Classic Public Affairs Tactics for the New Media Landscape

Press releases, letters to the editor and op-eds may seem like dated media tools, vestiges of the print era that are stubbornly hanging on. But think again. Each of these has a place in the digital world.

All of these tools can be highly effective in today’s public affairs campaigns if organizations understand their utility and how to maximize it. Used properly, these tactics can make your organization more media friendly, increase your visibility and fuel your social media program with outside validation and enhanced credibility.

Let’s take each in turn to see the role it plays and how your organization can use it.

Press Releases

Consider this: there is more media now than there ever has been. Mainstream outlets like The New York Times, cable channels and local and regional news shops are joined by podcasts, blogs, YouTube channels, aggregators, Facebook pages, Twitter streams, newsletters and more.

Just as the media landscape has changed, so has the role of the press release and they serve a different function at different types of news organizations.

Generally speaking, press releases are no longer a primary news source for mainstream media outlets. Reporters at The New York Times do not get their stories from releases. They talk to experts and newsmakers and have a natural resistance to being fed the news by an organization’s press shop.

Instead, they use releases for information, such as statistics and quotes. Savvy communication shops can capitalize on this by providing lively quotes and solid numbers with full transparency, so reporters can use them without making a call for confirmation and explanation.

However, press releases play a different role in the rest of the media universe. Many outlets are producing news products without a great deal of first-hand reporting. They are not talking to newsmakers all day. Instead, they are reading and collecting information online, and they are far more likely to make use of information in a press release.  

A complete and well-written release that tells a solid story may well move a blogger to write, or get your veep invited on a podcast. Sure, it’s not the same as an appearance on Morning Joe, but you can amplify these pieces on your social channels as a form of external validation that increases credibility.  

Releases have one more benefit in the digital world: they act as a repository of citable information. An archive of releases is a trove of numbers, dates and quotes that reports of all kinds can pull from, and that is valuable.   

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Letters to the Editor

Writing letters to the editor is becoming a lost art. But many news organizations still value debate on their digital pages just as they did in print.

The good news is that short, well-written and credible letters are likely to get published. Organizations that run letters are often hungry for them.

Pay attention to your process here. Having the CEO write a letter and blasting it to 200 organizations is a crude execution. A more sophisticated approach is to have the comms team work with regional directors or local volunteers to send letters to specific publications.

These letters may draw discussions and comments, or they may not. But they can always be amplified in your social channels, giving the impression that your issues is being debated nationwide and your position is widely shared. That’s a win.   

A digital cousin to the letter to the editor is posting on local boards and the benefits are the same. Whether it is a listserv for organic farmers or a chat group for urban moms, the strategy will work if your issue is relevant to the audience. This may be tough if your organization builds nuclear submarines, and easier if you promote renewable energy. You decide whether it makes sense.

If you do move forward, do it wisely. Post your latest press release and it will be seen for the spam that it is. Have a local representative cast a thoughtful post with full transparency about their role and it is likely to be taken seriously.  

Op-Ed and Opinion Pieces

Like letters to the editor, op-ed and opinion pieces are still valued at many news organizations, and they can give your issue and your arguments wide exposure.

Editors know these pieces are often ghostwritten. But they are willing to overlook it if the piece is solid, contains new information, highlights a provocative angle and adds to the debate.  

The key here is quality. Consider the publication and its needs, and then the angle, the information and the right person to author the piece. Remember that these pieces are intended to be thought-provoking, so a story filled with common wisdom is likely to get passed over.

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