By Nicole Rodrigues, CEO and founder of NRPR Group.
Politics is a battle for the hearts and minds of voters, the media is a friend as well as a foe, and there’s only so much marketing that constituents can bear. So how do you win the hearts and minds of voters? You earn it. You sell your candidate; not to interest groups, but to the media, who then sell it to their audience. If that sounds like a job in itself, that’s because it is, and its success is in the hands of your press agent and their team.
Here’s a rundown on how earned media works and how your campaign can get press coverage right.
1. Does your candidate need a press agent?
Campaigns for minor local elections—cities with a population under 250K—run on shoestring budgets and often aren’t even contested. In those cases, the campaign manager or a volunteer usually serves as the press agent, staying in touch with reporters and providing updates.
However, retain a freelance press agent, if your budget permits, and provide them with all of the information you have about your candidate: the issues, opposing candidates, voter demographics and some of the publications you want coverage in, then let them take it from there.
Things get serious in dateline cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston, among others, in statewide, and—of course— in national elections. These candidates hire professionals to manage their campaigns. The team includes either an internal press agent—usually a former communications consultant or PR professional—or, especially in the case of high-profile campaigns, an external agency. Not having one is not an option.
2. What can a press agent do that you can’t?
Campaign managers are tightly wound and want to handle everything. The well known ones are connected with journalists who cover politics and will play an instrumental part in the campaign’s earned media play. They’ll give introductions to friendly journalists for account managers to pitch, which will get the attention of the journalist. A warm introduction has much more clout than a cold email.
You’d waste thousands of dollars if a senior member of the campaign spent their time crafting emails for potential press coverage. You need bandwidth to keep up the constant contact with media required to gain coverage. An internal press team or external agency logs hundreds of hours emailing, texting, posting, reading news sites, responding to inquiries and following up again and again. All day. Every day. This is the job for PR pros.
3. PR pros and press agents spot earned media opportunities everywhere.
You might not think coverage in the Home & Garden section of the Los Angeles Times makes sense for your political candidate, but a smart press agent would. A reporter who covers urban farming would more likely than not welcome your pitch about the candidate’s commitment to sustainable food, how gardening keeps them grounded, and some good times to stop by and take photos of the candidate’s award-winning organic tomatoes. Just think of the headline possibilities!
Any press agent worth their salt will propose a human interest story on what the candidate experienced as a child (fill in tear jerker childhood/early-adulthood obstacle), their struggle to overcome said obstacle, or their insightful perspective regarding said obstacle. Only by selling it differently to different journalists and media outlets will the story earn any traction. Only a professional who knows the players will know which hook will make them bite, especially when the story isn’t breaking news.
Sure, you’ll get coverage as a candidate when you make outlandish statements or take extreme positions, but those stories won’t earn you the hearts and minds of the people. Unless your press agent primes a reporter, it’s unlikely that candidate will get human interest coverage for training their three German shepherds as search dogs and participating in various missing person searches with them. It’s a great story of legitimate interest, but if it’s ever going to result in earned media coverage, you have to get the story to a reporter at the right outlet, covering the right beat.
Thankfully, that’s why PR pros have got the right politicians covered. It’s true. Politicians worth their salt know they can’t do it without us. And that’s the truth.
Nicole Rodrigues is CEO and founder of NRPR Group. She’s a seasoned publicist and social media marketing pro with 16 years of experience under her belt, and has developed and executed strategic campaigns for some of the biggest names in business such as Yahoo, Dolby, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Hulu.