Get the Story to Media

How to get news outlets to cover your campaign

Getting media attention for your campaign can make your decision maker sit up and take notice. It can legitimise your campaign in the eyes of your decision maker, and help you reach supporters you couldn't otherwise. Read on for a step-by-step guide to attracting media coverage.

Step 1: Lay the groundwork

Step 1: Lay the groundwork

  • Determine if media will help your campaign
  • Craft your 30-second message
  • Figure out what makes your campaign newsworthy
  • Determine how to tell your story through pictures, video and sound
  • Collect proof to verify your story to the press

    • Determine if media will help your campaign
      Media coverage can provide a huge boost to your campaign, especially when your decision maker's public image is at stake. But there are times when press coverage can actually do more harm than good.

      Before you put the BBC, Al Jazeera or Anderson Cooper on speed-dial, determine whether conducting press outreach is a smart strategy for your campaign.

        Media outreach is great if...

        • You've gathered signatures, crafted your message and called your decision maker -- but they haven't responded.
        • Your decision maker has responded but refuses to cooperate.
        • Sharing your story will definitely help you attract more campaign supporters and allies.
        • There's a visual element to your story that newspaper, radio and TV reporters will want to cover.
        • Your campaign includes a unique story, a personal connection to a national issue, attention-catching tactics or an upcoming deadline.

          Media outreach can wait if...

        • You're talking with your decision maker behind the scenes, and sharing details about the campaign may jeopardise your progress.
        • The main players in your campaign aren't comfortable with having their stories told publicly, in TV or in print.
        • Your campaign focuses on a global or national issue without a local hook to interest reporters in your geographic area.

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      Craft your 30-second message

      The average online reader spends 3 minutes per visit at an online news site -- skimming hundreds of headlines as she makes her way down the page. Before you reach out to media, ask yourself how you can explain your campaign in 30 seconds or less.

      Try talking about your petition with a friend. Ask him afterward what caught his interest, and use that feedback to determine which details to include in your 30-second message. You can also use this checklist:

      Use exciting, energetic verbs.
      "I launched my campaign" is more powerful than "I started my campaign."

      Use specific details.
      "I’m a young woman" is much less compelling than "I’m a 22-year-old part-time nanny living in Washington, D.C."

      Keep it short.
      Remove any words that lengthen your message without adding to the story.

        From Good to Better: 30-Second Messages

        "I'm angry with my local school board for not approving a playground at the new elementary school. There are many children who need a place to play. The school board keeps promising to build one, but they go back on their word. So I started a petition on for a new playground."

        "I'm a mother in Dubuque, Iowa, leading a campaign for a new playground at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. Fifty parents have signed, and we're presenting the petition to the school board on Tuesday."

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      Figure out what makes your campaign newsworthy

      A bake sale, a crime spree, a presidential election -- depending on the story, the angle and the media outlet, all of these can be news stories, depending on several key factors like timing, location and who's participating. Before asking a reporter to write or talk about your campaign, consider the factors outlined below:

      What are the dates or deadlines of your campaign? Why is it important for people to know about it today, and not next week or next year?

      How many people will be affected by your campaign? Use numbers to quantify the impact of your campaign.

      The majority of print and broadcast media outlets are centered around a geographic area. A reporter in Denver, Colorado will almost never be interested in a campaign centered around a city in Kansas. Target reporters who are close to your area.

      Reporters love writing about celebrities and prominent people. Did Kim Kardashian sign your petition? Has Mia Farrow tweeted it? Stress this to the press.

      Human Interest. 
      Is there a compelling personal story behind your campaign? Reporters love stories about human relationships and universal stories about love, loss, and family. This tends to be the main factor that attracts reporters to stories about campaigns.

        EXAMPLE: Tying A Campaign To The News Cycle

        A coalition of groups working to improve labor conditions at The Hershey Coalition wouldn't normally be front page news. But in October 2011, customers supporting the petition captured the interest of reporters by staging a Halloween-themed event. Tying the campaign -- which didn't have a deadline -- to the news cycle paid off in media coverage in Hershey's home state. 

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      Determine how to tell your story through pictures, video and sound.

      One way to improve the possibility of news coverage is by including a graphic element -- photos, video and audio. Are you staging an event where cameras could pick up scenes? Colorful art? An interesting interview? Documents that back up your case? YouTube videos? Compile these visual elements and have them available to include in your pitch. Make sure your YouTube video links back to your petition (find out how to embed a link here).

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      Collect proof to verify your story to the press

      Detective movies call a credible witness or piece of evidence the "smoking gun." If a reporter needs more proof of the facts behind your campaign, what will you tell him or her?

      Prepare your collection of proof advance. It could include documents, copies of emails, contact information of credible individuals willing to speak to the press, research and documentation from a different source, or video records.

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      Step 2: Pitch your story

    • Find out who has covered your campaign already
    • Identify reporters who might be interested
    • Write and send your pitch
    • Follow up with each reporter
    • Track media mentions of your campaign

    • Your next step is to sell your story to journalists. Time spent determining the best reporters to contact and drafting a strong email pitch will pay off in the end.

      • Find out who has covered your campaign already

        Before you begin contacting reporters, get the lay of the land by searching Google news for your campaign and the larger subject area. Has anyone from your geographic area already written about this issue or about related subjects? Write down the reporters’ names.

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        Identify reporters who might be interested

        Isolate 5-10 reporters from nearby media outlets that you think should cover your story. Use Google, LinkedIn, and the media outlets’ websites to track down email addresses, phone numbers, Twitter handles, and/or Facebook pages for each reporter.

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        Write and send your pitch

        Draft a personal email to each reporter with the basics of your campaign – who, what, where, why – and include your contact information. (You can recycle the same email for each reporter; just swap out their names.) This is where the 30-second message you developed earlier will come in handy!

          Emailing Reporters: Sample Pitch

          Hi Jonathan,

          I read your story on Springfield workers losing their jobs. I’m one of those workers, and I’ve launched an online campaign on to save my job that’s already got 800 supporters.

          Here’s a link to my campaign:

          I work at Burger Shack, where I was told by my boss to leave work early 3 times last month to save on payroll expenses. But last week, my boss fired me for “repeatedly leaving work before closing time” – a thinly veiled attempt to fire me and get out of paying unemployment benefits even though I did nothing wrong.

          Now I’m in danger of losing my job – but I’ve gathered 800 petition signatures to Burger Shack from people around Springfield who support me. And after seeing my campaign take off, two of my coworkers have come forward and said they’ve faced similar treatment from our manager. We’re not asking for any special treatment, just a fair break.

          I think my campaign could be a great follow-up story that puts a personal face on the issue of job loss in Springfield. Let me know if you’d like to set up an interview or need more information.


          Samantha Jones

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          Follow up with a phone call

          After you send your email, wait a few hours and then call to make sure the reporter received your message. Be polite, professional, and confident. Remember, reporters are busy and may not have time to talk long, so practice with a friend beforehand to condense your point into a few seconds.

          Your tone should be casual and positive, almost like you’re calling a friend. Reporters are often turned off by hyper-positive PR people, and they don’t like overly intense activists who try to fit 55 words in a sentence. Just speak normally, like your friend works in the media and you’re trying to convince them to cover something.

          Remember that most reporters only cover one story per day, so keep your expectations low. In the world of media outreach, success often looks like getting one reporter to cover your campaign, even if twenty other reporters turn you down immediately.

          Here’s a sample phone pitch:

            Calling Reporters: Sample Pitch

            Hi Jonathan, my name is Samantha Jones, and I’m calling to follow up on an email I sent this morning about workers getting fired in Springfield. Do you have a minute?

            If no: Okay, thanks for your time. Goodbye.

            If yes: Great! Well, since you’ve covered this issue already, I sent you an email this morning about an online campaign I launched on to save my job at Burger Shack. My boss is trying to fire me to save money, so I launched a campaign on to save my job, and 800 people have already signed – including two other Burger Shack workers who say the same thing is happening to them, too. I think my campaign could be a great follow-up story for you, since it’s a personal look at job loss here in Springfield.

            (Pause and wait for response.) Is this something you’d be interested in covering?

            If no: All right. Thanks so much for your time.

            If yes: That’s great to hear. Can I send you any additional info, or did you have any questions off the bat?

        • Answer any questions the reporter has and then follow up by email.

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          Track media mentions of your campaign

          Sometimes a reporter will email you back, but sometimes he’ll just write a story based on the information you sent. Set up Google alerts to monitor media coverage of your campaign. (Just enter in the keywords you want to track, and Google will email you any articles that mention those keywords.)

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        • Step 3: Prepare for an interview

        • Write three talking points
        • Own your expertise
        • Mention your petition
        • Practice with a friend

        • Talking to a reporter can be a little nerve-wracking. But if you prepare as much as possible ahead of time, you will give an excellent interview to help your campaign.

          If the reporter wants a phone interview, always ask if you can call him back in 15 minutes. This will give you time to prepare. If it’s a TV or radio interview scheduled for later in the day, take advantage of the extra time and practice, practice, practice.

          Write three talking points

          Start by creating what media professionals call a “messaging triangle,” or the three main points you hope to make during your interview. Then draw up a list of potential questions the reporter might ask you, and practice responding to them with one of your three points.

          Remember: the best interviewees don’t simply answer the questions a reporter asks. They transition back to their main points, ensuring that they control the direction of the interview. Whenever possible, return to your messaging triangle!

            Sample Questions that Reporters Might Ask

            • Tell me about your campaign.
            • Have you heard from the person you’re targeting?
            • Where are the people signing your petition from?
            • Do you have proof to back-up the claim you’re making?
            • What do you think this says about the larger issue?

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          Own your expertise

          Prepare a sentence explaining who you are and why your voice matters. Even if you don’t have a fancy title or credential, you have something very important to say. Not only are you aware of a problem, you're acting to solve it.

          Figure out what aspect of your identity gives you the most credibility. Are you a mother of three campaigning to reform school policies? A retail employee demanding your company headquarters change its hiring practices? A bank customer calling for an end to unfair debit card fees? Your opinion is just as valuable as the opinion of a school principal, corporate CEO, or bank chairman. Let your real-world experience shine.

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          Mention your petition

          If one person contacts the newspaper with a concern, a reporter can easily dismiss it – but if you have 200 or 20,000 people behind you, it's a different story. Be sure to feature your online campaign prominently in your rehearsal script. Mentioning that your campaign is on will also help you get more signatures -- people reading or watching the news story will be able to log on to and search for your petition.

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          Practice with a friend

          Reading or talking to yourself only goes so far, so don’t just practice answering potential interview questions alone – recruit a friend to help you out! If your interview will be on camera, use a smartphone, video camera, or Skype, and ask for feedback on your performance.

          Make sure your friend tries on different interviewer personalities, from friendly to hostile, so you're prepared for anything come interview time.

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          Forward the media coverage to your decision maker

          If your decision maker has ignored you, now's a good chance to check in with them again and remind them that ignoring you has a cost. Send a polite email or voicemail with a link to the news coverage asking if they've seen it.

            Check In With Your Decision Maker: Sample Email

            Hi Burger Shack,

            I just wanted to check in and share some of the media coverage of the “Don’t Fire Samantha” campaign so far. The Springfield Times and Springfield Courier have all covered the ongoing campaign; you can find links to articles here and here.

            We'd really like to share a response from Burger Shack headquarters with the growing number of members who’ve signed this campaign. And if Burger Shack is interested in working with me and my fellow employees to save our jobs and prevent our manager from using unfair firing practices in the future, we'd love to help Burger Shack issue a press release about how responsive and supportive you’ve been.

            Do you know when I might expect a response from Burger Shack? We're looking to do a second round of press next Wednesday.


            Samantha Jones

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          Use media to get media

          If you've gotten local coverage, now is the time to look for bigger outlets who cover similar topics. Look up statewide or national reporters and email them links of local coverage.

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          Go To The Next Tip: Build A Social Media Conversation