Media Advocacy: How to Get News Coverage for Your Ordinance

PDF Format

May 2003

Positive publicity for pending tobacco control ordinances will help generate public support for the ordinances and help convince city or county officials to vote for it.

 

DEVELOP YOUR MESSAGE

When working with the media, you must develop your message.

  • Know your audience.
    • If you are talking to a health reporter, talk about the health aspect of the issue.
    • If you are talking to an elected official, talk about benefits to the community.

  • Select only your most persuasive arguments.

  • Stay on message.
    • Write down your main points and emphasize them.
    • Tie every answer you give back to your messages.

 

PLAN FOR EARNED MEDIA COVERAGE

There are many different ways of obtaining earned (free) news coverage.

  • Write letters to the editor.
    • State your reason for writing.
    • When applicable, refer to any news item or letter that you are countering.
    • Limit your message to one or two key points.
    • Follow the word-count rules.
    • Take a firm and clear stand on the issues, but be reasonable.

  • Write an op-ed piece.
    • Talk with the editorial page editor to pitch your idea.
    • Be concise: have something original to say, with one idea and several examples.
    • Follow the word-count rules set by the paper.
    • Take a firm and clear stand on the issues, but be reasonable.

  • Meet with an editorial board.
    • Call your local editorial page editor to set up an appointment.
    • Prepare an information packet to pass out at the meeting.
    • Bring a small group of your most influential coalition members.
    • Pick your three most persuasive points and strongly advocate for them.
    • Afterwards, follow up with a thank you note, and provide any follow-up material.

  • Host an event.
    • Consider holding smokefree rallies, parades, candlelight vigils, or anything else that involves your coalition and draws media attention.
    • Send out a press release to the media several days before the event, inviting them to attend and providing information about the event.
    • Follow up with the media the day before the event and then again the day of the event.
    • Provide information packets to the media at the event.
    • Have visually exciting backgrounds, including coalition tee shirts, banners, posters, graphs, etc.

  • Hold a news conference.
    • Schedule a news conference only when you have important information that should be released to the general public.
    • Send out a press release to the media several days before the conference.
    • Follow up with the media the day before the event and then again the day of the event.
    • Provide information packets to the media at the conference.
    • Have visually exciting backgrounds, including coalition tee shirts, banners, posters, graphs, etc.

 

REPORTERS ARE PEOPLE TOO!

Cultivate relationships with local newspaper, radio, and television reporters.

  • Give them a call and let them know what the ordinance will do, and why it is important.
    • Assume that they have no knowledge of the subject area.
    • Let them know they can call you with any questions about the proposed ordinance or other tobacco-related issues.
    • Use plain language and avoid jargon.
    • Frame your message in terms of soundbites, stating your most important points first so that they will make it into the story.
    • Give them your contact information.

  • If you have good relationships with reporters, they will be more likely to call you when they cover tobacco-related news to ensure that your message is conveyed.
    • A good relationship can also guarantee that you have a chance to counter the opposition's claims.
    • Remember, nothing is ever really "off the record."

If you don't already have a working relationship with local reporters, assemble a list of local newspapers, radio talkshows, and television news shows to contact.

  • Newspaper reporters: call the editor's office and ask which reporters normally cover tobacco-related stories (e.g., health and science reporter, political reporter, business/financial reporter).

  • Radio talkshows: call the talkshow host during business hours, when the show is not on the air.

  • Television reporters: call the station and speak to the staff of each news show (e.g. 5:00, 6:00, and 11:00 news) and ask which reporters normally cover tobacco-related stories.

When you contact reporters, remember that their priority may be meeting the deadline for a current story. If they are too busy to talk, ask when you should call back.

When important news breaks (e.g., the ordinance is introduced, you've uncovered the tobacco industry's connection to a local front group, or you have information discrediting the opposition's claims, etc.), make sure the media hears your side.

  • Call reporters with whom you already have a good relationship.

  • Consider sending out a news release with your information.

  • Consider holding a news conference, but only if your information is very important and visually exciting for television media.

 

RESOURCES ON MEDIA ADVOCACY

"News for a Change: An Advocate's Guide to Working with the Media." Wallach, Larry, Katie Woodruff, Lori Dorfman, Iris Diaz. 1999. Sage Publications, Inc. Thousand Oaks, CA.

Contact ANR for more information and to answer any questions, at (510) 841-3032.

© 1998 Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, revised 2003