Sunday, December 17, 2006

How to Talk to the Main Stream Media - Part 2

Authors' Note: This is the fourth in a series of "How to Talk to..." diaries.

Last week in "How to Talk to the Main Street Media" we laid out some general parameters about the media as a whole. We then proceeded to apply them only to the daily print media. This week we are going to apply these general parameters to two extreme ends of the news media.

Periodicals and Television are polar opposites in terms of the length of the news cycle and the immediacy of impact.However, the one that is more important just might surprise you...

Defining the Overarching Strategy

Last week we revealed a slightly different goal than is usual for this series. We are not trying to persuade an individual of the rightness of our position on an issue, or the worthiness of a candidate. In talking to the MSM, our goal is to use them to help us achieve those objectives.

According to the top rated TV show on broadcast television drew in 23 million viewers last week. 60Minutes, the top rated TV news magazine attracted 15.8 million viewers. These are still very sizable portions of the American populace.On cable, top rated (non sports) shows and movies draw over 6 million viewers. Still nothing to sneeze at. Queen of syndicated talk shows, Oprah Winfrey, draws over 8 million viewers per day. With those kinds of audiences, television is not going away any time soon either.

The draw of television is its immediacy of impact. The proverbial gathering around the water cooler discussions of last night's TV shows do in fact occur. High impact TV events are reported on in the print media and on the internet. Television reports on print media happenings. It's all a very symbiotic relationship. Still, the key to television is its immediacy of impact.

On the other side of the coin are print periodicals. These include everything from obscure quarterly technical journals to weekly alternative magazines. They are about as far removed from immediacy of impact as you can imagine. That does not mean they do not have a very important role to play in molding public opinion. In fact, one could argue that print periodicals are both the most important media for influencing public opinion, and the easiest to influence. A perfect opportunity to influence change, if you have a mind to do so.

Define the Terminology

In college, lo so many years ago, I took a course on identifying change and tracking emerging trends. I just spent a fruitless hour searching for useful links on the subject without any luck. So, here's what is still floating around in my old and graying brain cells. If you want to spot emerging trends and changes, there is a method to do it. If you have a long term view about influencing change, you can use the change identification methods to actually influence that change.

So, what does all this have to do with print periodicals, you ask? Here's what. One of the first places you see new ideas discussed is in trade and academic journals and technical publications. You can get the ball rolling about changes you would like to see happen by suggesting a topic, or writing an article for one of these publications; or seeking out and building relationships with the editors of these publications. The next places that change is talked about is in the back pages of general circulation periodicals, or in alternative magazines. Then they will show up as featured articles in general circulation periodicals. Finally, they will make their way into the newspapers and television news reports. By then, the change has arrived. And you may have started it by a purposeful conversation with the editor of a trade or academic journal.That is why I believe that print periodicals are both the easiest to influence and the most important ways to introduce change into society, or in political thought, or whatever it is you want to influence. However, this requires patience and persistence.

On the other end of the spectrum is television news. If you want to get something out in the Main Stream Media right now, the place to go is television. Local television news is also much easier to influence than you might think possible. Most of the same methodology that applies to daily print media also applies to television. There are some important differences to consider.

Remember that TV is both an audio and a visual medium. If you are planning an event that you want to have covered by the local TV news, don't forget to think about the visuals. Visuals are a powerful tool to reinforce the message of your event. Just think about those hokey backdrops the Gopers use for their events. Even if you have the sound off, the backdrop tells you what their message of the day is.

Go to your local TV stations web sites. They all provide you with contact information to get word of your events to them. Get them in your address book and tag them press or something else so you can readily get at your list of press contacts.

TV news generally runs on a 24 hour cycle. Local news casts usually have their editorial / scheduling meetings in the mornings for the next 24 hour cycle. So, if you are having an event today, you should have had your press release to the TV station yesterday at the latest.

TV stations like email more and more as the preferred method of receiving press releases. It makes it that much easier for the gatekeeper at the TV station to distribute your press release to the right people.

Like daily print, nothing works better than developing a personal relationship with the reporters and producers at the station. TV people are even easier to spot at events than print media types. They actually appreciate folks who can help them with their story. If you develop a good relationship with a TV reporter, and you get them to care about an issue you are supporting, they can be your ally in those editorial meetings. They will actually fight to get your issue on their air.

It is all about relationships. Nowhere is this more true than dealing with periodicals. This is actually the area that is the easiest to influence, if you are patient and persistent. You must also be aware of the deadlines that apply to this sector of the media. The major difference here is that these deadlines come up much earlier for weekly and monthly or even quarterly publications. Most of these publications will provide contact information, and perhaps even submission deadlines. Plan accordingly. Study these periodicals and get a feel for what types of stories appeal particularly to them. Use this to your advantage by providing them story ideas or events that fit the bill for them.

The most intriguing aspect of periodicals to me is that you can actually plant seeds of change here and watch them grow. Of course, like any other thing that grows, it needs care and feeding. I can kill anything live that grows, but I have been able to use my ink stained thumb (no green thumb here) to plant seeds of change and I can actually see the physical results. That's a pretty cool feeling!

Mangling the Memes

The same themes apply here as with the print media. Avoid the "spin" and "talking points" traps. Be ready to defend your "spin" or "talking points", and be wiling to concede their weak points. Credibility is a bankable asset. Being known as only a spinner or a talking points spouter causes considerable withdrawals from the credibility bank account. Your influence with the media is directly proportional to the credibility in your account. Don't just parrot what the official line of your candidate or your cause. Be creative.

One of the most useful things you can provide to the MSM is background and context. This is particularly important in this age of budget constraints at the MSM. In the bad old days, MSM types developed some level of expertise in the subject matter they covered. They either came in with that background, or they stayed on that beat long enough to gain an understanding of the subject matter. These days, almost everyone is a generalist, particularly at newspapers and TV stations. They probably don't know jack about the subject matter. If you can become their trusted "expert" for background information, you will become incredibly more effective in getting your message out through the MSM.

Relationship building with MSM types can not be over emphasized. Remember, these are mostly just folks trying to do their jobs. Like any other group of individuals, some do it well, others not so well. The other major thing to remember is to work with the MSM types on the deadline pressures they are under. Get your news releases to them in a timely manner. Do your relationship building when they are not bumping up against their deadlines. Get them to think of you as an asset to them, not as an insufferable pain in the ass.

Go out there and make the story better.

1 comment:

gatordem said...

Please provide any feedback or suggestions. This is a good opportunity for me to see if I am getting my points out clearly. So go ahead - hurt me - but not too much. :)