Earned Media — getting good coverage in the newspaper or radio (without paying for it) — is an entire field of its own, but we present some guidelines for generating positive media coverage.
Paid newspaper and television ads can get out your message to a wide audience, but it will be the most costly method of communicating with voters and is not as targeted as doorbelling or direct mail. Electronic banner ads that pop up on popular websites –for instance, your local newspaper — can be an efficient, cost-effective tool to advertise your measure. It is important, too, to realize it is not always advantageous to get early or extensive coverage because that may stimulate organized opposition.
Earned Media Coverage
Here are some guidelines for generating positive coverage for your campaign in newspapers and on television and on the radio.
- Identify and make early contact with reporters, editors, and newscasters who cover the issue. Understand their interests and the likely timing of their coverage. Make sure they have the facts.
- Meet with newspapers’ editorial boards. If you educate them about your campaign, they may publish a favorable opinion piece. If possible, bring to the meeting a cross-section of people who have standing in the community and are knowledgeable about the issue.
- Inform the press about campaign events and offer interviews. Choose spokespeople who have credibility and influence with swing voters. Prepare them, with materials and practice sessions, to articulate the most persuasive messages that your research shows will influence voters to support the measure.
- Localize your messages, so that the media can help voters understand the benefits of the measure for their particular area or interest group. For example, if a bond measure will distribute funds to several jurisdictions, your material should spell out the amounts and potential uses of the funds in each location.
- Send letters to the editor in the four weeks leading up to the vote. Each letter could be from a different group or individual supporting the campaign, or highlight a different aspect of the measure.
- React quickly to criticism or unfair allegations. Stick to your message and don’t allow critics to shape the news.
- Make the most of positive press. Include copies of favorable articles, opinion pieces, or letters to the editor in mailings and on your website. Endorsements or positive quotes can be mentioned in your printed material and at public presentations.
- Provide contact information. For everything that reaches the public, include a way for people to get in contact with your group, such as a website address or a phone number of a committee member.
- Use public access channels. You can often get on your town’s public access TV or radio station by holding an information session or question-and-answer call-in.
- Coordinate earned and paid media. Plan newspaper, television, and radio coverage so that it complements and reinforces the messages being delivered through advertisements.
- Thank the voters. When you win, it is a good idea to put an ad in the paper thanking the voters.
Earned media examples:
Positive editorial from the Denver Post, April 2008
Video script from the Pepperell, Massachusetts, Community Preservation Act campaign
Letter to the editor in support of Oyster Bay, New York, Proposition 2
Letter to the editor from the Lenox, Massachusetts, Community Preservation Act campaign
Note which newspapers or television and radio shows are the most popular with your target demographic. Don’t overlook smaller media outlets or weekly publications, especially ethnically diverse publications. In some communities, a message in a small local newspaper may reach more potential voters than one in a large regional paper. Whenever you run an advertisement, whether in print or broadcast, be sure to indicate how it was paid. State laws govern the format and information required in the “paid for” disclaimer. Typical wording might be, “Paid for by Preserve Hanson; Bob Sears, Chairman; John Kemmett, Treasurer.”
With declining newspaper readership, newspaper advertising is often an expensive and not very effective means of communication. However, ads can remind people of an important upcoming election or of your measure’s many endorsements (this is the place to list all of your endorsers, especially if they help pay for the ad).
Newspaper advertisement from Buckingham Township, Pennsylvania
Newspaper advertisement from the Hanson, Massachusetts, Community Preservation Act campaign
Campaigns in populous counties or large regions often find it necessary to run television advertising to reach enough voters. For up-to-the-minute election examples in your state, contact The TPL Action Fund.
Many billboard companies give free space to non-profits, so you may be able to receive an in-kind donation of advertising space for your campaign.
The Forsyth County, Georgia, campaign used a donated outdoor advertisement with great success. The ad, on a billboard near a busy intersection where people were often stuck in traffic, was seen by a large number of people.