TALKING TO THE MEDIA
Having a media strategy is based upon the idea that by going to a newspaper, radio, TV station, or blog, you can get your story publicized far and wide.
Think this through.
You may not benefit from media attention. If a politician is quietly ready to pass a law for the greater good that will upset his donors or political base, you may want to say “thank you” by not publicizing the event. If by organizing others in your community, you can secure the change you seek, focusing on the media may be a waste of time. If you have a good relationship with the decision maker or his or her staff it is important to discuss you public advocacy plan with them to ensure that the plan does not undermine the decision maker’s work on your issue.
If the timing is right and your story is compelling enough, however, the media may indeed be the right megaphone – the way to amplify your message and get a lot of people onboard. It helps to be aware that “the media” is not one entity. It is made of thousands of outlets – each with their own political leanings, tone, issues, geographic focus, and publication schedule.
Pick the right targets.
Research local media outlets if yours is a story with primarily local significance. If you want national media attention, you need a story with major impact – one that instantly turns heads and moves a lot of people whether it makes them happy, upset, or motivated. Sometimes, events that seem dramatic to you are rather mundane by the standard of the front page of the Houston Chronicle, so don’t be discouraged if your story doesn’t get a lot of coverage.
Don’t be shy about calling publications to find out the correct writer to pitch, and how much lead time he or she needs for a story. For example, you don’t want to send GQ a story on women in the workplace unless there is an angle that would interest their primarily male readership.
Another question worth asking before you invest a lot of time: Will your story be covered sympathetically by the mainstream media?
Be sure your message has a strong human interest slant that will help reporters see the problem from the “people’s point-of-view.”
Perhaps your town is not particularly open-minded when it comes to LGBT equality:
- What if a high school senior who gets straight As is kicked out of color guard after a teacher finds out he’s gay? Would that persuade people to reexamine their values?
Maybe your town is against labor rights for recent immigrants or undocumented workers:
- What if it turns out that an employer has been hiring immigrants to work construction, under very dangerous conditions for way below minimum wage, and then decides not to pay them at all at the end of the year? Would that change minds?
Take the time to find the right story – one that will persuade people that the problem is severe and that now is the time to face it. If you’re part of a large campaign, you probably will need to hire a publicist or someone with extensive media contacts and experience.
And don’t forget, the Internet has created a space where you can essentially be your own media. You can start your own Youtube station and circulate videos through Facebook, Twitter, and your email list. Likewise, you can start your own blog and then if a reporter becomes interested, there’s plenty of material for them to draw on.
Consider compiling and pitching a list of blogs where there is already a sympathetic audience waiting. Use Google to find blogs that focus on your issue, politics, social change, or your town or geographic region. Today, there are major websites like Change.org devoted to activist efforts. Start with reporters that would want to cover your issue rather than trying to bang down doors.