Making your media coverage ‘echo’

I have had quite a bit of success in getting media coverage for my advocacy and organizing work. Some of this was undoubtedly due to the prominence of the issue of immigration during the time in which I was working on it, but I think that I can take some credit for the tone and quality of the coverage, if not necessarily its quantity. But this post isn’t about getting media coverage, although I would welcome your questions and comments about that topic. Instead, I want to focus a bit on what I see as a failing of some nonprofit advocates–not adequately ‘milking’ your media coverage for all it’s worth!

Once you get what you consider to be good coverage–an article that highlights your policy concern, something that references the perspective of people experiencing the social problem, a letter to the editor that demonstrates that at least some of public opinion is on your side…then you have to figure out how to make sure that the piece has maximum impact. Below are a few suggestions for how to make your media work ripple throughout your advocacy campaign but, first, a couple of general rules:
1. Sometimes advocates make the mistake of thinking that it has to be your coverage for it to count–you have to be quoted, or you have to have done the work that generated it, and that just isn’t true. Any media coverage that reflects the position(s) you want to see ascend in the minds of policymakers is good coverage, and you can and should use it as though it was yours.
2. Similarly, don’t assume that coverage has to be ‘all good’ for it to be valuable to you; often, an article will include the opposing viewpoint(s), but you can always highlight the parts that you want people to pay attention to (see below for some examples).
3. Save everything that comes out about your organization or your specific campaign–check it to make sure that it’s accurate, use it as much as you can, and then save it as a reference.

So, then, to ‘make your media echo’:

  • Bring copies with you to any legislative visit–include it in the packet of information you leave with targets, refer to it to emphasize your points
  • When writing letters to targets, include a copy of a recent opinion or news piece that illustrates some of your points
  • Make a document that includes quotes from all supportive editorials–call it something like, “Opinion Leaders Agree”–and include the best quotes that help to make your case
  • Write a letter to the editor following any newspaper piece that appears, even if you were quoted in the original article (they most likely didn’t include all of your points, so this is your chance to make the rest of them)
  • Send copies of all of your press releases to your elected official targets, even before you know if you’ll actually get any media coverage from them. The members don’t know that, and it looks like you’re just keeping them in the loop; it’s also a way of taking your message directly to one of the primary intended recipients.
  • Link to your media coverage, or, if copyright permissions allow, directly post copies, on your organization/campaign website.
  • Use social networking tools to alert your activists when you will be featured on the news, when you had a letter to the editor run in the paper, or when you will have some other exposure on ‘traditional’ media.
  • Get local coverage in places surprising to your targets–smaller towns, outlets that tend not to cover your issues–and then send them copies. We got an article about our instate tuition issue in a local business journal, highlighting how these young people could fill jobs in the local economy, and that was the first thing that a senatorial staffer (from an unfriendly office) mentioned during our next visit!
  • With coalition partners, plan for media hits on the same day–if everyone has a press conference or releases a YouTube video or plans another media-focused action at the same time, the resulting coverage can have more resonance than if one organization did this in isolation.

    Especially in today’s media-saturated environment, getting coverage isn’t nearly the challenge that it once was; there are so many outlets that there’s a nearly incessant demand for content, but getting anyone to pay any attention to the coverage once you get it is the bigger hurdle. What other ideas do you have for how to get the most out of your media coverage? What are your greatest success stories from your media advocacy? What lessons do you want to share with others? I’d love to see examples of your media coverage, too, and I’ll pass along any great tips.

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