Marketing Your Message: How to Reach the Media
FOR CONSERVATIVES, IT’S EASY TO RAIL against Rather and bemoan media bias. But when it comes to getting media coverage for conservative ideas, whining won’t get you anywhere. So, don’t make it a stumbling block for marketing your message, says Khristine Bershers, Director of Media Services for The Heritage Foundation.
“Don’t ever think of the media as the enemy—that’s the biggest mistake conservatives make,” Bershers said.
No matter how liberal the media outlet, Bershers says, it’s possible to have friends among the reporters. They don’t have to be on your side; just getting a couple of fair, representative quotes in a story is a victory for your message, she says.
Once you’ve gotten over that psychological hurdle, Bershers recommends a few simple things you can do to increase your chances of good media coverage:
Do the Legwork
Always educate yourself on the media outlet you’re approaching. If you’re sending out information on Social Security, find out which reporter is covering Social Security. If your press release on Personal Retirement Accounts ends up in an education reporter’s inbox, it will never see the light of day.
If you’re planning an editorial board meeting, check the newspaper to make sure it hasn’t already taken a strong stand on your issue. If you don’t have access to a media directory, just keep an eye on the newspaper and TV coverage in your local area. After a few weeks, you’ll know who’s on what beat.
Get to know reporters before you approach them with story ideas. Reporters are dealing with a flood of story ideas and criticism from all quarters on any given day. If you approach them with something different—praise, for instance—it will get you noticed.
“Reporters are human beings,” Bershers says. “We forget that sometimes.”
For instance, if the health reporter you’ve been working with does a story that has nothing to do with Health Savings Accounts, but you enjoyed it, tell the reporter. The next time you approach him with an issue, he’s more likely to listen.
Reporters have biases, and they make mistakes. How you deal with mishaps in print will determine the coverage you get in the future. For instance, if the reporter writes a story about a woman who is losing a government service due to budget cuts but doesn’t ever mention taxpayers, you can approach the reporter politely and ask that if he ever visits the subject again, you’d really like to have the other side represented.
Always try to work with a reporter on problems first instead of going over his head to an editor. Sometimes there are serious factual mistakes or misquotes that have to be addressed by the higher-ups, but “make sure you have a very legitimate complaint,” Bershers advises. There’s no sense in picking fights if you don’t have to.
Sound Bites, Please
Local radio and TV can be great ways to get coverage, especially in small markets where reporters are sometimes eager for content. But you must be conscious of how your organization’s representative looks and sounds.
For TV, make sure nothing in your physical appearance distracts viewers from your message. For radio, avoid phone interviews if you can travel to the radio station. Sound quality is much better in the studio.
For either medium, have sound bites ready and act natural. The best way to prepare for radio or TV interviews is to sit down with a friend or a helpful reporter to do mock interviews.
These tips work with local and national media alike, Bershers says. So, conservatives, get out there and market your message!
Mary Katharine Ham is Editor of The Insider.