Media Advocacy Tips
Robert Bray, Fight the Right Media Trainer,
National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
This section presents tips on developing and executing an effective
strategy for attaining non-paid media coverage to complement your efforts
to move campaign messages through paid advertisements, voter identification
polling, canvassing, and direct mail. Remember that the purpose of
developing and executing a non-paid media program during a campaign is to
re-enforce campaign messages.
The ability of the right wing to win in elections is based on a strategy of
deception and stealth. Our job is to expose voters to the truth so that
they can make informed decisions when they answer ballot questions. Good
research into the groups we are fighting, voter attitudes regarding the
issues, and well informed analysis of the groups of persuadable voters we
want to reach are critically important.
WHAT IS THE NEWS?
Identify newsworthy events, initiatives, or announcements
- Release area hate crimes reports
- Announce campaign to fight anti-gay initiatives
- Opinion makers support gay and lesbian rights
- Right wing uses deceptive tactics
- Legal experts examine impact of anti-gay initiatives
- Religious leaders initiate campaign to end discrimination
- Business group releases study of economic impact of discrimination
- Labor opposes anti-gay and lesbian discrimination
- Gay and lesbian families become more visible
WHAT ARE THE MESSAGES?
Shape your news into one key message, with one or two supporting messages.
Refine and distill the overarching news themes or events into concise,
essential messages that must be picked up by the press. Return to and
emphasize the key messages over and over during interviews and in press
releases. Make a point of briefly and concisely refuting the "special
rights" arguments we perpetually face. We do not seek any rights other than
the civil rights and freedom from institutionalized discrimination that all
Our opponents are seeking special rights: the right to discriminate and
create a second-class group of citizens, and the right to violate
separation of church and state by legislating their form of Christian
morality. For example, a news story about an anti-gay referendum attempting
to amend a constitution to exclude gay men and lesbians from civil rights
protection might have the following key messages:
A. Measure # 5 is an amendment to the bill of rights of the constitution to
unfairly promote discrimination for the first time in history. The measure,
which will appear on the May ballot, legalizes discrimination in
employment, housing, restaurants and public accommodations for reasons not
relevant to job performance or ability to pay.
Remember that you are reinforcing messages that will appear in
advertisements, on brochures, and in the scripted pitches of telephone and
door-to-door canvassers. Keep the message short, make it easily
understandable, repeatable, and very simple.
B. The sponsor of the measure is a fringe religious extremist group which
hopes to impose discriminatory and unfair laws limiting citizens rights
based on perceived sexual orientation. (Be prepared to prove it or don't
C. Reasonable and fair minded people are in opposition to this
D. Please Vote No On Discrimination. Vote No On # 5.
WHO IS THE MESSENGER?
A. When attempting to communicate the idea that your opposition is a fringe
religious extremist group, it is always best to use Christian clergy and
other religious leaders to convey that message. Religious leaders who are
opinion leaders in the broader community will be seen as authorities on who
is and is not "fringe" or "extreme" within the religious community.
Additionally, the involvement of religious leaders will inoculate you from
one of the right's traditional tactics, which is to say that you are
discriminating against or bashing Christians.
B. Don't hide. The community will know that the issue before them concerns
gay and lesbian people. There is no reason to pretend otherwise. However,
it is important to demonstrate that gays and lesbians are not alone, and
that discrimination is an issue for the whole community, no matter who is
most directly affected. The right will try to create the impression that
only gays and lesbians are affected by their discriminatory campaigns. We
must prove them wrong, and give heterosexual people role models who
can help create the social space for them to "come out" in support of our
C. You must appear more reasonable than your opposition if you hope to
convey what undecided and persuadable people will accept as truth. Remember
that homophobia is based in fear Qthe right wing is relying on us to
provoke fear in order to reinforce their message. Don't be scary!
THE PRESS KIT
Mail or hand deliver the press kits to reporters, producers, editors,
assignment desks, wire service managers, "daybooks" (media calendars) for
local Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI), and other
- Press Release including who, what, where, when, and why, (the five
W's), background on the issue, and pithy quotes
- Fact Sheets on the referendum, including legal/economic impact
statement on issue with gee-whiz numbers to establish credibility
- Fact Sheet on your organization and its purpose/programs
- Background Sheet on who your opposition is with documentation
- Contact names and numbers of your spokespeople
- Press clips from previous newspaper stories, editorials
- Statements of Support, list of endorsements from other groups or
Media Advisory: If you are doing a press conference or visibility event
(e.g., demonstration, candlelight vigil), send a media advisory out at
least one week before to invite reporters. The short advisory should inform
reporters and assignment editors of the time, place and purpose of the
event (the Five W's).
- Identify key reporters, editors, producers, assignment editors, beat
reporters, editorial writers, etc. in your area.
- Make a list and update it frequently. Keep a computerized database with
mailing label printout capability. List should include name, phone number,
fax, address, interest area.
- Don't Forget:
- Major daily newspapers (local, state, metro, lifestyle, national
- Television network affiliates (ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, PBS)
- Cable television programming
- Radio news programs and interview shows
- Gay and lesbian press, including cable
- Campus media (university radio and newspaper)
- Neighborhood" mini-papers; alternative press
- Specialty media (Black, Women, health, legal, unions, religious, etc.)
- "FLAK" the media; i.e., call them, fax them, visit them, meet with key
reporters for one-on-one backgrounders, schmooze them, cajole them to cover
- Place spokespersons on radio and TV talk shows. Try to get "advance"
articles to appear before the actual event. If it's a public event or
demonstration, don't forget the newspaper calendar sections. Arrange for
meetings with editorial boards of newspapers and other media. Place
editorials or opinion pieces. Often these are the most read items in the
THE PRESS CONFERENCE
- Schedule your press conference for around 10 or 11 a.m. Schedule press
conferences early or mid-week (Tuesday/Wednesday). Avoid Monday, Friday, or
on a weekend.
- Location should be large enough to accommodate reporters, microphones
and TV cameras, as well as speakers' table. Set up speakers' podium at
front with rows of chairs for reporters. Leave space in back for cameras.
- Have media sign-in table and log at front door; hand out press kits.
- Have representatives of other supportive organizations back you up.
Just make sure you stay in control of the message.
THE SPEAKERS PANEL
Every statement you make to the media can either bring your campaign closer
to people who can be persuaded to oppose right wing campaigns, or distance
you from them. Be careful! Remember who you want to persuade and then
target your messages so they understand you.
- Remember diversity. Feature speakers that represent the diversity of
your group and the community honestly.
- Pick articulate, "telegenic," media-savvy spokespersons best qualified
to speak on the issue.
- Include non-gay authorities from other communities (religious, civil
rights, academic, law enforcement).
- If you invite a politician, she or he must be given an opportunity to
speak, usually near the beginning. Remember to demonstrate bi-partisan
support in election campaigns.
- To enhance human interest in the story, include a survivor of an
anti-gay/lesbian attack, or a victim of discrimination, or a PWA, to either
speak or be on hand for reporters questions. Manage this so it doesn't
become an exploitative sideshow. Reporters are usually sensitive and
responsible around victims. Remember, don't present a survivor of an
anti-gay/lesbian attack to speak as an expert on discrimination unless he
or she happens to be an expert, especially in a campaign situation. An
a contest in which you and your opponent will be using free media to send
out contradictory messages. In order to win, you must be clearer, simpler,
and more direct than your opposition.
- Ask reporters to hold questions for the end.
- Opening speaker should present news and key messages.
- Identify speakers; include list ("bio sheet") of speakers and their
titles in the press kit.
- Keep statements very brief Qfive minutes maximum. Give lots of pithy,
quotable "soundbites." Deliver your key messages over and over.
- Decorate the press conference with your banner behind the speakers'
table, or a "podium logo" in front of the lectern. Use visual aids such as
charts, maps, video clips, etc., but don't let them dominate the press
- Keep to the truth! False information will destroy your credibility
with the news media, which is the basis of your relationship.
- Don't talk in paragraphs! On radio and TV, time is the big factor; in
newspapers its space. This means you must be brief and to the point.
- Let the news report the news. If you're initiating a story, give all
the news media a chance to report on it before you do so yourself. News is
only news when they get to report on it.
- Everything is for the record. A reporter is always working, even in
social situations. In other words: don't say anything you don't want to
read in the paper. If you wish to speak "off the record" it must be made
clear from the start.
- Plain talk for plain people. Persuadable people come from all walks of
life. Many people don't understand partisan or culturally based rhetoric.
Plain talk is always best.
- If you don't know, just say so. Don't guess. Say you don't know and
offer to get an answer by a specified time - THEN DO IT!
- Talk to the reporter. You look goofy if you look directly into the
- Know deadlines. All news media operate on deadlines. Your news won't
get out if you miss deadlines.
- Keep to one story. Don't go off on issues not directly related to your
major points. You confuse reporters and destroy your credibility by being
unfocused or soap boxing too much.
- Think about your answers. Don't allow yourself to ramble about things
the media finds uninteresting or unrelated.
- "No comment" is the worst comment. It implies you're hiding something.
Instead, use those times when you cannot comment further as opportunities
to restate your most important points.
- Respond to reporters' questions, don't simply answer them. Take the
question as an opportunity to restate your key messages and fold in a
critical point or soundbite.
- Be prepared. Don't be set up! Don't be misled by false smiles. Be on
guard. You never know what the next question will be. For self-confidence,
try to rehearse a list of likely questions, and be ready to answer every
For more information or to request a complete Fight the Right Action Kit,
call NGLTF at 202-332-6483, TTY 202-332-6219.