Media work in the project

Media can act as multipliers not only for large, high-profile projects, but also for smaller, internal projects. This benefit should not be underestimated. An R&D project in which a young biotech company is researching an anti-cancer drug may not be of immediate interest to readers of the local newspaper. At second glance, however, the positive presentation of a project with a project object that is generally regarded as useful can certainly help to cultivate the company's image. Internally, media coverage motivates staff and sponsors. Good media contacts need to be built up in good times so that they can prove their worth in bad times - for example, when the company has to lay off staff - i.e., media work needs to be proactive.
A woman reading a newspaper.


The five principles of media relations in the project

Media relations for the project can go far beyond the narrow circle of stakeholders affected by and influencing the project and help to reach a wide public. If the project manager is to communicate key facts about the project, they must bear in mind that a key message to be conveyed always includes a personal stance. The core message is associated with a short and concise presentation and weighting of the project and its main results. However, when classifying and weighting, the project manager must also take a stand and adopt a stance. They need to be prepared and have convincing answers to questions such as:
  • How is the project relevant to society?
  • What contribution can this project make?
  • How do I as a project manager stand by my project? 
The core message is also a manifestation of the project manager's inner attitude. It is not only through the spoken word that the project manager's inner attitude to these issues must be perceived by the stakeholders. The non-verbal is often more powerful than the spoken word, facial expressions, body language and tone of voice. The explanations and details of the project manager's statements can be quickly forgotten by the stakeholders. What needs to be remembered, however, is the essence of the project and why it is important to the sponsoring organisation and the project's stakeholders.
Everything that is published about the project must be compatible with the five principles of media relations.
1. Consider the interests of the target group(s) of your project.
2. Create a project vision (i.e., mission statement) for your project. 
3. Create a project identity (i.e., a self-image of the project and its desired internal and external impact). 
4. Define a project design and external presentation (logo, font, etc.).
5. Work on the positive image of the project.
These five principles form the framework for project-related media work, which can now be filled in. 

Identify target groups and their interests

As with stakeholder communication in general, the needs of individual media in terms of content, frequency and form of information about the project in particular should be identified and, if necessary, summarised in a media matrix. If the project executing agency has a media office, it should of course be involved in these steps. 
Anyone who follows the public discourse on the project topic can quickly see
  • In which media the field and the environment of the project appear.
  • Which editorial offices publish about it.
 But who is the editor responsible for the topic who can be contacted directly?
Print and online media

The contact addresses of the editorial offices concerned or - even better - of the editor who publishes on the project's field can be found in the imprint of these media.
Radio / TV

Check the station's website to find out who is responsible for the programme. Media libraries make it easy to check what has already been broadcast on radio or TV about the environment or a similar project. The next step is to contact the authors of the relevant programmes.
Local TV and local radio

The easiest way is to call the secretariat of the local station directly and ask for the office or person responsible for the project area.
The media must be informed that there are exciting things to report about the project and its results, and that they can contribute or be interviewed.

Action and timing vs. reaction and attention

Sometimes projects need to react to unforeseen events and communicate accordingly to the outside world. 
From the world of project management

A serious accident occurs during a trial in a product development project and a team member is killed. The project manager has to write press releases, be available for interviews and give a eulogy at the funeral service, which is published in the local section of the daily newspaper.
So media work does not mean writing a press release every few weeks. Responding to the unexpected can only be planned to a very limited extent. It requires constant attention to current events, both internal and external, readiness, good responsiveness, continuity and good contacts with journalists.
For all forms of appearance, whether it is a short statement, a long interview or an in-depth talk show interview, the project manager needs to consider which roles they might be interviewed in and which role they would like to appear in. They can also choose between different roles during the interview. A technical expert who brings their personality to the table will have a stronger impact than a dispassionate reporter of facts. A project manager who is questioned critically will be more convincing if they can also show their own commitment.
It is important for the project manager to be able to distinguish between statements and answers on project-related issues and those with a political background. It is also important for the project manager to be able to distinguish between statements and answers that are project-related and those that have a political background. If they doubt whether the project or its environment is affected at all, they can refrain from answering. If they are not sure, they can always say so, because it is better to say nothing than to say something wrong.

Internal coordination

The project team should always act in close consultation with the spokesperson or, in smaller companies, management, rather than going public alone. Important issues and deadlines should be carefully coordinated. Consideration should also be given to the appropriateness of commenting on particular issues in a particular medium and whether the planned statement is consistent with the company's principles.
When dealing with media enquiries, the press office will consider whether the medium is reputable and promotes the company's reputation. It also checks whether the medium is technically and journalistically competent and reaches the relevant target groups.
In some cases, the media is willing to give the company the opportunity to review the prepared article before publication. However, there is no legal right to do so. Only verbatim quotes must be submitted for approval.

Press releases

It is important to distinguish between a press release and a press announcement. A press release is what a company says to the media, whereas a press announcement is what the media publishes.
To keep the media interested, it is advisable to issue press releases several times a year, but only on important topics. Otherwise, interest can quickly wane.
It is a good idea to get regular feedback from journalists on the quality and relevance of press releases. An open exchange will help to optimise the information content, length and frequency of releases.
It is important that a press release is accurate and concise. One page should be enough to convey the most important information. A short but catchy headline is important to grab the reader's attention. The lead should answer the five important questions (who, what, when, where, how) to provide a quick overview. It should also identify the contact person and the person responsible in terms of press law. This ensures clear and transparent communication. It goes without saying that press releases should be sent to the media in good time so that they can be published as soon as possible. As a general rule, the more concise the wording, the less likely it is to be misinterpreted. The art is to get the information to the point without sacrificing clarity and precision.

Press distribution list

When setting up and maintaining a press distribution list, there are a number of important aspects to consider in order to ensure optimal communication:

1. Before sending out any press release, it is essential to check that the contact details are correct and up to date.

2. Quality over quantity: It is advisable to select a manageable number of recipients, but to target the right groups. This will ensure a targeted and effective approach.

3. Regular updating: the press mailing list should be reviewed every six months to ensure that the addressees' preferred communication channels are still up to date.

4. Personalised greetings: to make journalists feel that they are being well looked after by your company, one or two personalised sentences tailored to the recipient are often enough.
Be especially careful with email attachments and the recipient's privacy. Many journalists reject email attachments because they cannot be opened in some editorial networks, are cumbersome to handle and pose a potential virus risk. It is best to clarify with the relevant contact how they would like to receive the press release. To protect journalists' privacy, it is advisable to either send messages individually or to send the message to the group of recipients as a blind copy to prevent all recipients from seeing the distribution list.


A project manager who wants to share the results with stakeholders or the general public needs to have interesting things to report and stories to tell. Therefore, they should think about what stories there are in their project. Running a project can be like an adventure trip. At the beginning of the project, a goal is set, something is to be created or achieved. Then a team is formed and sets off on the journey. Obstacles and difficulties have to be overcome in order to finally reach the goal. This can be told in one big story, or perhaps in many small episodes. Or maybe the exciting stories lie in the insights gained, who knows?
Traditional storytelling is a powerful way to capture the interest of stakeholders, media editors and many others. Communicating facts, but also emotions, must be the focus of the project manager in order to lead the project as a convincing leader. It is not about painting pictures on the wall in the sense of colourful projections, but about creating images in people's minds. Not every story has to be as long as the epic "The Lord of the Rings".

Media work in the project - the author
Author: Dr. Roland Ottmann
Keywords: Project management, Media work

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