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Working With the Media

Promoting Underage Drinking Prevention Efforts

Communication through mass media is a powerful tool for reaching underage alcohol use prevention audiences and achieving prevention goals. Media channels include television, radio, newspapers, magazines, movies, music, and the Internet. As media inform and entertain us, they also help shape our views and values. Your underage alcohol use prevention strategy can use media to address problems in your community.

How Can Media Fit Into a Prevention Strategy?

Media can serve several purposes:

  • Building support for prevention activities: For example, calling attention to binge drinking among young people or reporting the gains made by existing prevention activities.
  • Delivering prevention messages to target audiences: For example, public service announcements (PSAs) aimed at getting parents to talk to their kids about alcohol before they start drinking.
  • Generating public support for policies and laws related to underage drinking: For example, restrictions on the advertising, price, and sale of alcohol.

How Can You Put Media To Work?

To include media in your prevention strategy, you have two choices: Earn coverage or pay for it. Earning coverage means attracting the attention of media outlets such as newspapers and radio and TV stations. To earn coverage, you have to invest time and effort.

Developing relationships with the media can help. Publicizing events, issuing news releases, and even visiting media outlets are important steps. Still, to truly partner with the media, you need to provide benefits first and look for results later. This can mean drafting stories, sending information packets, and offering tips on how to use statistics and study results in news stories.

Combining media activities with other prevention efforts can help change knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about substance abuse.

Creativity can make events more newsworthy. Media outlets may want to cover a public event such as a rally or demonstration, especially if it involves action and memorable scenes, skits, people in costume, or images that bring an underage alcohol use problem to life. Stories that are visual, compelling, or controversial are the most likely to get air time and print space.

Local connections draw attention. The media may be more likely to cover and report events when the overall message is tied to local concerns or involves community members. Alcohol use on a local campus, or a prevention video developed by students, may draw coverage that includes television interviews with students and project staff members.

Paying for coverage—buying radio or TV air time, ad space in a newspaper, or billboard space—gives you control of when or where people get your message. Remember, PSAs typically cannot be scheduled. To be sure your group’s money is well spent, develop your message carefully and find out which media—such as radio stations that appeal to teens, adults, or certain ethnic groups—attract your target audiences.

What Results Can You Expect From Using Media?

In general, you should use media to support other prevention activities. Media activities can identify your prevention strategy and make people more aware of its aims, activities, messages, and results. Combining media activities with other prevention efforts can help change knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about underage alcohol use. Do not count on media alone to prevent underage alcohol use.

Reaching Out to the Media—Know the Media in Your Area

Learn who writes the columns in the local newspapers, which radio hosts discuss local issues, what parents and kids read, who has covered the issue before, and which media personalities have a personal connection to drug or alcohol abuse.

Call Media Representatives Until You Reach Them Directly

Leave only one message—ask when the person is usually in and call then. Be persistent. Also, find out if a media representative accepts email and contact him or her that way as well.

Arrange Coverage for Weekend Events

Radio and TV media typically have different people working on weekends. If your event is on a weekend, try to interest weekend media staff in covering it. Get their names and phone numbers ahead of time. Be ready to call or fax information early on Saturday.

Always Provide Contact Information

Use your letterhead and include email addresses and fax numbers at the top of all media materials. Use the name of the person making the phone calls. Provide a “day of” number for reaching the contact person at an event via cell phone. (If necessary, borrow a cell phone just for that day.)

Follow Through and Don’t Give Up Easily

Call before and after you send material. If one media contact is not interested, try someone else at that outlet. Some news works better for one show or news column than another. Do not expect one reporter or department to pass your message to another.

Time Your Contacts

Mail and call ahead of time and fax or email a reminder with any updates about 2 days before an event. This will help you keep your event foremost in the minds of media contacts.

Know When To Quit

Diligence can pay off, but there is a fine line between being persistent and being a pest.

Starting Points

Offer Media Angles

  • Identify schools, faith groups, businesses, or other groups in your community that take part in prevention events. They can provide inspiring interviews and engaging visuals for TV and print. Look for what’s factual, interesting, and fun.
  • Obtain quotes, background information, and “sound bites” from school personnel, law enforcement, physicians, hospitals, and faith leaders about underage alcohol use problems and effective prevention activities in your area. Providing quotes and compelling information from several sources can make your group the one media representatives call for these stories.
  • Arrange media interviews with a local, State, or national prevention spokesperson.
  • Connect national statistics with local stories. For example, look at data from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, available at and provide information to media covering local problems such as Driving Under the Influence/Driving While Intoxicated (DUI/DWI) arrest rates, hospital admissions, and school counselor referrals.
  • Point out links between underage alcohol use and other community problems such as assault, sexual abuse, alcohol-impaired driving, police involvement, vandalism, property damage, injury, and death.
  • Develop and submit an editorial or commentary piece signed by a respected community figure to a newspaper. Newspapers may publish such an item even if they do not carry news about your prevention activities.
  • Invite media outlets in your area to sponsor activities, to serve on your planning committee, or to host an event for youth.
  • Ask a media personality who supports your work to emcee an event you are sponsoring. Unless you have special access to a media personality, your best bet may be to contact a station representative such as a community affairs director or a producer.

Use Cooperative Consultation

To counter negative media treatment, such as stereotyping and highlighting problems among your target audience, take an approach called cooperative consultation. Key steps for local prevention groups are to:

  • Document the way underage alcohol use and related issues are handled in media such as newspaper columns or news programs; and
  • Use this information to start discussions with reporters, columnists, and editors. Telling the full story of the risks faced by local youth and the progress being made on these challenges may lead to more positive and forward-looking news coverage.

Provide Answers

Finally, when asked by media about any underage alcohol use problems, be sure not to answer, “No comment.” If it’s a crisis situation, explain why you can’t go into specifics. Provide whatever general information you can. Refer media to another organization that may be able to help. This approach will establish you as an honest and trusted source.