Friends and followers!
With CampSight’s launch squarely in the rearview, Matt and I are now jumping headlong into our mission: helping harness the power of words to make a positive difference in the world. The right stories – told well – can change everything and we are here to help.
Today’s post is adapted from a piece I wrote for “Success” magazine. It’s as relevant and timely today as ever and it punctuates two critical truths that underscore everything we’ll be talking about: 1) in just the last few years, the “communications landscape” has shifted significantly; and 2) the fundamentals of media strategy remain bedrock.
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Moving Public Policy by Moving Public Opinion
It’s the Holy Grail for every interest group: a shift in public policy that advances the cause. But how do you get the deciders to side with you? One proven answer is to move public opinion first; get voters (and donors) to make your case for you.
How do you do that?
You’ve heard of earned media: the idea that, with a little elbow grease, a good plan and a compelling story, you can get the local news to tell your story for you, free of charge. In today’s media environment, if you know what you’re doing, you can work it like never before.
In this post, we’ll focus on television news (we’ll save papers for another day). TV news isn’t dead, despite what you may have heard. In the Triangle, roughly 200,000 households tune in to watch the news on any given day. Getting your story on a local network affiliate is still a big ‘get’ in public awareness campaigns. It’s not what it once was but a substantive television news feature absolutely carries serious caché with lawmakers, voters, and donors.
Ironically – and critically – the same forces that are pulling viewers away from traditional media are making it easier than ever to get coverage in traditional media.
TV news used to consist of one newscast at 6pm. Now, many stations have to fill nearly six hours of news before the 6pm newscast. These days, reporters are spending about as many hours presenting the news as they do gathering it. They’re also now tasked with tweeting, blogging, posting on Facebook, creating distinct and new digital content, and writing web copy. That’s created a WAY overtaxed fleet of reporters, stretched to their limits. Most will take any help they can get. That’s opportunity.
Of course, there’s a catch. You really do have to earn it. Gone are the days of faxed-in press releases that get the live trucks rolling. Now you have to do more work up front if you want reporters to take a swing at your pitch. But if you throw it right, your stats can soar.
The bottom line is this: you need everything ready to go before you contact reporters. At least, everything they will need to sell the story to their bosses and deliver on the pitch if they get to run with it.
Things you want to have at the ready:
- Background information that explains the story (including source materials or past media reports). Don’t make it too long. A page or two is ideal. Remember, you’re trying to save reporters time;
- At least one interview with a key stakeholder. Avoid officials, or “suits,” wherever possible. Reporters go out of their way to find “real people;” go out of your way to find relatable, sympathetic faces around which to build your story. You should also be prepared to go to reporters/stations as necessary. If you absolutely can’t offer a live interview, try for something like Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangout (visuals matter). If you have to do a phone interview, have a “head-shot” (ideally, a professionally shot close up of the person on the phone) ready to email;
- Layer multi-media components into your press releases. Videos, pictures and info-graphics can make them more eye-catching and more engaging. According to a PR Newswire study a couple years back, well-placed multimedia can lead to to 77% better response rate than a traditional news release;
- Suggestions for people reporters may want to talk to on the other side of the issue. Good reporters will always try to get an opposing viewpoint. You may be able to steer them to one that works in your favor.
In TV-Land, stories that are easy for reporters to get on TV are referred to as “just add water” stories. This isn’t derogatory. Stations and reporters are so strapped for time and resources nowadays, just-add-water pitches are often no-brainers for managers looking for content.
Here are a few other tips guaranteed to help you earn traditional media coverage:
- Create distinct social media events and releases so reporters and bloggers can carve out unique and distinct stories. Don’t forget to embed codes for images and video;
- If you’re going to pitch a story, make it worthwhile. The easiest way to gut-check whether your story is newsworthy is to ask friends/colleagues if they think it matters outside your group. Find out what would interest them most and tailor your pitch to that;
- Who you pitch your story to can be as important as how you pitch it. Some reporters in your market will be ‘friendly’ to your cause; others won’t. Know the difference and make sure the good ones get personalized calls/emails/texts in addition to the press releases you send wide;
- Develop relationships with key reporters and newsroom deciders. Set up a schedule of quarterly coffee or lunch dates to foster relationships with someone at every station in your market;
- Understand signature differences between print journalists, TV reporters, radio announcers, bloggers, trackers, and other media-types you’ll encounter. Those differences matter. Know the universe, know the players, and know who to call based on your needs;
- And always: when you’re pitching a story, start with what’s new. After all, that’s what drives the news.
Media strategy is one of the most overlooked components of an organization’s game plan. With a well-executed strategy, you can leverage traditional, social, and app-based media and reach more people more quickly than at any time in history. In the months and years to come, we’ll help you master tactics and strategies that will help you get your story told.
If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. And if you’d like to do a little digging on your own, trying starting with our website: www.campsightstrategies.com.