12. Build relationships with the media

Treat reporters like regular people, and get to know them before you ever pitch any news story.

The first thing to do is create a written list (or better, a database) of all the television and radio stations, newspapers, magazines, newsletters, websites and blogs that might cover your campaign. Then find out the names of the reporters, photographers, producers, columnists, editorial writers and bloggers at those media outlets who might be persuaded to cover your issue. Add street addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, and note when and how these people have covered your issue in the past.

Take this list and get to know these journalists before you want them to do anything, preferably long before your policy is introduced. One tactic is to visit them for about ten minutes bringing a very simple one-page explanation of who your group is, who you are, what you’re doing, and your contact information. At this point, you’re not trying to get a story, you’re trying to learn: What is each journalist’s beat? What are their deadlines? What can you provide to make their jobs easier when they cover your issue? Do they prefer to be contacted via email, text or telephone?

In statehouses and larger city halls, reporters often have a press room. Go there and introduce yourself. Figure out who sits where. The press room is a real convenience when you are passing out news advisories and releases, especially when something is happening quickly.

Throughout your campaign, when you see a reporter, act like you appreciate his or her work. And you should! Reporters have a tough job and are rarely paid well. They are usually very proud of what they write and sincerely appreciate when you show that you have read their article and understood it. E.g., “Your story about the utility company lobbyists was important. Most people don’t realize how they’re gaming the system but you really nailed it.”