How Candidates Make News in a Political Campaign

In this lesson, we will talk about why you
need an earned media strategy, 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. 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. 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, 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. Pictures. Attacks. Polls. Mistakes. No campaign 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. Your Assignment: Look at the stories written by two different
newspaper reporters. Read at least
6 different stories they have written. Make notes about their style: Do they allow their own opinions to make their
way into the prose they write? Other than the candidates, are there certain
people who always seem to be quoted in the stories? You heard me mention some ideas about how
to stay in the news. Create a few
of your own. Make a list of 8 things you might do after
your formal announcement-press conferences, photo ops, endorsements from prominent
people that you can do in your jurisdiction to keep attention focused on your
campaign. This concludes the lesson. If you have questions please email me at
[email protected] I’ll see you in the next lesson.

Maurice Vega

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