Developing a winning strategy to engage the press by Ron Holmes
Founding Principal at Ron Holmes Consulting LLC, Communications Director at Durbin for US Senate, Deputy Press Secretary at Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus
I’m the kind of guy that sits in the living room and screams at my television or iPad when I see something I don’t like. So if you’re anything like me, watching cable news or reading certain editorials can be a stressful and fatiguing venture.
I’m sure any head shrink would warn me of two things. First, that televisions and newspapers can’t actually hear me. Second, that if I really want to engage an opposing viewpoint, I should do so in a constructive manner.
So that’s why I’ve focused a lot of my professional career on helping people communicate in the political space. Right-wing talking points are only effective in the absence of alternative logic. Now we know, Fox News, the Koch Brothers and the Illinois Policy Institute are platforms for conservative viewpoints. That’s why we as Democrats have to work hard at every level to engage in the public dialogue about what our values are and why they are better than the alternative.
So how do we do it? Engaging the press can be hard and let’s face it, even the best politicians make a gaffe every now and then. It may be intimidating but the job is a lot easier when you actually believe what you’re saying. Just pretend you’re debating family at Thanksgiving dinner (minus the profanities) and you’ll be just fine.
Here are 3 things your county organization can start doing today to help Democrats effectively communicate our message and in turn win at the ballot box.
First, develop a comprehensive media list and keep it up to date. I’ve always argued that the foundation of any good communications strategy is a good media list. Think about it. What good is the best press release in the world if it doesn’t get in the right hands at the right time? As a local arm of the party, you should know who covers what issues in your area, what’s the best way to reach them and what their deadlines are. This is a resource you should be able to share with candidates and statewide officials that are visiting your area.
Second, maintain relationships with reporters. The inbox of a reporter isn’t that much different than yours. They’re subscribed to the same emails from politicians as you. However, don’t expect them to chip in that extra 5, 10 or 20 dollars before that critical fundraising deadline. On top of that, instead of Macy’s and Target ads, they’re inundated with pitches from people they don’t know. So if they don’t know who you are, chances are they won’t prioritize opening your email. So don’t just engage reporters when it’s time to send your press release; maintain a relationship that will yield results.
Third, proactively communicate and rebut any opposing view. Democrats aren’t simply the party of no. We’ve got ideas and solutions to problems at every level of government. So get out there and offer a well-informed perspective. Tell why we want to raise the minimum wage, why the quality of your education shouldn’t depend on your zip code and why government should be there for those who need it most. And if you see the opposition saying things that aren’t true, call them out. Editors owe the opposing view equal time and space in print. So take advantage.
Otherwise, you’re going to go horse screaming at the television or your local newspaper.