Thursday, April 17, 2008

And So We Lived Happily Ever After


The next seven months will be fast, furious and non-stop for political candidates and the journalists who cover them. Schedules of all will be incredibly busy. Time will always be of the essence. The candidates with money will buy significant amounts of time on television. The savviest candidates (with the smartest press shop and advisers) will earn media along the way. Here are some of the governing rules of local television, as well as some hints to hang onto in order to break through the pack to get that precious free media.

1. Learn to visualize. TV news directors and producers want something to see besides you at a podium. Sure, this involves creativity and maybe even some risk. But it will make you standout. And, oh, if you do an event in a conference room, avoid plain white backgrounds.

2. Find a real person. Your spouse or press secretary doesn't count. The sure hook to grab the attention of the person stacking the 10 p.m. newscast is to put a face on the issue you are attempting to expose. Localize it, and you're even better.

3. If there's weather, forget about it. If there wasn't weather, local TV news might almost be irrelevant. Floods, tornadoes and ice storms come first, and if there's even a chance of any one of them in the viewing area, don't expect to see your mug on TV that evening.

4. Say something courageous (or outrageous.) Declaring that you're "getting tough" on sex offenders, meth or the other evils of the world does not count.

5. Be nice to the photographer. Remember, he (or she) is the one who's shooting and framing you. There's lots of ways to do this in flattering and unflattering sequences.

6. Give us a heads up. We know you're busy and things change last minute. Same deal on our end. But whenever possible, a courtesy call (even off-the-record) on your upcoming event goes a long way. Oh, and BS with us a bit. C'mon, neither of us would be in this game if we didn't like talking shop.

7. If you don't pick up calls involving bad news, don't expect us to return every call on your press release. You can earn mega respect (and even some sympathy) real quick if you own up to a mistake, mishap or political problem. There are some campaigns who call you every other day to tout a press release, but the minute things go haywire and you've got a question, you're sent straight to voicemail.

8. TV stations have approval ratings too. They're called the Nielsen ratings.

9. Understand Broll. It's all that video we use to cover our stories with. That shot of you standing at the podium the entire time just won't do it. TV likes action. That means you, walking around, shaking hands, talking to workers, eating a hotdog, waving to supporters, clapping, walking down a hall, gesturing to surrogates . . . all without it ever looking staged or unnatural.

10. Be surrogate ready. Your opponent is in Springfield. He attacks you on the issue of illegal immigration. But you're in Jefferson City. Deadline is 3 hours. Do you have someone you can call in the area that will be able to articulately respond in a quick television interview? Or would you rather your response just be thrown into a tag line at the end of piece that your opponent has been featured in?

11. Got a gripe? Don't go over our head. Unless, we've screwed up royally or historically . . . Or said something really horrible about your mother, it's better to call the journalist who wrote the piece with your gripe than going over our heads without notice. I've seen this happen before. It's a pure respect thing, and it can fuel perceptions about your motives. We all make mistakes. Sometimes they aren't malicious, they're just mistakes.

12. Not commenting sometimes sounds worse than it is. "We're not going to comment on that," or "The Smith campaign did not return calls for comment," usually sounds worst to viewers than it is. Keep that in mind. In these scenarios, a friend of mine will always ask, "Well why didn't they respond? Something sounds fishy." Exactly.

13. Sometimes, just ask. Remember, it's our job to cover you. Sometimes, a simple phone call asking for some airtime on an important issue will do the trick. Just hope against a crime against a child and tornadoes on that day.

1 comment:

Brad Belote said...

Let me throw a few more in (I'm sure more will come my way):

Don't forget we are voters too. You wouldn't b-s a constituent (!), or not return their calls, or say stuff you know is full of hot air. Most of us don't operate with an agenda. We pay more attention to candidates and issues than most folks.

Some of us vote too. You wouldn't want to leave a bad impression with a voter at a rally.. or a staged event.. or a visit to their home. So don't.

Oh yeah: candidate press people: Don't become jerks once your candidates gets into office. It's amazing how these media folk - friendly, cooperative, accomodating when operating a campaign -- become complete tools once they are on the government payroll and their man/woman has been elected.

I suggest you admit you make mistakes. Nancy Farmer didn't wear her seatbelt. Hillary Clinton misspoke. Diffuse the situation by coming clean. Otherwise you look stubborn and the editorial writers will just chew on that for a long time.