If your campaign’s earned media strategy is built around emailing press releases to a press list handed down from the local party or from a previous campaign, you shouldn’t be surprised when you don’t get much coverage. Like anything else in campaigning, those who take the time to connect personally are the ones who will get the biggest boost from their efforts.
On a campaign of any size, bloggers are critical to your outreach strategy and with this group, a personal approach is even more important. Navigating the blogosphere can be a bit of a political minefield, especially for new candidates. But mastering a few basics should get you on the right footing.
Understand the terrain. Whether you begin with a list of journalists and bloggers or you have to compile your own contacts, take a moment to scan what they write about and how they write it. Know the topics they cover, know how they slant their stories and figure out what gets them truly animated.
A good way to get a real flavor for a blogger or a journalist is to scan their tweets—it’s not just politicians that let it all hang out on Twitter. Journalists will avoid editorializing, but will prioritize stories they find relevant, which offers you a better sense of their news judgment. Bloggers are much freer to mix opinion and fact, so you’ll want to know their stances issue by issue just as much as you want them to know your positions.
A good way to start is by reaching out to the friendly bloggers first. They’ll appreciate the personal connection (conversely, they’ll take it personally if you ignore them and talk only to the big newspaper journalists).
Bloggers aren’t limited to a specific format or schedule, so if you work on the relationship you could end up with a lengthy feature or an entire series of posts about your campaign. At the same time, don’t limit yourself to just friendly political bloggers; reach out to community bloggers as well so you get a chance to connect with an audience beyond the pure political junkies.
Also, don’t be overly concerned about the readership numbers of a particular blog. It’s the quality of a blogger’s readership that counts, not the overall traffic numbers. You’d be surprised at the number of journalists who scan the blogs to get an early read on where they should devote their limited resources, regardless of how many eyes are on a particular blog.
Preparation is key. You want to push your message and present your campaign in the best light. Regardless of whether you’re talking to a journalist or blogger, you want to avoid off the cuff remarks. Saying “off the record” to a journalist who is trained to follow protocol may give you a safe harbor, but your casual conversation with a blogger may end up as the headline quote.
Even if a blogger is firmly in your corner, you’re not the only priority. The blogger wants to push his or her agenda, as well as promote their own platform. So make sure to keep your remarks focused and think about how your comments could be interpreted (or misinterpreted) by the blogger and the audience. Humor, gossip and friendly banter may be fun in the context of what seems like a private conversation, but be mindful that anything you say can be committed to the eternal memory of the web.
Stay connected. Once you’ve established relationships with bloggers, don’t lose them. If a blogger writes something positive, distribute it via your social networks. If a blogger says something negative, resist the urge to post an angry comment. You’re on their turf and they control the rules. If you feel you could shift their opinion, give them a call to continue the conversation.
As you lay out your communication plan, make sure your staff knows who is authorized to speak for the campaign and who is not. Remind them that being quoted as an “unnamed campaign staffer” is a benefit only to the blogger and your opponent. Tell your staffers to resist the urge to log in under false names to comment on a blog post—it’s pretty easy to spot and is a sure-fire way to antagonize a blogger.
Publishing your own campaign blog on your campaign website gives you another connection to the blogging community. If you’ve already published something, you’ve made it easy for bloggers to add some comments and repost to their audiences. Whether it’s the candidate or the staff that’s doing the writing, maintaining your own blog is a tangible demonstration that you actually do have something to say.
Steve Pearson is the president of CivicNEXT, which offers social media solutions for campaigns and organizations. Ford O’Connell is the chairman of CivicForumPAC and editor of the Political Quarterback.