9 tips for crafting effective media bites

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"Kids need sports, not sports drinks."

"In the final analysis, it comes down to what you want to save: sales or lives."

"Medicaid is more than a health care program. It is a life-giving program."

We've all read or heard strong media bites like these that grab our attention and either solidify or make us rethink our views on an issue. Beyond being memorable, these quotes can help advocates convey core messages on public health and social justice issues in a way that resonates with the public and prompts action.

The ability to craft a compelling media bite is an indispensable part of media advocacy strategy. But what makes for a strong media bite? And how can you increase your odds of getting quoted in the news?

Media bites are the most effective when they support your policy change goals. To build them, begin by identifying your core message, which should answer three questions: What is the problem? What is the policy solution you seek? Why does it matter? Media bites should communicate elements of that core message but may be tailored to respond to specific questions from journalists or to emphasize a key point.

Brevity is also critical. Because journalists often face serious space constraints in their stories, being strategic in what you say can boost the likelihood that your most vital points are quoted. No matter how complicated your issue might be, only a small portion of what your spokesperson says is likely to appear in the final article or news segment, so it is important that your media bites make your policy issue both clear and relatable to reporters and readers alike. While you won't always speak in media bites when interacting with reporters, it is useful to have a succinct quote that summarizes your position at the ready.

Here are a few tips for crafting effective media bites, as well as examples to illustrate how they can be put into practice:

1.    Keep it short and simple. Media bites should be shorter than 15 seconds, or two to three sentences. One punchy sentence is even better.

"Public health saved your life today. You just didn't know it."
-Dr. Leana Wen, health commissioner of Baltimore, on the often invisible but vital role of public health. Appeared March 20, 2017 in Governing.

2.    Speak to values. Stress themes that link your values to those shared by others, such as fairness, common sense or protection of children.

"If a child can't open a bottle of aspirin, we should also make sure she can't pull the trigger of a gun."
-President Barack Obama. Appeared January 7, 2016 in an op-ed for The New York Times.

3.    Talk about what is at stake. Who is affected? What will this mean for their lives? Make your values explicit so that other people recognize them, too.

"This is not politics for us. This is fear that the youngest, most vulnerable population in the United States will be denied health care they need. The voices of more than 30 million children are not being heard."
-Steve Allen, the CEO of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Appeared March 20, 2017 in The Atlantic.

4.    Use plain language. Avoid speaking in jargon or acronyms.

"It's not enough to just have one grilled chicken breast amongst a minefield of fat, sugar and salt."
-Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, arguing for state and local governments to pass measures encouraging restaurants to offer more healthy menu options for children. Appeared March 9, 2017 in The Birmingham Times.

5.    Use irony. When used appropriately, irony can highlight the absurdity of an assertion by your opposition.

"We know that it makes sense to keep kids in school for $9,000 a year versus individuals in prison for $62,000 a year."
-Tani Cantil-Sakauye, chief justice for the California State Supreme Court. Appeared November 20, 2014 in ACEs Too High News.

6.    Evoke pictures. If you can make your audience visualize what you are talking about, your point is more memorable and will have greater impact.

"[S]oda is a candy bar in a can."
-Dr. Barbara W. Gold, board vice chair, Food Trust, Philadelphia. Appeared April 14, 2016 in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

7.    Take a stand — present a solution.

"Cigarettes are toxic. They have warning labels. Alcohol is toxic. It has warning labels. Well, guess what? Sugar is toxic at the doses we are currently consuming. And half of it comes from a single source: soft drinks. It's time for a warning label."
-Dr. Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, and president of the Institute for Responsible Nutrition. Appeared March 27, 2015 in the East Bay Times.

8.    Frame the problem and your proposed solution in terms of institutional accountability, rather than just individual responsibility.

"This is one of those moments that defines what's next. Will technology companies protect the privacy of their users or will they do work for the U.S. government? You can't do both."
-Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, on the battle between Apple and the Justice Department. Appeared March 14, 2016 in The New York Times.

9.    Practice.

communicating for change training module coverUsing the tips above, brainstorm media bites with colleagues. Start by listing typical questions a reporter might ask. Then, test out different ways of describing the problem, the solution and what is at stake. To help you get started, use the worksheets in our training module "Communicating for Change: Shaping Public Debate with Framing and Messages" (see pages 46-48).

Want more examples? Check out our annual Top 10 lists from 2016, 2015, 2014 and 2013. Have other tips for creating memorable media bites? We want to hear your strategies! Share your tips with us at info@bmsg.org, on Facebook or on Twitter @BMSG.

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