How to make the media serve your constituents

Authored by Dustin Siggins

The most important news in the news business is that it’s dying. The second most important news—and just as obvious—is that the media is biased.

I know. You’re shocked.

But not every bias is the one we all think of — the unconscious, subconscious, and intentional biases reporters, editors, producers, and others all have which influence what issues they cover, how they cover those issues, and whom they include in their coverage.

The others are the specific practices and standards of each outlet, such as word count, medium (TV vs text vs radio), styles, and target audiences. Other challenges include small, overwhelmed staff, and many outlets have replaced the traditional “op-ed” page with sponsored posts – meaning, you have to pay, even if you wrote a high-quality piece. 

The one silver lining is that if you do live in an area that still has an earned media opinion page, you have a good chance of getting published. That’s because local, regional, and state media outlets are prioritizing area voices on issues that matter to their audiences.

I’ve seen this with my firm’s clients, in outlets from northern New York to Arizona, from southern New Hampshire to northern Florida. It’s virtually official policy by Gannett, the parent company of USA TODAY, the Kansas City Star, and many other outlets. And it’s something that every political advocacy group and campaign knows: that local voices matter a lot more than even famed national voices.

Why local/regional voices matter

It’s easy to dismiss local and regional media – and the voices represented therein – in the era of national news, opinion, and blogs; social media platforms; e-newsletters; and SEO strategies.

But local voices matter because they are often more trusted by stakeholders than national voices. Yes, a national outlet can quickly drive controversy, but if voters and community leaders, and neighbors don’t care…it won’t make much of an impact. Elected officials and others who take their lead from the community won’t really care.

Contrast that with a bunch of local media coverage on an issue, combined with social media pressure and area protests. Now elected officials care, now community leaders can be pressured to take your side. Now they care what pops up on Google, because it’s going to have a real impact on the next budget season, election, etc.

And, yes, this is where national press can have an impact. National stories that become local pressure campaigns, or local stories that go viral, are the ones that keep politicians up at night.

Here’s how to make sure that what you say matters to media gatekeepers of all political stripes. 

Overcome media bias

Railing about media bias is practically a second pastime for anyone in politics. But you can get past it by helping gatekeepers earn their paycheck by producing a certain amount of interesting content on a daily and weekly basis. 

First, while they may not agree with your point of view, they all look for the Three Ts:

  • A great topic – in this case, election-related goings-on.
  • At the right time – pitching a post-election analysis before the election is a bad idea.
  • From someone with the right title – An expert in the field or a compelling average person.

Second, understand each outlet’s standards and practices, such as:

  • Word count. Tailor op-ed lengths to the outlet’s preferences. For some, that might be 750 words; others have ceilings of 600 words. 
  • Interview styles. Print reporters will have a different system than a live television interviewer or radio host. Prep accordingly—have quotes ready to email a newspaper, B-roll footage for a TV host, and understand that a live interview will likely be shorter and faster-paced than a pre-recorded conversation.
  • Mediums. Know your audience—good luck getting a TV station to publish your op-ed, or a local paper to run your video clip.
  • Sponsored op-eds. Does your regional media all require sponsorship of op-eds…and you’re broke? Interviews may be the way to go, or prepared statements.

Third, find gatekeepers who will respect what you bring to the table. If you give them exclusive data or interviews ahead of their competitors, and respect their deadlines when asked for comment, they will view you as a trusted resource and respect your requests for off-the-record conversations and your embargoes. 

Understand who you want to be

Once you’ve overcome media bias, you must decide how you want to appear in the press so you can define your brand to your target audiences. 

VoiceEstablish your credibility in a meaningful way to the media gatekeepers and end consumers by deciding how you want your brand represented. 

  • Are you seeking to be an industry leader? You’ll want to be authoritative, supported by evidence, and provide big, forward-looking insights.
  • Are you a big-picture expert, or a niche advocate? You’ll have to navigate the differences such as speaking on all things economics versus defending only free-market principles, or national politics vs being an expert on a specific state’s politics.
  • Do you want to lead the news, or hijack it? Both can be punchy—but setting the narrative means having a plan further in advance, often with more diverse and authoritative voices involved. Counter-punchers can be more trollish and aggressive, and need less preparation.

StyleAim for the type of outlets that play to your strengths.

  • Do you get nervous on-camera? TV may be a bad fit for you, while writing an op-ed allows you to lay out your main points clearly and effectively.
  • Are you a punchy commentator, but your target area prefers a more intellectual style? Aim for a widely-known talk radio host, and send selected quotes to the local newspaper to expand your reach.

Don’t stop with the press

This isn’t your grandfather’s media ecosystem. Decades ago, one media placement could be influential for weeks or months. Today, it’s gone in a few hours—in rare cases, it may not even show up in its entirety because it’s behind a paywall.

This means it’s your job to build relationships, know styles and biases, etc. to get into the press. And then you have to push it out hard and fast, because press doesn’t matter much without social media, newsletters, websites, etc. to spread the word and improve SEO.

And therein lies the last ingredient of the not-so-secret sauce to getting in the press: clicks matter in the Internet era. The more traffic and attention you can drive to a gatekeeper’s media coverage, the more they’ll love you. Even liberals like Chick-fil-A, after all.

Dustin Siggins is founder and CEO of Proven Media Solutions.

Authored by:Dustin Siggins


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