When planning an event for your school, nonprofit, or small business, many organizers assume that having a politician as a speaker or guest will automatically draw the media’s attention. And many of those go as far as to indicate which politician was invited although no confirmation has been made. It’s almost as if the organizer likens the media to a lonely empty-nester parent who would show up at a relative’s house simply because one of her children, who never visits or calls, happened to be invited. However, the reality is far from this common misconception.
The Myth of the Political Magnet
Politicians, especially those in prominent city or state offices, have staff dedicated to churning out media advisories for every event, speech, or appearance they make. To the media, this frequent communication is little more than a barrage of meaningless self-promotion. It’s as if the staffer is sending an unsaid message that “the great one will be present, and homage is required—never mind the fact that he will not be speaking on policy or something that would make for a good news article.” Such regularity can numb assignment editors to the potential value of your event.
The Media’s Insider Perspective
Those working in the media industry are not simply passive observers. They are informed individuals with an up-close view of political events, trends, and personalities. As a result, they are not easily starstruck by politicians. Instead, they look for substance, genuine news, and stories that resonate with their audience. The press is not interested in a political meet-and-greet.
Balancing Politics and Your Event’s Overarching Message
Your organization’s story or the main message of the event should be at the forefront. While it’s okay to mention that certain politicians will be attending, it should never overshadow the primary theme. For instance, if a politician is present at your event, mention his or her participation like you would a supporting business’s CEO. Politicians in this case would be a part of the background, and that’s not where the story is found.
The Media’s Bias
To the shock of some, the media bias doesn’t lean entirely left or right. But like any other profession, individuals in the media have personal beliefs, political affiliations, and philosophies. Their proximity to events and personalities can, and often does, shape their perspectives. This doesn’t mean there’s a collective agenda, but individual media personalities might prioritize stories differently based on their views. Therefore, overly emphasizing a politician’s involvement might deter certain media outlets from covering your event.
Political Writers and Their Beat
While general news might not be captivated by every politician’s move, there are writers dedicated to political coverage. For these journalists, the participation of a politician, especially if they play a role in your event beyond mere attendance, can be of interest. Knowing who is who is essential, which is why we do not indiscriminately blast out press releases. While it takes more time to contact journalists on an individual basis, the payoff is almost always greater. When the quality of coverage means more than quantity, there is no substitute for contacting journalists individually, pitching them on what you know about their beat and bent, and being willing to rework an angle to fit the journalist’s needs if it does not harm the client in any way.
Reconsider Those Plaques
Planning to honor a politician with an award? Think twice. Many media personnel view these awards, especially those from industry or educational institutions, as perfunctory or obligatory. It’s often seen as an inside game where the same familiar faces receive accolades. In some industry circles, you can almost guess who’s getting the plaque at this year’s gala. The media seeks fresh, substantive stories, not repetitive ceremonies.
Crafting Your Message: Do’s and Don’ts
And now for a snapshot you can use when contacting the media about your event:
DO focus on the primary message, outcome, or call to action.
DO NOT overemphasize the attendance or role of politicians.
DO mention politicians similarly to how you’d mention business CEOs who happen to be in attendance but are not part of the event’s central theme.
DO NOT assume that giving an award to a politician will be a media magnet.
Securing media coverage for your event is an art that requires a clear understanding of what journalists value. Putting politicians at the forefront might seem like a winning strategy, but the reality is more nuanced. Focus on the core message of your event, understand the media landscape, and pitch your story effectively. Remember, it’s the genuine, impactful stories that leave a lasting impression, not just the presence of a political figure.