Written exclusively for Local Victory by Guest Columnist Peter G. Pollak; CEO, Empire Information Services, Inc.
Whether you’re a veteran of many political wars or engaged in your first campaign, dealing with the media is an inevitable need of every campaign organization. Some campaigns can afford to hire media specialists, but many put in the role of press secretary someone who may not have prior experience. This is a quick course for anyone who needs help putting together an effective media relations program.
Your goal is to get as much positive coverage for your campaign as possible. This assumes you believe media coverage can help your campaign, which in turn assumes you want to reach the people who get information from the media. In some cases advertising can overcome or overwhelm bad press. However, if you can get good press for a minimum of cost and effort, you’re that much ahead of the game.
Campaign seasons are short, but as in almost every other endeavor, planning pays off. An election campaign media plan doesn’t have to be 50 pages long. The main elements needed are:
1. An assessment of your campaign’s needs relative to press coverage.
2. A list of your resources – staff, equipment and money.
3. Concrete goals with a timeline, such as get a feature story about our candidate in the Daily Bugle by August 15.
4. Assignments: Who’s going to do what when.
5. Evaluation: How will you know if you’re succeeding or whether you need to re-allocate resources or adjust your goals.
Understand the Media’s Role in Campaign Coverage
Keep in mind that the media is not monolithic. Not to belabor the obvious, but radio, TV, daily and weekly newspapers all have different missions. Why? Because they have different audiences and use different delivery systems. Those differences influence what you can expect from each type of media.
Further knowledge of individual media is important. If the Daily Bugle usually endorses a Donkey and you’re running on the Elephant’s line, don’t cross them off. That kind of information suggests it will take more work to get your message in the Bugle.
Don’t assume ownership dictates coverage. Take individual reporters at their word until they prove themselves to be dishonorable. 99 percent of the time you won’t be sorry.
All media have one thing in common – they operate in an environment where the amount of available news exceeds the time or space they have to fill. Editorial decisions on what goes in are made on lots of criteria. Personal, political and institutional influences may come into play.
You can’t control a reporter or editor’s bias, but you can control whether they get your item in time to be used. See my do and don’t list at the end of this piece for more ways you can make the cut.
The purpose of a news release is to inform the press that you have new information about the campaign. Releases should be short and to the point. Your goal is for the daily press to call you back. Few weeklies these days print releases word for word so don’t bother sending them a 2,000-word feature unless they ask for one.
If you are not going to use a professional distribution service, contact every media organization you think might be interested in your campaign. Find out who should get your releases and how they want them sent (surface mail, email or fax?). You can find names and emails or fax numbers in various places, but sending releases to someone without making prior contact gives an editor a reason to ignore your releases.
Create a press area on your website. Include contact information with your phone, cell phone and email address. Post releases promptly. Add audio and/or video from press conferences for extra impact. Include several candidate photos – both headshots and action photos. That gives the media a choice if they want to use one of your photos.
If you’re not getting the coverage you feel you deserve, call a couple of editors or reporters and ask them how you can do better. Then follow their advice.
It Adds Up
Make sure you keep track of articles on your campaign that were generated by your media plan. Calculate how much it would have cost to buy an ad of an equivalent size or airtime. Then, present your results once a month to your candidate and campaign director. While they’re spending thousands on TV ads, they’ll be pleased to learn that your efforts have a dollar value, not to mention the potential impact on the voters.
A Do and Don’t Media Relations List
· Do reply ASAP to press inquiries.
· If you’re the press contact, make sure you’re available and campaign staff know how to reach you.
· If you’re not available, make arrangements in case a reporter calls.
· Do answer all questions honestly to the best of your knowledge.
· If you can’t answer a question, try to get an answer (by the reporter’s deadline).
· Schedule press events to accommodate media deadlines
· Make every attempt to make your candidate available to the press.
· Be clear when you’re talking for yourself and when for your candidate.
· Don’t lie, misrepresent, distort, etc.
· Don’t withhold information – if you’re found out, your credibility will be zero.
· Don’t play favorites. Treat the weekly reporter as you would one from a daily.
· Don’t hide your candidate from the press.
· Don’t send copies of the same release to 50 people at the same newspaper. Find out who handles your campaign and trust their judgement.
· Don’t send out the same information over and over again…Only issue a release when you have something NEW to report
—About the Author—
Founded by Peter Pollak in 1986, Empire Information Services, available on the web at http://www.eisinc.com/, operates a press release distribution service that specializes in delivery of releases to custom media networks as well as to general news organizations located in the Northeastern USA. EIS also provides web, programming and editorial services to Empire Page, an online political news clipping service available at http://www.empirepage.com/