Assess opportunities quickly. Nothing will paralyze a campaign faster than indecision. Your campaign needs to get in the habit of processing information and opportunities in a timely fashion. We generally hold morning conference calls with key campaign staff and consultants to discuss any potential opportunity, and whether it makes sense to move on it.
Part of this process includes asking a number of questions: Does this make sense for our campaign? Is the story a stretch, or is it believable? Does this opportunity dovetail with our messaging and work with our overall strategy? The worst thing you can do is to sit on an opportunity because you’re not sure that it's the right fit. Understand that your inability to make a decision is, in itself, a decision, and not usually a good one.
Plan before you act. Once the campaign makes a decision to move on an earned media opportunity, you need to plan out your attack. Develop your pitch and timeline. Identify which reporters you are going to pitch the story to. Think about how your opponent will respond and calculate that into your overall plan. The worst thing you can do is to send out a press release without thinking through all possible scenarios. If you fail to plan, you could lose control of the story and hand your opponent a sharp tool to use against you.
Think outside the box. If you have a story that isn’t strong enough for traditional media outlets, don’t be afraid to give the piece to a local blogger. If the blogger is established and legitimate, it’s likely that local journalists read the blogger’s posts on a regular basis. This can help plant the seed for a story in the local paper a few days later. Remember that stories that last several news cycles are usually built from the bottom up.
Don’t be wrong or inaccurate. Peddling a story that includes wrong or inaccurate information will relegate your campaign to a proverbial deserted island. Few journalists will listen to, much less believe, any pitch that comes after a botched push by your campaign. This doesn’t mean that you can’t spin certain information. It just means that you should double and triple check the facts before you start pushing a story.
Know the pizza delivery rule. Your window for landing an earned media opportunity is generally minutes, not hours. You need to make the decision, develop the plan and have the tools in place to land a story in a matter of 90 minutes (or less).
Know when to let it die. Some campaigns fail to understand when a story is dead. This puts them at a significant disadvantage because they are concentrating on keeping alive an already dead story instead of looking for that next opportunity. Determining when a story is dead is more art than science. But that’s why most winning campaigns have skilled and experienced consultants.
Tyler Harber is a Republican consultant and pollster. A partner at the Prosper Group, Harber has worked dozens of campaigns in the U.S. and abroad. Follow him on Twitter (@THarber).