One of the best ways to raise your profile as a candidate is gaining media attention. Broadcast opportunities are particularly valuable – but they can be hard to secure.
HOW NOT TO DO IT
The traditional way to trigger a story is to send out a press release. Thousands of these are received every day by national broadcasters and newspapers but busy journalists are chasing deadlines and they don’t have time to read them all.
A lot of releases go straight in the bin. Some lie in an in tray for a few days – then they go in the bin. If releases are sent as attachments to emails they will probably never even be opened.
If you are lucky, someone might find your release interesting and call you back – but this can happen many days later, when they have found time to glance through the in tray.
Unless you are a regular source, press releases just don’t work at the national level.
Although for local newspapers and free sheets which struggle to find content, releases have a much higher success rate.
WHERE BROADCASTERS REALLY GET THEIR STORIES?
A few years ago, I was a guest on a current affairs TV show. They were running late so I got to sit in the busy newsroom where I could watch the journalists at work. It was a revealing experience.
They had other TV outlets running on screen and were clearly interested in pursuing stories that were being broken by their rivals.
They also had copies of all the national newspapers which were combed for stories that could make great TV. The most popular of the papers was The Guardian – perhaps because the broadcast media is left leaning but more probably because The Guardian is a go to source for media job opportunities.
If you can get your story in The Guardian, it is much more likely to get broadcast coverage.
There is a Media Food Chain out there so understanding who feeds off who is vital to raising your profile.
When I was at City Hall, we would often get stories featured on BBC London and its ITV equivalent. We were lucky because The Guardian covers London issues more closely than other newspapers, so the food chain worked for us.
I ran a blog which regularly reported on the committee hearings that took place at the London Assembly. Writing them up was detail driven, hard work, but it was rewarded when The Guardian website started to include my own blog on their sidebar of recommended reading.
I knew that I could break a story by placing it on the blog, where Guardian journalists and bloggers were more likely to read it. From there it was more likely to progress to BBC and ITV coverage as well as London’s popular radio stations.
After I left City Hall, I was asked to write some pieces for the political website, Brexit Central. One of my most read articles covered my experiences as a Member of the cumbersome European Committee of the Regions – experiences that had eventually convinced me to vote to Leave.
The story got a lot of responses – many from Remainers suggesting that I must be ‘uneducated’ to hold such a view.
But more importantly it was picked up by the Express, who ran it on their website with a slightly different slant – which resulted in responses from Leavers suggesting I was ‘treasonous’ for having taken part in the first place.
I had managed to anger the two opposing groups with the same article!
The media food chain continued to do its work, with the story moving up to feature in TV broadcasts. It helped me to build valuable contacts that continue to offer me broadcast opportunities and also bagged me some slots to speak at conferences about democracy and devolution.
BLOGGING FOR RECOGNITION
Obviously, I believe very strongly in writing and promoting your own content via blogging.
Many years ago a seasoned campaigner advised me against – “99% of the time nobody will read it and the remaining 1% you will wish they hadn’t” was his take. I understood his concerns but I think it sold candidates short on their creativity, diligence and common sense. If you can’t be trusted to run a blog, you really shouldn’t be trusted with political power.
I recommend that you build and run your own website. The initial investment of time and effort is well worth it. Using WordPress or other packages isn’t difficult and if you have built the site, you will understand how it works and won’t be at the mercy of IT experts.
The most important thing is to publish regular and informed content, so that you become a go to source for media outlets. Look at your blog as the first step on an escalator that will automatically carry some of your stories right to the top.
You need to think carefully about the sort of headlines you use. Often the headline is the only thing that gets read so it needs to drive interest in your article.
Numbers are particularly useful for this e.g.
“Here are the Top 10 London bus routes for crime.”
“Eleven ways to fail a selection interview.”
People are drawn to lists and are more likely to click on the story. Keep the paragraphs relatively short too – long paragraphs can look intimidating and will be skipped over by the reader’s eye.
If you understand the media food chain, you are more likely to get stories to feature at national level. On the way up they will gather extra pace and coverage that a simple press release can’t provide. It’s like skimming stones across the surface of a lake – trying to get more bounces each time.
A vital element of political branding is understanding media opportunities and raising your profile. I am coaching candidates during and after the current Election so please do contact me for more details.
And Take Care Out There!