With all the analytics that paid digital advertising brings to the table, traditional earned media is fast becoming an afterthought for many consultants. But there’s still significant power in earned media through traditional channels. For proof, just look at the success of Donald J. Trump’s campaign.
The Republican contender, by one estimate, received some $400 million worth of earned media in February alone. But you don’t have to be a billionaire celebrity to get some good press. To wit, earned media is also a potent tool for public affairs efforts and campaigns at the state legislative level.
State legislators are voracious consumers of media. They tend to subscribe to their local newspaper, watch local TV news, and listen to talk radio. Because, trust me, they’re looking for their name, or an issue they care about. If you want to reach these influencers, start a conversation about your message where they already consume content.
Take this example from Alabama. A couple years ago, the Cotton State was the last in the nation still lacking ignition interlocks for DUI offenders. Go figure. Several state legislators passionately pushed for reform over a period of 11 years. Then an ignition interlock provider engaged our firm to make a direct lobbying push. We recommended making earned media the primary tactic instead.
Working with MADD, Century Council, and other national groups with an interest in the issue, we put together a written plan, which had earned media as its foundation. It covered messaging, media outlet targeting, stakeholder engagement, spokesmen and spokeswomen, and timelines.
The big change was the external pressure earned media put on legislators. No longer could they sweep aside reform under the cloak of darkness. Instead, their constituents knew a bill was before them that would save lives in Alabama. Voters understood legislators had the opportunity to rid the state of another “last in the nation” ranking. Calls, emails and letters began to rain down on the Statehouse.
An additional factor in the earned media program was the use of personal stories from individuals who were negatively impacted by Alabama not passing the ignition interlock law. Real stories move votes, because legislators are human. They connect much better with emotion than data, just like the voters that put them there.
We also engaged grasstops and key influencers to collaborate with us on an op-ed and lend their name to the final version. A newspaper is much more likely to publish a piece by the national president of MADD than they are a letter to the editor from Joe Smith.
Media targets were selected based on where legislators on the committee in which the bill was assigned lived. It’s great to get statewide coverage, but if you really need to impact a committee chairman, focus first on his or her media outlets. Remember, all politics is local. You don’t need to be the lead story on the 11 p.m. news in the biggest market in the state when your committee chairman is more interested in what his weekly paper says about the issue.
Once we got news articles, TV clips, and radio podcasts covering the issue, we made sure the target legislators knew about it. From old school press clippings to emails to social media posts, the content was delivered directly to the audience in case they missed it upon publishing. The goal was to ensure legislators saw “lots” of news coverage about ignition interlocks. It doesn’t take much to create the perception that the topic is trending everywhere.
Through execution of the earned media plan and some direct lobbying, Alabama finally got an ignition interlock law. What failed 11 years in a row previously passed in the first year of an earned media plan being put in place.
If you firm isn’t involved in state legislative battles, this is one area where you can quickly apply your campaign knowledge. Use what you know about generating earned media and apply it to generating more business for your company.
Brent Buchanan is a managing partner at Cygnal, a GOP communication, digital, and data/research firm.