Developing a Traditional Media Strategy
Kevin James Bondelli
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License
DEVELOPING A TRADITIONAL MEDIA STRATEGY
I. MEDIA LISTS AND PRESS RELEASES II. WORKING WITH REPORTERS III. MEDIA MONITORING IV. RAPID RESPONSE AND LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
I. MEDIA LISTS AND PRESS RELEASES
Building your media list So before you can send out press releases, you need people to send them out to. This is why you need to create a media contact list of reporters and editors that are on beats that would be interested in covering your organization. Read through your local newspapers and find the names of the reporters that cover local and state politics. Once you have a list of names for reporters that may be interested in calling you, find the contact page of the news organizations website (here is the LA Times contact page as an example). From here you can complete your contact list. You may want to call the reporters before you ever send them anything to make sure that your organization falls under the scope of their beat and ask permission to send them your releases. You can go either way here. Some people like to build a relationship with a reporter first, others like to start sending releases to avoid being blown off in the first place. Create a spreadsheet in Excel or your software of choice and you are ready to go. Sending press releases The first rule of press releases in a traditional media strategy is to not overwhelm the reporter or editor with the sheer volume of releases. They get a ridiculous amount of releases sent to them every day, so don’t be part of the problem. Only send releases that are interesting, current, and relevant to the reporter, paper, and their readership. The most effective way to make sure a reporter is aware of your release is to give them a call. Once again, don’t abuse this. Every communications director and press secretary worth their Blackberry does this. The important thing here is to be considerate of the reporter. Don’t try to badger them into writing your story. If you do this right you will be building a relationship with the reporters, which means they will trust you more than the random person sending a press release and will possibly come to you when they need a comment for a story pertaining to something relevant to your organization. Send your releases from an official email address from your organization. Your release is much more likely to be taken seriously. Content and format of a press release Here are some of the rules of press release content and formatting: General Rules: A release should address the 5 Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. If you are writing about an event make sure to include the date, time, and location. The release should be around a page to a page-and-a-half double-spaced. Your release should include contact information for the person the reporter should call for more information. • Always end your release with “###” or “<END>” to let the reporter know that they have reached the end of the release. If you have a hard copy of a release always have “<MORE>” at the bottom of the first page. • Fonts - use one of the big three: Arial, Times New Roman, or Verdana. Don’t try anything • • • • 4
fancy with your fonts. If you send me a release in Vladimir Script (or worse, Comic Sans) you are about to enter a world of pain. • I personally like including my organization’s logo on my release to help draw attention and show that it is coming from us. If you choose to do this in your email releases, DO NOT include the image as an attachment to the email. Host the image online and have the document call for it. To do this in Microsoft Word (for sending out through Outlook): Insert>>Picture>>From File. Instead of using the picture on your hard drive you just enter the URL of the image that you have on your web server. Headline: • The headline is arguably the most important part of your release. A good headline is the difference between getting noticed and being lost in the crowd of other releases flooding the editor’s inbox. It should be very clear from the headline exactly what the release is about, don’t get too cute with it. • The headline should be bold and in a larger type than the rest of the release. • The general rule for capitalization in a headline is to capitalize every word that contains four or more characters. • End your release with a brief description of your organization. Here is the YDAZ about language for releases: YDAZ is the youth arm of the Arizona Democratic Party, working to build strong chapters and a solid youth voting bloc for Democrats statewide. As a chapter of the Young Democrats of America, YDAZ mobilizes young people under the age of 36 to participate in the electoral process, influence the ideals of the Democratic Party and develop the skills of the youth generation to serve as leaders at the local, state, and national level. First Paragraph: • <city>, <state>: should start off the first paragraph of every press release. The reporter needs to know where the news is located. • Your first paragraph needs to be concise and make clear the content of the release. A tip I have often heard is to write the first paragraph as if the reporter has not read your headline (which sometimes is actually the case). To look at some examples of press releases, you can view all of the AZ Democratic Party’s past releases here on their website. There is more to writing and sending press releases than this. If you want help ask some people in your area that work in communications. The communications director or press secretary at your state party may be willing to help.
II. WORKING WITH REPORTERS
Tips for working with reporters • No matter what you may have seen on television, there is no such thing as “off-therecord.” Don’t say anything to a reporter that you do not want to see in print. • When a reporter calls for an interview that you were not expecting, ask what the subject of the interview will be and if you can call them back immediately. Don’t get caught off guard in an interview. Ask the reporter about their deadline (this let’s them know you understand how the process works and lets you know your time frame). The time between the reporter’s initial call and your return call is your time to prepare for the interview. Jot down the talking points that you may want to use and gather any statistics and keep them in front of you as a reference. This will ensure that you stay on message and sound informed. • If you are at a social event with a reporter, watch what you say and how you act. A reporter is never truly off duty, so make sure you don’t do or say anything that would be an embarrassment to you or your organization. • Respect a reporter’s deadline. If you leave them hanging they will not come back to you for interviews or comments. • Keep your interviews to the facts. Don’t make baseless accusations, don’t whine, and don’t use ad hominem attacks. • Once you have completed your interview, ask when the story will run. You don’t want to miss it. • If you are going to interview in person or on camera, make sure you are dressed appropriately and are adequately groomed. • The pivot is your friend, as long as you are the one doing it. If you are doing an interview about increased youth turnout in your state, and the reporter is shifting the subject to something else, bring the interview right back. This is another one of those subtle arts, but you can learn from watching television interviews and talking to communications professionals. Just make sure to never be rude, condescending, or otherwise offensive, or your pivot will become a stumble.
III. MEDIA MONITORING
It is important for you to know what is being said about your organization in both new and traditional media outlets. You may also want to keep track of posts and stories about candidates, issues, and legislation that your organization is interesting in. This post will give you two tips to efficiently monitor the media. These are the methods I use in compiling all the stories in my link posts. Tip 1: Google Alerts are your friends I love Google Alerts. They are great not only because you are sent an email every time your selected keywords show up somewhere, but also because from these you find many great new news sources and niche blogs that you may have not known about otherwise. Having effective Google Alerts depends on the same things that result in effective Google searches: it’s all about selecting your query so it only returns results that are pertinent to you. The Google Search Guide is a good basic reference. In finding stories for my link posts, I use keywords such as “youth vote” “young voter” “young democrat” “college democrat” and “YDA.” Using quotation marks in your query will only return results that have all the words in order. In the case of the query “young democrat” not using the quotation marks would result in delivering all posts with either the word ‘young’ or ‘democrat,’ which is not specific enough to be useful. Notice that my keyword is “young democrat” instead of “young democrats.” The former keyword will return results for both ‘young democrat’ and ‘young democrats,’ where “young democrats” would exclude ‘young democrat’ results. I would have missed out on a story that talked about “a young democrat from Arizona.” My personal preferences for my Google Alerts is to have them Comprehensive (returning results from news, blogs, web, video, and groups) and to be sent as-it-happens (as opposed to once-a-day or weekly). This casts the widest net and returns the results to while they are still fresh. When you are starting out write down a list of the topics that you would like to be alerted about. Obviously you will want your organization’s name, but there may be a lot more that would be useful to you. Once you have your list think about the best keywords to get you that result, add those alerts, and then adjust based on trial and error. I remember when I was setting up a Google Alert to get stories about Harry Mitchell (the best member of Congress in the United States, in my opinion) before he was elected to Congress. At first I used the keyword “Harry Mitchell,” but I noticed that most of my results had nothing to do with the Harry Mitchell I was looking for. I then tried ‘Arizona “Harry Mitchell”‘ and got better results. If you aren’t getting exactly what you want out of your alert, play with it until you do. To learn how to really get specific searches, check out 20 Tips for More Efficient Google Searches. Tip 2: RSS feeds will save you time and effort RSS (Real Simple Syndication) in my opinion is the greatest thing since Firefox (which should be your default web browser). No longer must we individually visit every website we would like to read, not knowing whether or not it has been updated. No longer must we traverse the deluge of 7
browser bookmarks, wasting time, energy, and bandwidth. Now the content comes to us, and it is a beautiful thing. For those yet unfamiliar with the wonders of RSS, here is the basic concept. Your RSS aggregator (more popularly known as a feed reader) receives new content from the sites you subscribe to as it is published. All of the posts are aggregated in one place, so you don’t have to hop from site to site and you always know when there is new content. The first thing you need to do is get a feed reader. You have many different options here. There are two main categories of readers: web-based and desktop application. I prefer to use a webbased reader because it enables me to read my feeds from any computer with an internet connection, as well as from my Blackberry. I use Google Reader, which is in my opinion the best option by far. The advantage of desktop application readers had been the ability to read previously downloaded feeds while you were offline, but now that many online readers include offline capabilities, that advantage has been negated. Some other online readers include Newsgator and Bloglines, as well as the Yahoo!, Google, and Live portals. Since you are probably going to be really working those feeds, I suggest the more robust online readers over the portal options, which tend to give you more of a cursory glance at a few feeds. So you have chosen a feed reader. Now you need to find the feeds that you are interested in. Let me help you with your first few. Subscribe to Kevin Bondelli’s YD Blog. Subscribe to the YDA Blog. Subscribe to Future Majority. First let me commend you on your first three subscriptions, you have excellent taste. Now you need to subscribe to the other feeds you are interested in. Almost every newspaper offers RSS feeds for its articles segmented by topic or section. Visit the websites of your local newspapers and subscribe to those sections that you want to track. Go to leftyblogs.com and subscribe to the blogs in your state. Look at the blogrolls of blogs you currently read and check out those blogs to see if you would like to subscribe to them. If a website or blog has been coming up a lot on your Google Alerts for your keywords, it is probably a good idea to subscribe. Your subscription list will probably be changing often as you add new feeds and delete those that have not been useful. The longer you use your reader the better your subscription list will get, so keep it up. For a huge list of RSS resources, check out the Ultimate RSS Toolbox at Mashable. Conclusion Between Google Alerts and tracking RSS feeds you will get pretty good coverage of the topics that interest you, as well as what is being said about your organization.
IV. RAPID RESPONSE AND LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Build your list The first step in creating a rapid response program is to create a list of the newspapers in your area and to find the email addresses for submitting letters to the editor. You should be able to find the information online on their contact page or on the op-ed page. You will want to take note of any other pertinent information that you find. For example, some newspapers will not look at letters that have been submitted to any other publication. You also want to see if they post any guidelines on letter length or format, which you will want to convey to your team. Assemble your team Find your best writers and ask them if they would be willing to join your rapid response team. When certain issues arise these people will be those you rely on to send letters to the papers to which you direct them. For very important issues that are getting a lot of coverage you may want to blast your entire email list about it, but your core rapid response team will be your most reliable group that you count on to follow through. Educate your team It is important that for each rapid response item you send your team the information they need. Here is a list of some of that information: • A general introduction of the issue and why it is important. Sell them on why they should put the effort in on the issue. • Talking points that you would like them to follow in their letters. These will help your team write their letters and keep them on the message that you are trying to spread. • The papers that you want them to submit their letters to with the email addresses for submission. • Letter-writing tips and guidelines, such as length (normally 250-500 words), that they should be concise, and that they should be careful to avoid anything libelous. Determining what to write about Topics for rapid response should have recently been in the news and be relevant to the readers of the paper. If the topic is not relevant the letters will be ignored. Choose topics that help you get out your organization’s message. Talk Radio If you have a heads up that are certain topic is going to be discussed or a certain person interviewed on a talk radio station, the rapid response process is similar to LTE. Email your team with the talking points, the date, time, and channel of the broadcast, and the call-in phone number. If you are finding out about a talk radio broadcast at the last minute, call your most reliable people, brief them on what to say, and have them call in.