THE BLOG

Want to Start a Petition? Here's How to Get It Noticed by the Media

12/11/2015 14:37 GMT | Updated 12/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Grandad Karl Andree's escape from 378 lashes in Saudi Arabia and return to the UK is an excellent example of the power of media and campaigners working together to reach victory.

A combination of brilliant reporting from The Sun newspaper and a Change.org petition started by Karl's son Simon helped put pressure on Prime Minster David Cameron and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to personally intervene and secure Karl's release from Saudi authorities.

Starting a petition is the first step on a campaign's journey. The next is to build an army of supporters to help you take action, create momentum and make the change you want to see happen.

And one of the key things that will help you do this is some good old fashioned news coverage. The media can help put pressure on decision makers you're calling on to sit up and listen, and ultimately help you reach victory faster.

If you're feeling nervous about contacting journalists - don't be. If you believe in your campaign and want to make a change, it will come through. As an ex-journalist now working at Change.org, these are my tips for campaigners who want to attract news coverage.

  1. Tell what's new: News is fresher than a pint or milk but goes off twice as fast. By this I mean it's urgent. If your issue isn't new, find something that makes it relevant right now. Try and tell the story in one line. A newspaper intro is usually less than than 30 words, so it's helpful if you're halfway there. The best news stories like the most successful campaigns have a compelling personal story at the heart of them. Does your story capture what the public's talking about? If not, what's going to make it something they're going to want to discuss? When Laura Coryton started her #EndTamponTax petition, it wasn't on anyone's radar, but a great online presence, using social media and getting bags of coverage has helped her campaign grow, got the attention of the Prime Minister and become a topic that's going to stay hot for a long time.
  2. Make it look good: Journalists are hooked on pictures. When I worked in newspapers I was thinking about images to illustrate even before I'd finished getting the story into my notepad. Pictures bring a story to life. If you've got a photogenic stunt, demo or event coming up let the media know. Caroline Criado-Perez did when she delivered her petition alongside supporters dressed as famous women from British history and picture desks loved it.
  3. Back of the net pitching: News journalists are busy, always "on-deadline", and obsessed with their own business. They're also insatiably hungry for their next story so make yours sound brilliant. My top tip for pitching is ditch the press release and write an email. Four lines max. Tell them the story, leave your number, and cross your fingers. Follow up with a call if you must, but if a story is something journalists want - they'll be in touch. If you don't hear, be not deterred. Failure doesn't exist in the news cycle - it's all about timing. Find another moment and try again.
  4. Be realistic: Start with your local paper and work from there. Make the issue important to people who live near you. When pitching to nationals find out which desk to send it to. Research reporters - what have they written about before? What area do they cover - e.g. don't send a Kent reporter a story about London. You get the gist. It's not a great idea to send stuff direct to the actual editor. They're being pulled in all directions and may miss it. The most senior person you are going for is the news editor - this unsung hero is the most important in the newsroom bridging the gap between reporters and the editor in chief. They're likely to read every email received and decide what's picked up or discarded. Make yours good.
  5. Smile! You're on camera/in the paper/scrawled on the hack's notepad: Fear not - you may not have to deal with TV - but if you're offered, do it! Most often all that will be required is that you're available on the phone to breathe life into the story the journalist's writing. The main thing is to be available. There's nothing more annoying than sending out a cracking story and then going off grid. After you've sent your story out, check your email and phone regularly. If they're interested it'll ring pretty quick. One of the ways easiest ways to tackle fear is good prep. Think of three key messages you want to get across and stick to them.
  6. Stay in touch: If a journalist has been good to you - i.e. written about your campaign keep them updated on how things are going. You never know when they might write a follow up.

Now really is the best time in history to be a campaigner. There have never been as wide a range of media to pitch to and if you've got a laptop and a story to tell, it's easy to start a petition on Change.org and lead the news agenda. Good luck!