It is always much easier to steer a moving idea than it is to get one floated in the first place, and nothing makes an advocate’s job easier than a politician who is already aware of their issue. Building awareness means educating legislators and their staff through meetings, materials, and media.
Legislators most often get their news from the same place as everyone else, and tracking television, newspapers, and other media can be a great way for a legislative office to measure the public opinion on an issue.
For advocates, using the media to share stories, show that a problem exists, and sway public opinion can be critical to getting a piece of legislation moving in the right direction.
Letters to the Editor
Writing a letter to the editor is an effective way to share an opinion or help shape a discussion, especially if a newspaper has previously reported on the subject. These short letters can be used to highlight important points or make counter-arguments to help clarify an issue.
- Keep it simple - Make your piece easily understood by all readers and remember that not everyone will know what you’re talking about.
- Keep it short - Most newspapers require letters to be under 400 words, sometimes under 200. Focus in on one or two main points and be clear.
- Keep it timely - Newspapers live and die on how current they can be, submit your letter as quickly as possible following an article or event.
Opinion Pieces (Op-Ed)
Like letters to the editor, op-eds allow you to write an opinion piece on subjects of interest. These articles tend to be slightly longer and more in depth than letters. Tips for op-eds include:
- Tell a story - The easiest way to connect with readers is to use a personal story (yours or someone else’s) to describe the issue through narrative.
- Do it the right way - Some newspapers may receive hundreds or even thousands of op-eds each week, make sure to follow instructions on content, length, and format in order to make the cut.
- Make a call to action - Opinion pieces are intended to sway opinion. Have a clear-cut goal or call to action in mind for the end of your article.
Press Releases and Press Contacts
The front page of a newspaper or the flash of a camera light can make a big splash for your issue. In many cases, engaging the media to report on your topic will net you far more coverage than trying to submit your own pieces.
- Find your reporter - Different reporters cover different beats, try to find a reporter who is interested in your topic or covers similar stories.
- It’s ok to pitch - Reporters often need you as much as you rely on them. Calling a reporter and asking "do you have a minute for me to pitch you a story" is sometimes the easiest and best course.
- Write a release - Press releases are a great way to send out your own story and to have as a follow-up to send after speaking with a reporter.
- Ask around - Different news outlets and reporters have different schedules, don’t be afraid to call someone else or somewhere else if one option doesn’t work out.