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Public diplomacy and advocacy handbook

Part five: Contact with the media

12. An integral part of our advocacy work

The media is one of the most effective ways of communicating our messages to large numbers of people quickly. It remains an integral element of our public diplomacy and advocacy work.

That said, it is important to remember that it is not our only advocacy tool, and there are times when it can be an imprecise one.

All officers should become familiar with the guidelines on departmental contact with the media, including dealing with media queries on portfolio matters, consular cases and during crises.

Many of the media enquiries at posts however are about non-portfolio issues or Australia's broader image, and they usually come from local journalists.

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Enquiries about Australia's general image

Posts are encouraged to build a helpful and professional relationship with local media as part of their efforts to convey Australia's message.

Australia has a good story to tell on many issues–you should not be afraid to talk to local journalists about Australia's quality of life; strong record of economic management; commitment to the environment; excellent record as a diverse and tolerant multicultural society; high standard of educational services; technological sophistication; and cultural and artistic achievements.

Enquiries about contentious issues should be referred to PDB, particularly where the issue is generating extensive coverage in multiple countries.

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13. Getting your messages into the media

In many countries, there are excellent opportunities for getting your messages across in the local media.

To maximise your chances:

  • become familiar with your 'market'
  • identify 'newsworthy' policies, programs or events
  • get to know the kind of stories your media is attracted to
  • ensure that material you send is appropriate
  • don't expect the media to run a story just because it comes from the Australian Government
  • remember, news is a competitive business–you have to convince the media that your story should get published (at the expense of other available material).

Media representatives will be interested if you:

  • have news for them–and that means it has to be timely
  • present it in a way that catches their eye–is there a local angle?
  • consider what current issues are running in the local media and how an Australian angle might contribute
  • sustain their interest with a headline and beyond–does the story represent a milestone? Is it a first?

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Tips for successful media relations

Establish good personal networks.

Include media representatives on guest lists for appropriate post functions in order to build long-term relationships.

Respond quickly and appropriately to media enquiries–you will have trouble getting the media to respond to your approaches if you are not responsive to their needs.

Maintain up-to-date databases or lists of specialised media representatives in target areas such as trade, defence, security, environment and agriculture, as well as journalists and freelance writers with a known interest in Australia.

Decide whether you want to 'broadcast' your issue to a wide range of outlets or 'narrowcast' it by targeting specialist media representatives who have a particular interest in your topic and/or who reach your target audiences.

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How to 'talk' to the media

Ways of communicating your messages to the media include personal approaches, news releases, news conferences, background briefings and radio or television interviews.

Personal contact with journalists and editors is an effective means of passing information, finding out what their interests are and possibly forming good working relationships. But they are busy people, so call on them only when you have something to offer.

Media releases save the media time and help them get the story right. But remember news releases are of little use if they miss important deadlines. Timing is crucial and clearance processes need to be quick. Be proactive–if a decision is imminent, prepare news releases and backgrounders in advance if possible. And sometimes it may be necessary to follow-up your media release to make sure it reached its intended target.

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Tips for writing media releases

  • Keep the release to one page if possible.
  • Keep the style simple.
  • Use short paragraphs.
  • Use active language.
  • Don't raise false expectations or make claims that can't be substantiated.
  • Include your strongest/most important points in the introductory paragraph.
  • Make each successive paragraph self-contained, so that regardless of how many paragraphs a sub-editor deletes, the story still makes sense.
  • Attribute all statements to a particular person or the organisation–the media can't use newsworthy assertions unless sourced.
  • Avoid clichés.
  • End the release with contact details in case further information is required. Date the release.
  • If sending the text of the media release by email, include it in the body of the message.

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News conferences and informal briefings

Organising a media conference is not particularly difficult, but it is important to get it right.

News conferences should be used sparingly, for genuine announcements of major importance. In some cases, it may be more appropriate to have informal briefings for small groups of invited journalists, or one-to-one meetings with individual journalists to discuss specific issues. Posts should also consider whether a translator may be required.

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Tips for news conferences

  • Provide advance notice in writing of the event through a 'Media alert'–stating concisely the what, when, where and why relating to the event. It should include contact details for further information.
  • Schedule media conferences for between 1000 and 1400 (depending on local deadlines–television deadlines are usually earlier than press).
  • Ensure the choice of venue is appropriate
    • allow space for television cameras (a camera platform may be required)
    • provide a backdrop to the lectern such as the Australian flag on a stand
    • make sure the electrical equipment works (e. g. PA system, splitter boxes and lights).
  • Provide arriving journalists with media kits containing basic information such as relevant media releases, high resolution photos or backgrounders, if appropriate.
  • Ensure the news conference is recorded and, if required, prepare an accurate transcript as soon as possible.

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Tips for media interviews

  • Establish ground rules for attribution of comments:
    • 'background briefing'–attributed to 'embassy official'
    • 'on the record'–officer can be named
    • 'off the record'–comments not to be attributed.
  • But note that even comments made 'off the record' may appear in some form–for example, 'officials say' or 'the embassy believes'.
  • Never say anything you would not like printed or broadcast, whether on or off the record.
  • Prepare your facts and your key messages in advance and stick to them.
  • Make your main points early in the interview.
  • Answer questions concisely.
  • Use simple language and avoid acronyms and jargon.
  • If you don't know the answer or can't answer, say so. Undertake to find out if you can and make sure you get back to the journalist.

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14. Online advocacy and social media–challenges and opportunities

The department's website and post websites should be used to publicise and showcase PD events. Web content must be relevant, accurate and accessible, with particular attention paid to removing outdated content. Posts are encouraged to publish content on their websites in the local language, resources permitting. Website Management Section (WMS) is responsible for managing most of the department's websites.

With the establishment of YouTube channels and a DFAT Twitter account (see below), DFAT is now utilising social media platforms. Website Management Section (WMS) is responsible for social media.

A social media action plan is being developed to progressively introduce new platforms to DFAT.

The staged introduction of social media is intended to complement established, traditional forms of communication, such as formal media releases and official websites, as a means of informing the public about Australia's foreign and trade policy objectives and DFAT's consular and passports services, and raising awareness about public diplomacy events and activities.

In addition to the following social media platforms currently approved for official use, posts and divisions should continue to encourage third-party influencers who support our policies and perspectives to use their own social media sites and networks to promote our messages and help dispel inaccurate or damaging reports or misconceptions about Australia.

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DFAT Twitter Account

DFAT established a generic DFAT Twitter account in April 2011. It aims to reach a wider and increasingly mobile audience, including people with limited internet access and travellers who may rely on Twitter for information.

There are more than 1.1 million Australian Twitter users and it is fast becoming a credible space for influencing public opinion and building influential networks.

In times of consular crises, tweets will provide updates on fast-changing situations. Tweets will refer followers to the department's websites which remain the authoritative source of information. The account is operated centrally in Canberra in Consular, Public Diplomacy and Parliamentary Affairs Division (CPD) and in English only.

Divisions and posts (through their home geographic divisions) are encouraged to send the text of proposed tweets, including on PD events, cleared by the relevant branch head, to

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DFAT and ministerial YouTube channels and publication of photographs

Four YouTube channels have been established since December 2010, including a DFAT channel and channels for Mr Rudd, Dr Emerson and Mr Marles.

Divisions and posts should actively seek to identify suitable opportunities for recording official videos for possible inclusion on these YouTube channels and for embedding on the DFAT website. These may be informal clips produced by staff to record ministerial visits, speeches and key events depicting the work of the department, as well as professionally filmed and edited videos for specific purposes. Guidelines on producing videos are available on the intranet.

Posts should ensure they make arrangements for official photographs and videos to be taken during overseas visits by portfolio ministers and parliamentary secretaries. Detailed information about the handling of images in relation to such visits can be obtained from the Ministerial and Executive Liaison Section (MEL).

Website Management Section (WMS) is responsible for publishing photographs and videos provided by divisions and posts to the DFAT websites and YouTube channels. Posts and divisions should ensure all relevant permissions and copyright information is documented. Copyright and permission forms are available on the DFAT intranet.

Revised guidelines on the management of official images (photographs and videos) will be issued shortly.

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Web Portals

The Department established a unique web portal, Australians Helping Japan (, in April 2011 to inform the public about Australia's assistance to Japan following the earthquake and tsunami and to provide links to accredited non-governmental and community-based relief and reconstruction efforts. It also provides a forum for Australians to share their personal stories on assisting Japan. The site will provide a template for future online portals to inform and engage the broader Australian public in the wake of natural disasters and crises overseas.

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Last Updated: 28 February 2013
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