In this video, a sample lesson from my new on-line course on How to Win an Election. For more information about the course, email Jay@JayTownsend.com.
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In this lesson, we will talk about why you need an earned media strategy to win an election, what is required to develop one, and time honored ways to stay in the news once your campaign is off the ground.
What is earned media? It’s what some call a free press strategy. It’s ink and airtime you don’t have to pay for. It’s your message filtered through and disseminated by reporters, bloggers, television and radio stations.
You need one because it is a cheap and inexpensive way to communicate with voters. If you are running a low budget campaign and don’t have enough money to buy internet ads, TV, radio or persuasion mail, it may be the only way to communicate your message to voters to win an election.
Too often I see candidates who regard reporters as nuisances to be endured. Or in some cases, hostile forces to be avoided or treated as the enemy. So at the outset, let me say that approach will not get you anywhere and will bring to you and your campaign nothing but grief.
The press has a job to do and they are going to do their job whether you like it or not. If you take a passive hands-off approach to the media, you will be doing yourself and your campaign a disservice. Voters do pay attention to and are influenced by things other than your paid political advertising. In fact, they trust what they read in the newspaper far more than what they see in your TV ad or mail piece.
Furthermore, the press will not react well if you avoid them. In fact, they will assume that you have something to hide, or that you are afraid of difficult questions, or that you can’t defend your positions. If they come to that conclusion, they will make your life difficult.
Finally, if you have no earned media strategy you’ll be squandering a cheap and inexpensive means of disseminating your message to the public to win an election.
Where to start in developing an earn media plan?
1. Inventory The News Outlets.
The first step in constructing a free press strategy is to inventory every media outlet in your district–every daily and weekly newspaper, magazine, blog, radio station, cable and commercial television station.
Next, take a look at media outlets outside your district that are widely read, heard or viewed by a substantial number of your would be constituents. Get the names of the reporters, their contact information, e-mail address and the names of the bookers and producers for the TV and radio hosts, plus any important columnists or guest commentators that often show up on the editorial pages of newspapers or important publications.
You now have a press list; those who should receive your press releases, news about your campaign, copies of your speeches or opinion pieces that you share with newspapers.
2. Do Your Homework.
Know The Reporters Before You Meet Them.
Inventory your press list and decide who are the most important reporters, starting with the print reporters, and do your homework.
Before you talk with a reporter, learn everything you can about them–where they were raised, where they earned their degrees, their special interests. Look at their social media posts. Inventory the stories they have written and look at their style. Are they the kind of reporter who does real investigative journalism or are they satisfied to quote from press releases they are fed or the blogs they read?
There is no such thing as an objective reporter. Objective journalism is an oxymoron. Reporters are human, and just like you they have minds that think and opinions on issues of our time. Inevitably, their biases will make their way into the stories they write, the questions they ask of candidates and the way
they cover them. The more you know about the reporter, the better prepared you will be.
3. Stay in the news.
In the previous lesson we talked about staying in the news during the days after your announcement. Campaigns, however, are a long haul, and it is imperative to be vigilant about ways to advance your cause and your campaign by making yourself newsworthy.
How do you get attention? Think in terms of pictures, attacks, polls, mistakes. Usually one of those four will perk the attention of newspaper reporters or radio and television bookers. A little about each of these.
Pictures. Pictures are news, and more effective than mere words in a story. I once sent a Presidential candidate to visit a hog farm in Iowa, and a picture of him holding a baby pig was on the front page of every newspaper the next day.
Want to highlight your compassion for the poor? Don’t do a press release. Invite the press to get a picture of you serving the hungry in a soup kitchen.
Getting an endorsement from an important labor group? Stage a photo op with members of the union at a construction site. Getting an endorsement from an environmental group? Have the press conference at some bucolic setting with trees, a lake or river in the background.
What if the press doesn’t show up at your photo op? Have your staff take pictures and put them out with a release to the media.
Attacks. In the Presidential race in 2016, candidate Carly Fiorina ventured to South Carolina and appeared outside the hotel where Hillary Clinton was doing an event.
As Fiorina belted Clinton for hiding from the press, and took questions of her own, the story was beamed across the county and appeared in countless newspapers the next day. Thereafter, CNN did a very flattering story that included rave reviews.
In fact, Ms. Fiorina received more attention from this one event than the rest of the Presidential field combined that week. And earned a priceless headline in America’s most prominent blog site.
It’s okay to go after your opponent to win an election, and to dog your opponent on the campaign trail, to show up at their events, or to stage your own where you highlight your differences on an issue, or do an event with people who would be helped by you and hurt by your opponent. It is a time honored way to get attention.
Polls. Capitalize on them when they demonstrate that you are gaining steam, or when they show that your opponent is losing ground.
When poll numbers are your hook, highlight the reasons you are gaining ground-such as the differences you have with your opponent on an important issue, or the reason your opponent is losing ground-citing some unpopular position or mistake they have made.
Mistakes. When your opponent makes one exploit it and use it to your advantage.
In the 2016 Presidential race, Jeb Bush flubbed an easy question on Iraq, and kept the flub in the news by flubbing it for three straight days. It did not take long for his competitors to make news by articulating clear positions on the Iraq war and gaining ground at Bush’s expense.
Likewise, at a fundraiser in 2012 Mitt Romney said that 47% of the people in America were on public assistance. It was captured on video, and the Obama White House quickly pounced on Romney’s mistake, enlisting his cabinet members and surrogate attack squad to pile on.
What can you learn from these two examples? Bush should have anticipated that question, and should have been prepared with an answer. After he made the mistake it took him three days to own it, which kept the story alive. Had he admitted his mistake quickly, the story would have died within a day.
As for Mr Romney’s mistake, it was this. Smart phones are everywhere. When you are in public, don’t say things that make you look crass or ill-informed.
These are tried and true ways of getting attention from the press to win an election. Pictures. Attacks. Polls. Mistakes.
No campaign to win an election is complete without an earned media plan. If you don’t have one, you are missing priceless and inexpensive ways to keep your campaign in the news, and clips and footage that you can send to supporters that show you are getting good press attention.
For more information about my new on-line course on How to Run for Office, email Jay@JayTownsend.com.
Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.
How to win an election:
Running for office and knowing how to win an election is a challenge, especially for first time political candidates just learning how to run for office. Discerning the fine points of how to campaign, raise political contributions, and execute a political campaign strategy often requires the help of someone who has served as a political strategist or who has experience as a political consultant.