations engaging, relevant and ongoing
  • Community groups/sites like Mums in the Know also provide a potential forum for stories
Promoting your own work through your own channels of communication

Your website is the external face of the school and the first port of call for visitors (including Ofsted, parents and journalists). An attractive, streamlined and user-friendly website with a strong visual identity and striking images is essential. This should have links to news, blogs, newsletters and a rolling Twitter feed. News releases and written content can be re-purposed for a variety of formats:

  • Blogs
  • Newsletters
  • Social media – update your Twitter and Facebook status with URL links and tags to relevant third party tweets. Make sure you include @the_atlp in other schools in your tweets.
  • News room – create a virtual news room with news releases, photographs, contact information and press packs
  • You tube – share those promotional videos or interview clips

The media may be reading…. Hill West’s tweets about a trip to France were picked up by a local news reporter who was keen to run a photo spread about the school visit. Keep tweeting!

Shout about your success!

Don’t be modest. If you’ve appeared in print or on the TV/radio ensure everybody sees it. Share media coverage with staff, students, parents, community groups and other stakeholders via your newsletters, website, tweets, Facebook, Tumblr accounts and the forthcoming ATLP website! Email URL links or cuttings to staff and managers – perhaps as part of a termly media round-up.

Media monitoring & evaluation

Most of the schools’ media coverage will come from local news sources, so cuttings are easy to compile and circulate. Specialist media monitoring agencies offer a more sophisticated approach to sourcing and analysing cuttings – including Advertising Value Equivalent rates (how much you would have had to pay in advertising fees to gain the same amount of exposure) and opportunities to see/circulation. This is a powerful evaluation tool, as PR is mainly qualitative and therefore hard to measure.  The services of a professional agency would benefit each school in a number of ways: daily access to contacts, publications, forward features, bloggers, PDF cuttings, evaluation tools etc.

Negative publicity

Despite all your good work, negative publicity could be just around the corner – following a critical incident, complaint, Ofsted report or exclusion. Issues & Crisis management and Ofsted reports are covered in additional documents. In the event of negative story please consider the following:

  • Anticipate issues and crisis. Inform ATLP’s PR & Communications officer of any potential problems or if an incident has happened
  • Formulate a plan – assign a team to handle enquiries and communications
  • Spread some good news –a regular stream of positive stories. Keep some on standby in the event of a crisis
  • Don’t panic!
  • Act quickly, but responsibly. Do not be drawn into speculation or pressured to comment. Holding statements can buy time
  • Never use the following phrases: “off the record” or “no comment.” Do not be afraid to say “we’ll get back to you” or “we’re looking into this and will keep you updated.”
  • Communicate with different groups with clear and consistent messages
  • Social media makes crises spread faster, so if you don’t tell the story somebody else will!