Figuring out your press strategy

Too often activists think they have to get journalists to an event in order to make it a success in the media. Often this is exactly the wrong approach - it’s sometimes better not to have any reporters there at all, but to do your own documentation and then get it to reporters. There are several ways to do this.

The basic tool of public relations is the press release. You write the article you’d like to see, and link to any other materials that might be useful - images, videos, etc.  Reporters won’t usually just take your release and rewrite it, but they will often cannibalize the material you provide, and they will often take the suggestions provided by the overall structure of your release as a guide to writing their own article. (Of course, you also need to send the release. We're preparing some technical notes about that to come soon.)

Similar is the video news release (VNR). A VNR is basically a promotional video that looks and sounds like TV news, but is really a form of advertisement. Corporations, Politicians, and even government entities produce them, and give them to news stations who are desperate for cheap content to keep their costs down. It’s been estimated that 30% of local TV news is actually corporate or political advertisements masquerading as news. As this piece says, “online VNRs are a creative way to get your message out.” Just imitate other VNRs and then email it, embedded in a press release, to media outlets.

You can also, in some examples, just provide the raw material to TV. For example: See these reports on "Survivalballs take UN" and "Public Option Annie." In those cases, we took the material (images, video, a prop) personally to CNN, and that personal pushiness was what made it happen (the same reporter, Jeannie Moos, covered both actions).

In all of these cases, you’re simply providing all the raw materials to journalists, who can cover the story without having to be there. In these days of cost-cutting and streamlining and “rationalizing” of all functions, this sort of approach is very welcome by many outlets—and is why big PR companies can have such a field day and get whatever message across that they like. Activists can—and must—use this same situation to our advantage.

Note: Sometimes in fact it’s better not to invite journalists to an event you want to publicize. Your event may end up looking terrible, being boring, or the immediate audience may be too small, etc. When you provide your own documentation to the press, you can choose only the most exciting images and video clips to share. You can also get tricky about it: only videotape the person at the podium, and for the reverse shot of the audience cut in from another source. If you have some good stock video of reactions in the ‘press room’ it may be all you need to have a full press conference with nobody there at all.