The media is a powerful tool that can help you advance the goals of your campaign. Use it!
Television, radio, social media, and newspaper coverage can allow you to reach thousands of people. Using the media can help you educate and influence potential supporters and campaign targets, enhance your group’s name recognition and credibility, attract new members to your group – and make Dow wince.
Many experienced activists suggest spending ten percent of your organizing time on attracting media attention. Read more below to find out how to get great media coverage:
1. Creating Media Resources
2. Fifteen Tips on How to Get Press
3. Need More Help?
1. Creating Media Resources
Our How-To Media Guide gives you all the information you need to garner successful media coverage, including:
- PDF: How-To Media Guide (Everything you need to get great media coverage, including how to create a media packet)
- PDF: Flyer – General Fact Sheet for the Media
2. Fifteen Tips on How to Get Press
(Adapted from a tip sheet by the Drug Policy Alliance)
1. Identify what’s “newsworthy.”
There’s a big difference between an issue and a news story. You’re more likely to get media coverage when a “story” emerges. What makes something newsworthy? Controversy, anniversaries, civil disobedience, human interest, strange bedfellows, superlatives (first, biggest, etc.), conflict, dramatic human interest, new announcement, trend, local spin to national or global issues (or vice versa), a fresh angle on an old story, milestone, celebrity, special event, etc. If a topic isn’t newsworthy – no matter how important – reporters probably won’t cover it. Also, visuals always get attention and send a message that is less corruptible than a verbal one.
2. Develop written materials.
The first thing a reporter is likely to ask when you call them to pitch a story is: “Do you have anything in writing?” Help make their job as easy as possible by developing brief, easy-to-read materials. Especially important is a 1-2 page media advisory or press release with details of your event or news story. When possible, other background materials can be helpful, including fact sheets, spokespeople bios or report summaries. Learn how to create these resources in our How-To Media Guide.
3. Develop a targeted media list.
It is important to think about which reporters will be interested in your story. Will it entice journalists who write about health? Politics? Entertainment? Is it a local or a national story? Is it a story that’s good for newspaper, radio and/or television? From there, develop a list of reporters’ names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, and social media contact information.
4. Be by a fax machine and / or computer.
In order to quickly send your written materials to a reporter, it is important to be close to a fax machine or computer when making pitch calls. If a reporter wants to see something right away, it will not help to send them something several hours later or the next day. Don’t have a fax machine? You can easily send faxes via the internet. Fax or e-mail your press advisory or release, but call to follow up.
5. Identify strategic spokespeople.
The messenger is often just as important as the message when it comes to the media. For example, a doctor or patient talking about the importance of medical marijuana will probably be more effective than a college student in perfect health. It is also crucial that spokespeople are articulate and knowledgeable on the issue, and easily reachable by reporters on a deadline. Having experience speaking to the press is always a plus. If you are having a rally or large event, have one or two people designated as press liaisons. This way the information you give to the media can be controlled. Make sure everyone at the event knows whom to direct the reporters to.
6. Practice your telephone pitch.
Before talking to a reporter, see if what you are planning to say passes the “cousin” test. In other words, run it by your cousin or someone who doesn’t have any knowledge of the issue to make sure that you are sending the right message, and that it is clear. You can also practice leaving messages on your own answering machine. If you’re talking to a reporter and feel like things aren’t coming out right, you can stop and say, “let me start again,” and do so. Reporters get hundreds of calls a day. What’s likely to make a reporter not hang up on you, or immediately delete your message, is if you develop a well-focused, 30-second pitch that highlights the essence of your story. Once you hook them, you can describe in more detail why you are calling and how you can get them more information. Don’t forget to leave your phone number if you leave a message!
7. Remember – reporters are not your friends.
Be careful and strategic when doing interviews. Develop a relationship (not a friendship) with reporters. Find out who the environmental reporter is and make sure to send information to them directly. If you are credible, helpful and timely, they will come to you when they are looking for information. It is good to have one person from a group be the press contact for consistency reasons.
8. Keep in mind that reporters have a job to do, and their job is to get a good story.
They know little, if anything, about your issue. They are under deadlines and often have multiple stories going at once, and they are under constant pressure from their editors. Most media outlets are businesses with the ultimate goal of selling papers and increasing their ratings, which place added constraints on reporters. Don’t let that intimidate you. You’re not going to lose anything by trying. If you’re not having any luck, be direct. Ask the reporter what it will take to get them to cover your story. They might tell you exactly what you need to do. And remember, reporters want to cover good stories, which is what you are providing.
9. Stay on message!
Don’t confuse the reporter with too much information. They will often choose odd things to highlight in their coverage, so only give them the information you want to get across. It is good to have a short message that you can repeat constantly. Repeat it, and repeat it again. If you provide all the information reporters need to write a story, it makes their life easier (remember they are on a deadline). Furthermore, it allows you to give them the information you want them to have.
10. Never lie or exaggerate.
It is important that reporters feel they can trust the information you give them. If they find out you are lying or exaggerating, it will greatly hurt your chances of ever being able to pitch them a story again. It destroys your credibility. If you don’t know an answer, admit it, but say that you can find it for them and get back to them – promptly (remember, they are on a deadline). Usually the facts are strong enough to make a case for a good story.
11. Don’t take no for an answer.
Pitching is not dating. Don’t be afraid to be direct: Ask if the reporter plans to show up to your event or cover your story. If a reporter says no, try another reporter, or call them again when you have a different story. If you get one out of ten reporters to write about your story, that is a huge success! Remember, one reporter can represent thousands of readers, listeners or viewers. When you call a reporter, always ask if they have a minute to talk. Often times they will be on deadline and will not be able to talk to you then. If they are busy, ask when a better time would be to call them. The reporter will likely appreciate this greatly and be more receptive.
12. There is NO off-the-record.
Remember, the reporter is not your friend; they are out to get a story and sell papers. If you tell them something “off the record” it can still end up in the story – it just may not have your name attached to it.
13. Use the media to get more media.
If a good article comes out on your issue, send it to other reporters who might also be interested. Often newspapers will be more interested in op-ed pieces if the topic has been in the recent news. Articles and op-eds can also lead to radio interviews, and local stories can lead to national stories, if they’re seen by the right editors / producers.
14. Say thank you.
Developing friendly relationships with reporters is helpful when trying to pitch news stories. If a reporter writes a story you like, call them up and say thank you. They appreciate it and will be more likely to return your phone call the next time around.
15. Don’t forget social & alternative media!
These are other, powerful ways of spreading your message, and they often reach different audiences than the mainstream media. Use them! Depending on where you live, there may be alternative newspapers, community newspapers & radio, and cable-access television. Ask around. Make sure to announce your event on social media platforms, invite friends, and send the social media links to your press contacts.
3. Need More Help?
- PDF: 10 Steps to Getting Press (by the Drug Policy Alliance)
- PDF: Cover Story: A Fun Shared Vision Exercise (by Idealist on Campus)
- Website: “Lessons from a successful media campaign” (from New Tactics in Human Rights)
Visit our Campaign Resources page for fact sheets, posters, and other media-friendly resources.