Worst Mistakes Candidates Make #7
Too often I see candidates who regard the news media as a nuisance to be endured. Or in some cases, a hostile force to be avoided or treated as an 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. If you treat the press as the enemy, the press will treat you and your campaign as the enemy. And no matter how much you have to spend, it is hard to out-shout those who buy their ink by the barrel or have unfettered access to the airwaves.
Why do you need an earned media strategy?
The press has a job to do. 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. 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 answer questions or defend your positions. If they come to that conclusion, they will make your life very 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.
Yes. I’ve heard it all from candidates running for public office. ―The press is not going to control my campaign.‖ ―I’m not going to talk to reporters. I’ll take my case directly to the people.‖ ―I’ll get back to them when I’m good and ready.‖ Nine times out of 10, candidates with this kind of attitude lose.
Where to start in developing a free press strategy?
A. 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 regularly 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 op eds that you write during the campaign.
B. 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.
I always tell my clients that before they talk to a reporter they should know the reporters they are talking to. By that I mean this—not just their name, but also everything you can learn about the person, where they were raised, where they went to school, where they earned their degrees, and their special interests. Inventory the stories they have written and look at their writing style. Are they the kind of reporter who digs, and does real investigative journalism or are they satisfied to quote from press releases they are fed or the blogs they read? When a campaign issues a press release, are they the kind of reporter who always offers the opponent a chance to comment? Other than the people they are writing about, who are those they call frequently to comment on campaigns they are covering? —there will be those who are often quoted in their stories.
In our business, we call them quote sluts–those who are always ready and willing to offer commentary on somebody’s campaign strategy, their tactics and the state of somebody’s campaign.
Why should you care who they quote? Because sometimes you can influence the story that a reporter writes by feeding information to those they frequently quote. In college journalism, students learn there is no such thing as an objective reporter. Indeed, 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. You may not be able to do much about that, but at least you will know their biases before you sit down for a conversation.
Finally, talk to a few of the candidates they’ve covered. Did those candidates feel they were treated fairly? Did the journalist play gotcha games? Were they quoted accurately? If not, you should take steps to ensure that you are, by having a tape recorder handy or by answering questions in writing.
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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.
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