In this era, you’re lucky if you’re going up against just one tough news cycle. The reality is more complex – it's an always evolving media landscape that seems to ask “what have you done for me lately?”
During my time at the House Energy and Commerce Committee (E&C) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, I saw first-hand the power of Uncle Sam’s megaphone. When the government acts, it literally creates news. But while their reach was (and is) tremendous, getting reporters’ attention in a busy news cycle still meant following the basics – no matter how large or small the story.
Those same lessons can be utilized today regardless of what industry you’re in or what premier listservs may or may not be at your disposal. Here are my tips for thriving in the non-stop news cycles that dominate the Beltway and beyond.
1. Show – don’t tell – a compelling story to put something memorable in those inboxes.
All of my journalism professors were right. The “why” is always more compelling and allows your audience to experience what you’re conveying, instead of just hearing it.
When E&C began working on additional legislation to combat the opioid crisis in 2018, it was paramount to show the heartbreaking impact the epidemic was having on our communities. By working closely with families that been robbed of a loved one or aiding one on the road to recovery, the committee was able to help them share their stories, and impact the narrative and legislative process around it.
The committee built relationships with these families and captured their experiences with on-camera, documentary-style interviews. Those stories became the root of legislative priorities, many of which were included in the final policy package. By sharing compelling – and often relatable – stories, the back and forth among lawmakers and staff was different. There was little push and pull on the actual policies, and instead broader conversations on the extent of specific provisions and the funding mechanisms.
The result? The Support for Patients and Communities Act, the largest legislative effort to address an epidemic (at the time), became law.
2. Shine a spotlight on the patients to detail the impact of the policy.
All politics – and policies – are local. It’s easy to get lost in complex data sets and wonky regulations. While these elements are essential components of any policy discussion, they don’t need to be the focus of your media outreach.
Instead, share the patient’s story – what makes them unique and what makes them just like you and me. By marrying compelling personal narratives and visuals with data, it makes a disease – for example – more tangible and the related policy ultimately more impactful.
This was the nexus of our approach communicating with the press and key stakeholders about the 21st Century Cures Act. And while there might be some debate about whether or not we sent too many emails spotlighting individuals and their stories, no one doubts the impact the law will have on unleashing new cures and innovative treatments for our families, friends and neighbors. #CuresNow lives on (and is right on cue for tip #3)!
3. Use your subject line strategically – and don’t forget to have some fun with it.
While often an afterthought, the subject line is your first and typically only shot to get noticed. Even if you have a large megaphone, your subject line is literally up against dozens of others vying for attention – and all are one click away from the trash. Before you hit send, craft a subject line that shows why your email is a must-read item.
During my time on Capitol Hill, I was notorious for my subject lines – often making a pop culture connection to complicated policy and utilizing alliterative state nicknames or mottos. It helped ensure emails were opened, but it also helped maintain friendly relationships with reporters.
Using subject lines strategically was especially important as we worked to get the 21st Century Cures Act over the finish line. The bipartisan effort was declared dead on numerous occasions over the two-year period, but by continuing to push out important patient stories and resources that no one else had – with notable subject lines – we remained a must-read entity. As a result, the press continued to report on the effort, and pressure mounted for a deal to be reached. In a sea of endless press releases, E&C wasn’t just driving the policy – E&C was driving the news. And all too often, that started and ended with an e-mail that was opened because the subject line was just that clickable.
4. Quality over quantity (of reporters).
The most successful pitch isn’t necessarily the one generating the most coverage, but the one generating the right coverage. Worry less on the size of your media lists and more on whether each contact is in the right place.
When was the last time you updated your media contacts and their beats? If it hasn’t been this year, now is the perfect time to do so. It’s a daunting task, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run. Having accurate information for your media targets will ensure your pitching gets to the right places – to those most informed on your issue. The coverage will speak for itself.