Including case studies in press coverage

  • Personal stories can bring your organisation’s cause to life
  • Finding the right individuals and then offering the support they need to tell their story is key
  • We look at some examples of how to use stories, quotes and pictures as part of your press coverage

Publications are always on the lookout for compelling personal interest stories, but what is the best way to grab media attention?

Media expert Karen Hart looks at how to gather, manage and incorporate case studies – such as those in our recent article How can charities make case studies work? – into the news stories you create, in order to maximise your media exposure.

Why use case studies in news stories?

Case studies can be a very effective way to bring your cause to life. While impressive facts and figures about your events, outcomes and achievements can be useful, they lack real power without the context of someone’s personal experience and the difference your charity made in their lives.

Case studies should always be an important part of your media relations toolkit. Journalists love to include personal stories and have easy access to interviewees. Having people ready to represent your organisation or cause means you can respond quickly to any requests from journalists.

Your community group or small charity will probably already have a bank of case studies. There will be a story behind all the staff, volunteers, trustees, visitors, supporters and beneficiaries involved in your organisation. Many will be happy to tell their story and act as ambassadors for your cause and organisation.

Collecting stories

There are five key things you need to consider when you look at building up a bank of case studies:

  1. Include a wide range of ages, occupations and ethnicities. By covering broad demographics, you’re more likely to have someone suitable for a particular type of magazine or news channel when asked.
  2. Identify someone to speak out about each of your key messages and services. Many charities promote these activities as volunteering roles. For example, mental health charity Time to Change has a page on its website to recruit media volunteers. In it, there is an explanation of the importance of publicising people’s experiences to raise awareness.
  3. Gather stories about the difference your services or support has made. Celebrating positive results can really bring your work to life. For example, The RSPCA’s PetRetreat scheme shares examples of how human and animal domestic abuse victims have been offered support.
  4. A great quote can sometimes be just as effective as a detailed story, particularly in summing up a theme. A beneficiary of Groundwork’s practical energy advice summed up the scheme brilliantly with a simple quote: “We’re ready now, we’re ready for winter!”
  5. While using a real name is generally more effective than sharing an anonymous story, it isn’t always possible. Rather than totally anonymising, it can be worthwhile using a first name or a disguised or invented name.

How to manage case studies

When managing your case studies, think about the following:

Who will be responsible for case studies?
Larger charities often have at least one staff member dedicated to this. Managing case studies can be a time-consuming and skilled job. Whoever conducts interviews needs empathy, discretion and patience.

What will you use to present your case studies?
As well as photos and words, think about other media such as video or audio. Not only will a short audio or video recording work well on your own website, it can also appeal to media looking to share your story. For example, care and community support charity Cornerstone uses a short, simple video tell one volunteer’s story.

Are there any types of media your case study volunteers prefer or won’t do?
Make sure you are aware of their views on live or recorded interviews, as well as their willingness to travel or have their photo published.

Is your volunteer fully briefed?
A newspaper feature or broadcast interview can be draining and take up a lot of your representative’s time, particularly if filming or photography is involved.

Managing expectations is also essential, as media outlets often drop stories at a moment’s notice if something more topical or engaging comes along. In contrast, once someone’s story has appeared in print, online or in a broadcast, it is out there in the public domain and could be used again and again without your volunteer’s knowledge.

Have you thought about consent?
You may want to create your own release form. Consent and appropriate permission are especially important with young or vulnerable people. Large media organisations will also want potential interviewees to sign their own forms. Do you have someone available to check for any inappropriate clauses or requirements? There’s more about consent in this KnowHow NonProfit how-to guide.

Have you covered data protection?
Contact details including phone numbers and email addresses, as well as some personal information about your case studies must be stored correctly. Do you know if the information you hold is covered by legislation? Check that you know about data protection.