Weaning the media off its election diet

Persuading the media to listen to any non-election pitch will be hard in the coming months. Tom Acitelli discovers how newswires and broadcast companies can help

Persuading the media to listen to any non-election pitch will be hard in the coming months. Tom Acitelli discovers how newswires and broadcast companies can help

The race between George W. Bush and John Kerry promises to be one of the most divisive and vociferous in memory, feeding the national consciousness a steady diet of political information seasoned by state and local races.

Broadcast companies and newswire vendors can seize advantages for their clients in this climate of heightened political interest. Plus, they can peddle expanded services to satisfy the political animal inside news consumers this time of year.

"This election season is really no different from all the rest - a politically charged atmosphere with lots at stake," says Danny Selnick, VP of policy services at PR Newswire. "Clients on both sides of the political spectrum are more vocal than ever because there's so much at stake and because of the uncertainty of our times."

Clients need to realize they're competing for media attention with the political coverage demanded during an election season, say broadcast and newswire executives. Cutting through the din to capture the media's attention is a major challenge.

"It looks like it's getting more and more prevalent," Gary Glenn, president and CEO of NewsWire One, says of political coverage during an election season. "This year, I think, because the election is so negative and so dirty, newsrooms are just constantly looking for more and more stuff. I think, then, one of the challenges is going to be getting news noticed in the newsroom during this election season."

An overarching rubric for getting news noticed is thinking like a reporter in the midst of covering an election.

"You need to look at opportunities," says Thomas Becktold, VP of marketing at Business Wire. "The hot topics and hot things on media reporters' minds may change more quickly during an election season, so I think our clients need to be cognizant of that. As we tell them all the time, take advantage when you can of current news events and try to tie your announcements or your organization into those broader themes. [Clients] need to stay on their toes and look for opportunities as the campaigns are unfolding."

Once inside a reporter's mind, a client must face the further challenge of staying there. That entails cutting through the political news - especially if the reporter doesn't walk a beat related to the election season. One way to do that is through having a brand image on each release - the golden arches for McDonald's, for instance.

"If you've got somebody covering automotives or covering food beats," Glenn says, "in-stead of them having to go through a couple thousand news releases, they're going to see the branded image and say, 'Hey, that's my beat. I should pay attention to it.'"

Vendors themselves are trying to expand and tailor the coverage they receive during the election season, paying homage to the reality that their industries are increasingly defined by the speed of the internet.

For instance, PR Newswire is offering clients three different convention coverage packages with full-text releases going directly to journalists on-site at the two major political parties' conventions - the Republicans' in New York and the Democratic one in Boston. Services like on-site coverage can provide faster turnaround for clients, say vendor executives.

US Newswire will have bureaus on-site at the conventions, including photographers. Throughout the election season, US Newswire also will provide full-text releases to internet databases and real-time news services like Yahoo! News and Google.

The NewsMarket is launching what it dubs an "Election Wish List," an attempt by the broadcast news distribution service to survey registered users on what they'll be covering during the election season - inside and outside of the campaigns. The information will then be cycled back to clients so they can better tailor their broadcast media, says Shoba Purushothaman, CEO of The NewsMarket.

Medialink will be offering live feeds from its Manhattan office for the Republican convention in New York. It will also have live feeds from the convention floor for clients, and photography.

Although the media environment will be different during the coming months, basic newswire dos and don'ts will remain the same as always. Brent Bamberger, VP of marketing at Multivision, a broadcast monitoring company based in Walnut Creek, CA, reminds users of the basics - starting with the three key questions of coverage, delivery, and analytics.

"They should be asking, 'What is your coverage area?'" says Bamberger. "[A vendor] should be able to go wide with markets, but also deep in those markets."

Clients should make sure that their releases can be delivered fast, he continues, especially in a crisis situation. Finally, clients should be able to get thorough and timely feedback about the delivery and coverage.

Sometimes, though, the story simply might not get through.

"During election days, during major debates, if you are looking for television coverage, you're probably going to get pushed off the daily newscasts," Becktold explains. "You can't always control that, but some of these things are planned or scripted by the campaigns."

Planning ahead can help, too, especially because dates for business and politics are often familiar. That is, Election Day is the second Tuesday in November, and most consumer product launches happen annually in September or October.

"I think that not enough people plan ahead in terms of thinking about how the media are going to go about doing their jobs," Purushothaman says. "You want to get all of your work and your feelers out there in September, October, because you want to do it earlier rather than later. And I think if you can't avoid it and you're going to have an announcement that's going to hit around November, you should be seeding that in September or October."

Technique tips

Do follow campaign schedules and major political news

Do put a clear brand image on the news release

Do put contact information on the news release that can be easily accessed

Don't issue major news releases during times of big political events

Don't include a contact person who isn't immediately available

Don't make big announcements, if possible, around Election Day

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