Reaching Local Media Still Makes a Difference

This post originally appeared on Campaigns & Elections.

“This place is just lousy with bloggers,” said a top Washington Post political writer at the Democratic National Convention some years ago in Denver. His portent was that social media bloggers, video bloggers and online writers were at least half of the registered credentialed media on-site and were taking some of his better sources.

Online media has changed drastically in the years since. Many of those “bloggers” from the 2008 cycle are now doing some of today’s most influential political journalism. And for campaign communications professionals, the number of D.C.-based reporters with whom they can place (even local) campaign stories, has expanded.

So what about small town papers, local TV, radio or hyper-local online sources? Too often, they get lost in the mix even though these sources may serve as the best way to reach a local constituency.

I recently spoke with Emily Parcell of Wildfire Contact who worked as Iowa political director for then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. When it came to local media sources, it was the same story then as it is now, according to Parcell: “Local papers are what they read first in Iowa,” and other mid-sized media markets. “They read the local paper first and everybody still gets it. The newspaper (daily or weekly) is at your house for a couple of days… people will keep it around.”

Parcell maintains that local media outreach is “so often overlooked and is a great carrier for your message.”

Her hometown paper was in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, about 40 minutes south of campus town Iowa City. Interestingly, U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Governor Tom Vilsack started his career on the Mt. Pleasant City Council. Guess who was a major columnist for the local paper? His wife, Christie. Probably a good person to know?

Here are some approaches to win local media placements for your candidate or grassroots campaign:

Cultivate Reporters Early
Get on the radar of local political, local government or city beat media one year to nine months before you need them. I met many New York Times and CNN reporters when they were “cub reporters.” You can even cultivate great student newspaper editors at journalism schools like Medill News Service of Northwestern. This summer, I have hired the editor of the Tulane Hullabaloo as an intern (call this an investment in both of our futures.)

Provide Front and Center Position for Local TV
Beside the pool camera, the press riser at your candidate’s speech must be reserved for the network affiliates, local cable, regional radio and even social media producers. The international cameras need to be on the second riser.

Senior Press
Older folks read their hometown paper or retirement community news more than perhaps watching CNN or Fox. Ignore them at your peril – they vote! Who is going to drive the van from the senior center to the polls?

Assign Op-eds and Letters to the Editor to Regional Thinkers
Read everything you can and find prominent local thought leaders ready to pen editorials.

Garner Media Endorsements through Editorial Boards
Make time for your candidate to meet the editorial department heads and answer questions. I edited a book titled “Newspaper Marketing Research,” published by my then employer the Newspaper Association of America, which talked about the endorsement process. Sen. Marco Rubio’s ascendancy in Iowa may well be partly due to his Des Moines Register endorsement. Mailers and other print material touting endorsements can still work in many locales, so make sure you understand the process for both “Ed Boards” and candidate endorsements.

Give Local Reporters an Exclusive, an Advance or Surrogate Sources
A press and advance operative does well to toss the locals a bone. Local media need access that the old-timer “Boys on the Bus” assume is their exclusive province.

Look for Unique News Holes
Patch and other hyper-local media is still publishing in many markets. Weekly newspapers often have more space for your offbeat and interesting stories. Find human interest stories and cultivate your own sources among local citizens to add color to your candidates’ stories.