In April, the Media Relations team at SevenTwenty Strategies hosted a webinar titled, "What’s Missing from Your Fly-In Strategy? How Media Relations Ties Your Fly-In Together." For most organizers, fly-ins consist of three basic activities: managing meeting logistics, organizing advocate training, and scheduling and attending meetings for advocates to meet with Members of Congress (MOCs) and their staff.
MOCs conduct thousands of constituent visits during fly-ins every year. How can your organization host a fly-in that stands out from the rest, makes your Capitol Hill meetings more productive and amplifies your core messages with policymakers and the public? Simply put: media relations.
A well-executed media relations strategy can elevate the value of your fly-in — for your members and the issues you care about. Consider these three media strategies to tie your event together.
1. Begin with the end in mind.
As with every other aspect of your fly-in, a sound media relations strategy requires preparation — but it’s not as hard as you might think. To start, you need to be clear about exactly what benefits media coverage can extend to your advocacy efforts. You want positive coverage that frames your issue(s) properly and amplifies your core message beyond your advocate’s immediate sphere of influence.
MOCs are almost always short on time, as well as short-staffed. A media relations strategy can actually work as a time-saving device, by securing coverage that educates and frames issues with MOCs inside-the-beltway and back home in the district where their constituents live and work. When advocates attend congressional meetings, MOCs and their staff are already “briefed” on the issues and able to engage advocates in substantive dialogue instead of basic issue education.
2. Recognize the pitfalls and opportunities of a shifting media landscape.
The media landscape has drastically changed, and there’s little to signal that this volatility will subside any time soon. With the President increasingly turning to social media to create and publish news and a growing list of media channels working to follow and report on his progress at hyper speed, traditional news cycles are shrinking rapidly — and becoming unpredictable. In one minute a story seems relevant, and in the next, a tweet from a political titan diverts attention away from your advocates.
Organizations may be disinclined to jump into the deep end of this media pool. Yet there are opportunities available to those who can swim in murky waters. When the media cycle becomes more challenging, remember that advanced preparation is the key to coverage. With a little homework, you’ll know exactly which reporters cover which beats and the topics and story angles they’re most likely to cover – enabling your organization to tailor messages to the right reporters and outlets at the right time. Local reporters, for example, will appreciate the local angle (such as a group of advocates traveling to Washington, DC, to meet with their MOCs.) By providing your top spokespeople for interviews, photos, videos and coordinating social media, you’ve offered local press a great story that effectively delivers your message and steers clear of Beltway volatility.
3. The most critical days for garnering coverage are before and after your fly-in.
It’s easy to think Beltway outlets or well-known national media brands are your top sources of positive coverage for your fly-in. However, unless you’ve booked a newsmaker for your training, scheduled a significant media event or arranged your fly-in to occur during a major vote on your topic of interest, you may not gain major coverage.
Beyond encouraging Beltway outlets to publish your fly-in on their daybooks, online calendars or daily newsletters, focus your efforts on local or statewide coverage before and after your fly-in to allow your organization adequate preparation time and a stream of ongoing coverage once your event is over.
In such a crowded media market, it takes time to build relationships with reporters and to secure their interest in a fly-in event. Instead of waiting until the moment of the event, take the time to schedule reporter meetings during the downtime, nurture your relationship and pitch your story in advance.
MOCs and constituents are paying closer attention than ever to the local press corps. These outlets thrive on original and local content, creating even more reason to pitch the local news stations and papers that MOCs read and watch every day – before and after your event.
Fly-ins are an opportunity to elevate your message — with your members, elected officials, media and beyond. Don’t limit yourself to trainings and scheduled meetings. By leveraging these three key strategies, you can tie your fly-in together with media.
Vice President of Media Relations