This article delves into how to get, sustain and monitor press coverage in traditional media including TV, radio, print and online media in order to disseminate campaign messages.
Recent social psychological research shows that the act of reading and identifying with a fictional character also means that we tend to subconsciously adapt their behaviour. In reading about our favourite characters, we actually become more like them.
The relationship between ‘what we read’ and ‘what we vote for’ has long been established. A change in what people consume, read and think can mean a change in their politics. Much of today's political science research proves this: our cultural consumption is heavily tied to our political preferences and beliefs. From the type of car we want to drive to the news outlets we read online.
In the choice of attention given to topics and political parties, the media has an enormous influence on what issues voters think to be important and which political parties are relevant to those issues.
We will go through the following aspects of getting media attention:
To identify where you have the best opportunity to find and convince your voters, you need to map out the media (bias) landscape. Figure out who the big media outlets are, the ones you like and the ones that are on the other end of the spectrum. Additionally, differentiate between old and new media, individuals and platforms.
Media landscapes is a wonderful resource to start to understand your media landscape. This project by Free Press Unlimited and European Journalism Centre, written together with local experts provide expert summaries and analyses of the state of media in European countries as well as its neighbouring states. See a few national examples below.
While it’s important to consider bigger and well-known media platforms when plotting your media landscape, don’t forget about individuals such as journalists/editors, high profile influencers and smaller more niche digital outlets who may have high credibility, a big reach and may be easier to reach.
Before deciding on the media outlets you’d like to feature you and your campaign in, think about your audience and what media they are consuming, which media do you want to be relevant in and where do you want attention for your leaders and issues to be in.
Now that you’re aware of your media landscape, it’s time to map the media you want to build relationships with. The first step is to think through and research the audiences and corresponding media you want to be featured in and build relationships with. Look into what channels are available - do they also have a presence on TV, radio or social media? What kind of info is available about their audiences? Do they cover the topics or the angles you work on? Are they seen as credible and trustworthy?
Next, it’s time to make a list of your top 5-10 priority media outlets - which could include local, regional and international media depending on who you’re trying to target and what your goals are. For example, if you are trying to get citizens and residents to sign a petition relevant to a policy at a municipal level, then more local or regional media would be more impactful than the UK’s BBC for example. You likely have a good sense of what national or regional media you’d like the Green party to be featured in. This should ideally include a spectrum of options for media like print, online, TV, & radio, as well as podcasts, bloggers, vloggers and other new media influencers etc.
Your challenge is to become the go-to source for journalists interested in the topics you want to have ownership of. Like with most things, building reliable relationships will be the key to a successful partnership. So put yourself in the shoes of those journalists: remember that they are juggling deadlines, editors, reporting for their audience, and looking for timely, relevant and interesting news: so make their job as easy as possible for them
These days, a journalist needs to cover a wide range of topics and has very little time to do the research, so finding a source who is knowledgeable and interesting is a journalist’s gold mine. Journalists want the sizzle - they want a hot opinion about something happening now. If you prove yourself as a reliable source of information and insight, they will continue to come to you whenever they need info for a story or a quote or even some background on an issue, which lets you set the frame and set the scene for when the media talk about a topic.
All publicly available contact information of journalists is fair game to use. There are some relatively easy ways to find contact details of journalists such as emails, Twitter handles and phone numbers:
going to the media website you’ve chosen, looking for the journalists reporting on your topics and seeing if their contact details are mentioned there,
once you have a name, looking them up on your search engine to see if their contact details come up there,
Searching them on Twitter to see if their contact info is mentioned, or direct messaging them to ask for an email/phone number
It is important to decide how you want to capture the contact details of journalists. Will you be using Google sheets, newsletter mailing lists like MailChimp or more sophisticated Client Management Systems (CMS)?
Whichever tool you use, make sure to leave space for notes such as the kinds of stories your preferred media/journalists don’t cover, who among your team has the strongest relationship with them or any relevant details you find out about them.
Having a list isn’t enough. The next step is making sure you keep the list up to date. Journalists tend to move around media organisations a lot - this means you’ll need to be ready to restart a relationship if the journalist you know leaves one of your preferred media. Make sure to ask for more info on who the person replacing them will be - if possible. The good news is if they move to another media org, they will know of you and may continue coming to you for info. Journalists tend to make these announcements of job changes on Twitter, so check their feeds regularly.
You’ll also need to have a press contact/email on your website and other communication channels for when the press wants to get in touch with you proactively. Ideally, you should have a go-to press contact identified so all press requests are directed to that person and taken care of. These are especially useful when a big relevant story about your issue breaks out.
OK so you have a press list, now what? Use it! Send out press releases, invites to briefings and reach out individually to specific journalists with exclusive quotes with an immediate reaction. Remember to refer to the list every time you need media attention - you’re not starting from scratch.
“Yesterday’s news is old news.”
Journalists don’t cover opinions (that’s for the Opinion section of the newspaper, see below for more). They cover news — something that is new, preferably dramatic and surprising, and connected to current affairs or issues already being covered in the media.
Newsworthiness is the term used to describe whether or not a topic is interesting enough for people to want or need to know.
Here are some tips for assessing whether a story is newsworthy:
Here are some tips for what is often NOT considered newsworthy:
A press release (aka PR) is an official statement delivered to members of the news media for the purpose of providing information, an official statement, or making an announcement. A PR should provide a quick and urgent response to inform journalists about what has happened.
Elements of a good PR:
A briefing is generally a meeting called by an organisation, government, etc, to inform the press of something newsworthy.
Examples of when a briefing makes sense: an important decision or vote is coming up/just happened, an important change in leadership, an official reaction to bad press/controversy.
This is a good place to use your press list. Inform your press contacts at least a few days in advance and send a reminder a day before or the day of the briefing. If you intend to share more information like reports, press releases etc, send it after the briefing to incentivise people who attend the briefing to get the first scoop.
Quotes (whether exclusive to a media organisation or not) are super quick reactions to newsworthy events/situations. Quotes are a great, quick way to share your opinion on something that has happened in advance of a press release/opinion piece etc.
Quotes should be sent to previously identified press contacts with who you have a relationship and who often cover your topics. A good strategy to follow is to get in touch with them in advance of the story/event happening to warn them that you will be responding to the event/situation via exclusive quotes etc which they can include in their reporting.
Journalists love exclusivity - they want to be the first or only organisation covering a story. So if possible prepare multiple exclusive quotes in advance and send a few of your priority media a unique quote that shares the main message you want to convey.
Letters to the editor (LTEs) are typically short pieces (< 300 words) that are more opinionated than a factual piece. The best way to think of an LTE is to use it to respond to an op-ed or article featured by media - either by putting across why you disagree (journalists love conflict) or linking it to other/broader issues not covered by the news piece.
Since LTEs are short, they should succinctly describe the issues/concerns related to the original news piece. You could also read other opinion pieces/LTEs in that newspaper to get a sense of the criteria they use to decide which LTEs to publish so you can tweak yours similarly. Remember that LTEs usually have a specific contact at the media org so you’ll need to identify this person/contact to make sure it gets to the right person.
An opinion piece or op-ed (opinion editorial) is an article, usually published in a newspaper or magazine, that mainly reflects the author's opinion about a subject. They are popular because they are among the most read sections in the newspaper. Op-eds should generally be between 800-1200 words but this really depends from media to media so make sure to check any submission guidelines by the media first! These guidelines share criteria by the media on what types of op-eds get picked up.
Similarly to LTE, you could read other opinions published in the media to get a sense of the criteria/style of the opinions they usually publish. The op-ed section also has it’s own editors separate from other journalists so you’ll need to find the specific opinion editor contact to send your op-ed to.
Here are some tips for getting your op-ed published:
Op-eds are one of the few press tools where you’re expected to be opinionated. Talk about specific criticisms, explain issues from a personal lens and give clear examples
Op-ed should generally be written by/reflect the opinions of a spokesperson for the organisation, i.e. an expert should author it
Don’t include quotes since the whole piece is technically a quote from the author
Try not to have too many authors for an op-ed since some media like to only publish 1 author
You’ll need to “pitch” your op-ed to the opinion editor to convince them that your op-ed is worth publishing amongst the hundres/thousands of other submissions they receive
Your pitch and op-ed need to include a clear hook - aka why does this matter now and why is this a story worth telling
TV and radio are also excellent traditional media to seek coverage from with a much broader audience, though these can be harder to attain and additionally require content suited to the medium i.e. something visual and dynamic for TV and a charismatic and a confident speaker for radio.
Television is best suited to events that include visual appeal.
Some ideas for content best suited for TV pitches:
Radio is an often-overlooked media option, but it has a large audience, especially when people go and leave work.
Some ideas for content best suited for radio pitches:
Ultimately the best way to build these relationships will be to identify which TV and radio channels are relevant to your audiences, find and connect with reporters, build your organisation as a reliable and timely source and respond quickly to these types of requests, similar to building relationships with press in general. If you have established contact with a media organisation for print that may also have TV and/or radio links, this would be a great way to cross over into this media.
Building media relations is crucial for communicating successfully and convincing audiences. Start by identifying who your priority media is, then build relationships with them. Build and keep your press list up to date and most importantly use it to communicate with your press contacts frequently. Use a variety of tools like press releases, op-eds, letters to the editor and quotes to engage with audiences. LTEs and op-eds generally have their own specific editors and contacts so look for these before reaching out to them.
Last updated: June 2022