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Engaging with the Media

Posted on 26 Jan 2016

They say that video killed the radio star, but radio itself is far from buried, with an estimated 91% of the British public tuning in every week to channels ranging from Classic FM to Liverpool's Radio City. On Tuesday fourteen of student volunteering's finest from across the North West and North Wales arrived at BBC Radio Merseyside to find out how they could use local radio to tell their own stories and those of people in their communities. So, what did we learn?

We're increasingly connected to each other…

Thanks to the rise of social media, it's easier than ever to get the word out about your volunteering projects — and you shouldn't see your Facebook profile as totally separate from your press strategy. Local radio stations and newspapers, far from getting left behind by the 'age of Twitter', are increasingly getting on board with social media, and never before have journalists, newsreaders and DJs been so accessible to the public-at-large. If Zane Lowe and Fearne Cotton are just a tweet away, then chances are your local newsreader has an account too. Researching these accounts pays dividends: it's much easier to pitch content to someone if you know what they're interested in!

Top tip: Go for a personal approach! If a local journalist has a particular interest in the issue your project addresses, or even just in volunteering and the charity sector, then they're going to be more likely to cover your story.

… but 'local' is more important than ever.

Focusing too much on social media can mean missing the forest for the trees, however. Correcting someone's grammar in a Twitter spat or showing off your Instagram skills to your mates is all well and good, but when you're pitching to a local media organisation, the parochial is at a premium. Local radio producers want to report on issues of real interest to members of their community, rather than obsessing over events at the other side of the world — and your project will almost definitely involve one or more of these issues. Take advantage of this: entire newspapers and radio stations who would absolutely love to cover your projects, your volunteers, and the issues you're tackling.

Top tip: Play up the local element of your project. Is it unique to your area, or has it really helped create change in your community? Will people in your area be interested in hearing about it?

It's all about telling a story…

BBC Radio Merseyside producer Helen Jones explained to us that what local radio producers are looking for isn't always glitz, glamour, or chart-topping tunes. What really gets a producer's pulse racing is a good story — particularly if it's grounded in the community, and has plenty of human interest. And volunteering projects have human issues coming out of their ears! From the motives that inspire people to volunteer, to the 'social action journey' that people travel on once they're involved, there's always an appealing angle to take — just focus on the people, and you're golden.

Top tip: Try and pitch your project as if you're telling a story. Pick out memorable or interesting 'characters' — quotes are useful here — from among your volunteers and beneficiaries, and explain how your project has affected their lives.

…but try to remember who you're telling it to!

That said, it's important to remember your audience. Your project featuring tap-dancing grannies might be an amazing way of tackling elderly isolation in the community, but it isn't necessarily going to be a hit with the Radio 1 crowd. Equally, a workshop on 'Tech for Good' or 'Effective Altruism' will probably cause a fair bit of confusion for a general interest audience. Helen stressed that getting projects on air is all about knowing what audience you're trying to reach, and what they listen to. If you can demonstrate in your pitch that you've given real thought to what you're saying, and who'll tune in to listen to it, producers will be much more keen to run with your idea.

Top tip: Always ask yourself – who's going to listen to this? Try and put yourself in the mindset of someone who hasn't volunteered before, or isn't particularly interested in your issue.

Radio can be a form of volunteering too…

Radio isn't just limited to BBC or commercial. Over 200 community radio stations are currently active in the UK, and the vast majority are volunteer run. Most campuses have some variety of student radio, usually broadcast online, and it's incredibly easy to get involved when you're at university or college. Broadcasting is fun, but it can also provide an invaluable service to the community, both by catering to underserved groups and through spotlighting other forms of community action.

Top tip: Get in touch with student radio groups on your campus, or community radio stations nearby — they could be a great source of publicity for your project!

…and volunteering can lead you into the media.

Getting a job in the media can be tricky, and voluntary work can be a great way of cutting your teeth. Not just through dodgy unpaid internships, either — the BBC and other big media organisations have been cracking down on those for years — but by getting stuck in to volunteering opportunities in your local community. Pauline McAdam, Assistant Manager at BBC Radio Merseyside, told us that she'd never have built a career in radio if it wasn't for the 'real world experience' she gained as a volunteer.

Top tip: Volunteer, volunteer, and keep volunteering!

Student Volunteering Week is happening 22-28 February. To keep up with our latest news and updates, follow us on social media:

Matt Davies

Matt Davies is the Volunteering Officer at Student Hubs

Categories: Advice