Getting Heard Above the Noise
I don't normally handle media relations for clients, but did recently, organizing a media conference that was held in Edmonton yesterday.
The media has changed drastically since I was in it many years ago and I'm reminded of the changes when I work with groups on news conferences, or similar events.
It's still a great way for organizations to tell their story and get noticed. Doing it during an election campaign is tricky though because so many groups are fighting for media attention.
Arranging a Media Event
My client was the Alberta branch of the Canadian Bar Association, or CBA – Alberta for short. It represents lawyers, judges and others in the judicial system like law students.
CBA - Alberta asked me to arrange a media conference so it could tell its story about what it feels should be important issues in the Alberta election campaign. Arranging media events like this isn’t something I do often, but I learned when I was in the media how some media events are run well and how others aren’t. Now more than 30 years later I still remember those lessons and try to give media people every chance to have access to get the story they want.
CBA – Alberta wanted to make it clear that Albertans should be concerned about issues related to funding for the justice system, making the point that less than one percent of the Alberta budget goes into the system. It also said, for every dollar spent, six dollars is saved elsewhere in the system.
CBA – Alberta President Frank Friesacher talked about issues like proper funding of the judicial system to ensure court cases aren’t delayed. He also talked about changes needed to help those going through family law cases, a need for a separate court system to handle drug-related issues and issues related to the independence of the judicial system, something we’ve heard a lot about in relation to the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Everyone Has an Issue
Lawyers weren’t the only ones wanting their issues to get some play leading up to the election recently. In the last week alone, Edmonton Public School Trustees held a media availability in front of Rogers Place, the provincial road builders and heavy construction association talked about why more money needs to be sunk into roadway construction and maintenance and the group representing home builders and land developers pointed out a terrible situation for the new housing market is getting even worse because of record high inventories. Those are just the ones I heard of. There likely were others.
It’s no surprise that groups want their voices heard during elections. They understand people are more interested in issues during election campaigns. Many of these issues could be brought up by the groups at any time during the year, but they wouldn’t have the same impact. People are talking politics and issues. There’s just more interest.
Groups hit a home run when they get voters asking politicians about these issues when they do door knocking. There’s nothing better for them than somebody running for office being asked by a prospective voter, how do you feel about the small amount of money being spent on the justice system, or what’s your plan to help the struggling housing market?
Working the Media
The problem that associations and special interest groups have is getting heard above all the noise. Not only are politicians talking about issues in the media, so is everyone else and groups need to go the extra mile to get their point across. That’s why CBA – Alberta wanted to do a media event. It’s not easy though. There’s a lot of competition for scarce editorial space in newspapers, or on TV newscasts. There are also fewer reporters these days, so getting a good turnout from the media at a news conference becomes a challenge.
CBA – Alberta did well in terms of coverage. As an example, Global News took the association's statements and got reaction from all four major party leaders. Here is its report.
Holding a news conference to make an announcement is still a bit of a crap shoot these days. We all know about cutbacks in media over the last 25 years. Getting reporters to cover your story isn’t easy, especially if it’s not a burning issue.
One of the biggest reasons for that is that radio reporters have virtually disappeared. Prior to the early 90’s, half the reporters at media conferences sometimes came from radio stations, but that doesn’t happen anymore. FM stations no longer do news and even the amount of news coverage on AM has been drastically cut. As a result, fewer reporters are needed.
In markets like Edmonton where there are Postmedia outlets, the same reporter covers the event for both papers. In Edmonton’s case it’s The Journal and the Sun.
Television stations are relying on camera operators to also ask questions that reporters used to ask. They take the video back to the station where it’s edited.
There are better ways of doing local journalism, but that's the reality in 2019. Don’t blame the journalists or the media outlets. They’re doing their best, but no longer have enough resources because of competition from the internet for advertising revenue. They're dealing with the internet monster. I'm glad I left the business before it got out of its cage.
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