As we wrote in the original Indivisible Guide, Members of Congress (MoC) care enormously about maintaining a good image in their hometown media. They want to appear in-touch, well-liked and competent. They want to highlight their work on certain policy issues whenever possible—and they’d never talk about some policy issues at all, if they had their way! Splashy cable TV shows are nice, but local media really is where a MoC’s career lives and dies, and where their legacy matters most.
When your Indivisible group holds events that get the local media’s attention, it puts a unique pressure on your MoC. No coverage is too small. Because of the magic of Google Alerts, whenever a media outlet mentions an MoC, their staff hears about it right away, like a mythical creature in a movie that’s summoned by the mention of its name. Local media coverage forces your MoC and their staff to spend time reckoning with your issues and your stories.
Plan an Indivisible Event That’s Media-Friendly
As your group plans its event, here are some things to keep in mind that can help make it more likely to get media coverage.
- Timeliness: Is your event focused on a topic that’s hot in the news right now? If not, can it be connected with an anniversary, holiday, or other event that journalists will be interested in?
- Visuals and audio: What would a TV camera see at your event? What can you do to make it visually interesting and grabby? What would a radio reporter capture?
- Scheduling: Will it be easy for media to make it? Typically, reporters will be available mid-morning and early afternoon. 5:00pm on weekdays is hard for print journalists because they’re finishing stories on deadlines. Are you competing with any big local events on the calendar? Your group will need to balance these considerations with other factors, of course, like finding a time that makes it easy for your members to turn out.
Invite Media to Your Indivisible Event
- Make sure your media list is in good shape. A media list is your group’s running list of media contacts: four local TV affiliates, one or two local radio stations, the political reporters at your local newspapers, notable bloggers, and the AP Daybook. Consider Spanish-language media outlets too. For help putting this together, see our Group Leader Toolkit. Make sure you’re following these contacts on Twitter and connecting with them there, too.
- Write a media advisory. A media advisory is essentially an invitation for members of the press to attend your event. It’s shorter than a press release (one-two paragraphs) and covers the basics of your event: Who, What, Where, When and Why. Examples here.
- Send your media advisory to your media list—then, follow up. Sending your advisory to the right people with a compelling subject line is the first step. But, reporters’ inboxes get flooded with advisories every day. The critical next step is “pitching” your event—following up to make sure the right information gets seen by the right people at the right time. There’s a routine to this, if you can make time do it. See example below:
- TV newsrooms have two meetings a day to decide where cameras will be sent, one around 8:00am or 8:30am, and one around 3:00pm. The producers who make these decisions start with a “daybook,” or calendar of options, which is put together by the Assignment Desk at each station. Your goal is to make sure you’re in the daybook.
- Newspaper reporters generally have a big weekly meeting, and also run ideas for stories by their editors throughout the week. They need plenty of lead time in order to fit your event into a busy schedule.
- Immediately after your event, send out photos and video and follow up. Post good photos and video to social media, tagging journalists. Consider posting a summary on a public Facebook page, and sending that around to your list. Consider sending out a press release: four-five short paragraphs featuring quotes from key participants/organizers. Examples here.
Example Pitching Strategy
Let’s say your group has planned a citizens’ town hall event at 3:00pm on a Tuesday.
This is what a full schedule of outreach to media outlets might look like. This could be a good strategy to deploy for your most important events. We know that for many of your events, you will likely need to do a lighter version of below given all the demands on your time.
- As soon as the event is confirmed: email a quick heads up to the main reporters you’re in touch with, so they can put it on their calendars with plenty of time.
- The Friday morning before: email the full details of the event to the print reporters on your list. (This might be your media advisory with a personal note at the top.)
- Monday morning, 10:00am or 11:00am: send your media advisory to TV and radio stations. (If you send it out more than 36 hours in advance, stations will likely forget it.)
- Monday at 12:00pm or 12:30pm: call stations, ask for the Assignment Desk, and confirm that they received your advisory and put it in the stations daybook/assignment book. You’re not asking them if they are covering the event (they won’t know yet.) You’re making sure your event is on the list of events they’ll consider that day. This step is critical.
- Monday before 2:00pm or 3:00pm: call or email print reporters to check if they can make it.
- Monday at 4:00pm: call back to check if stations are planning to attend.
- Tuesday afternoon: 60-75 minutes prior to your event start time, call the stations back and see if they are going to be able to cover. This may seem like cutting it close, but stations often don't make the final call on where cameras will be sent until the last minute.
- At the event: Introduce yourself to the reporters present as the press point of contact for your Indivisible group. Offer for them to talk to someone with a compelling story relevant to the event. Make sure to get their contact information if you don’t already have it. Check with them at the end of the event to see if they have any questions or need information.
- Tuesday Evening: Follow-up. Reach out to the reporters who showed up and see if they need any details, like the spelling of a spokesperson’s name, details about attendance, or your response to anything the MoC may have said in the aftermath of your event. Also, keep your eye for stories that air or are published about your event. If you like the piece, post it to your social media accounts and tag the reporter to ensure its seen far and wide.
Help! We Had a Great Indivisible Event, but No Media Came
No matter how well prepared you are, sometimes not one reporter makes it to an event in person. You could have a spectacular rally planned, but unexpected breaking news pulls media away to other things. Here are some ways to make sure a great event still has an impact:
- Send photos to reporters and photo editors at local papers and TV stations as soon as possible. If you have links to compelling, short videos, then consider sharing those as well. Reporters may be glad to have and promote these on their social media accounts, even if they don’t write a full story.
- Send a press release around that includes the contact info of some of the event’s notable participants. Let reporters know when they would be available to give interviews.
- Tweet at reporters again. Example: “.@reporter I was at Rep. Smith’s town hall in Springfield today. Large group asked about Medicare privatization. I have video & happy to chat.”
- Share everything. Post pictures, video, your own thoughts about the event, etc., to social media afterward. Tag the media outlets, reporters, and the MoC’s office and encourage others to share widely.
- Keep a good archive of photos and video. You never know when something might be newsworthy in future. This is particularly true for footage of your MoC: a clip from a town hall of them making a statement that they later “flip-flopped” on could help make news weeks later.
Tips on Working with Local Media
Different kinds of journalists have different schedules and different needs. All of them are working with tight deadlines and less resources than they used to. Maintaining good long-term relationships with reporters will help your group make its message heard.
Driven by easy-to-capture conflict, good visuals, and emotional human interest stories,. TV newsrooms are big operations with a lot of moving parts. The TV crew that comes out to your event on a given day may or may not have a deep context about your MoC and their history. In fact, as local TV stations tighten their budgets, they often send novice reporters to events solo, asking them to also operate the camera. This may make your job easier. You are working together to get them the footage and interviews they need to tell your story.
TV contacts are going to appreciate flexibility and advance planning about their needs. For example, if your event runs for two hours, a TV crew may only be able to stop by for ten minutes. That's OK. Guide them to the most compelling visuals. Be ready to pull aside a person they’d like to interview. If applicable, be prepared to show them where to access audio sources. (For example, your venue may have a “mult box” they can plug into to record audio directly from the speaker system. Ask in advance.)
Newspapers, Magazines, and Blogs
Also driven by conflicts and good human stories. They also have a bit more space to give context about a story. Pitching/communicating with print journalists takes a slightly different approach. Blasting out a BCC email of a media advisory to a list of newspaper reporters won’t get a great response. Write out individual emails to each reporter you are trying to attract to your event, or forward your media advisory with a personal note at the top, highlighting something that you think they'd especially find interesting.
Newspaper reporters will appreciate it if you’re prompt about getting them the information they need and mindful of the subjects they cover. When you first introduce yourself to a newspaper reporter, ask them if they prefer phone or email, what time their deadlines are every day, and what topics are of particular interest.
Your district may have a couple of reporters that have covered your MoC for a long time, maybe even over the course of a career. When working with a veteran reporter, it can be a turnoff to be too heavy-handed in explaining an issue. At the same time, even veteran political journalists are probably not covering your MoC’s every move in Washington the way you might be, particularly as newspapers have shrunk in staff. So, if you can, do your research and read what that reporter has recently written about your MoC and keep in touch about developments in Washington.
Don’t forget that many newspaper reporters and bloggers may also be responsible for creating online content in addition to print stories. They may want to shoot short videos or pictures to accompany online stories or populate their own social media feeds.
Can be a little bit in between the others. Like a TV station, a radio station may dispatch different people to cover your events on different days. Like newspapers, radio stations often have one or two reporters that cover politics and may follow political developments over a longer time frame. At an event, they’ll want to be sure to have access to the most compelling spokespeople you have. Again, find out if your venue has a “multi-box.” A little advance thinking can help you create a great story.