Hosting a Media Event

Working with local media is a key way to raise awareness about your campaign, priorities, and goals. Media coverage can help you educate communities, create conversation, and recruit new advocates. But before you can do any of these things, you must first thoughtfully develop and carefully plan how you want to present the issue to reporters. Building relationships with media and pursuing media advocacy well in advance of hosting a media event will help to ensure your message frame is understood and you are well positioned by reporters.

Start by thinking about what you want to accomplish and whom you want to reach. Do you have news to release, such as a report or study? If not, what is your media hook? Does the nightly news highlight your campaign issue? What about the trending coverage in your local paper? Would you be better served by engaging with community bloggers? Be sure to include ethnic media in this outreach. Once you decide what your media goals are, you can start identifying opportunities that match these priorities and begin your outreach plan.

One way to engage members of the media is by inviting them to an event. A well-run media event—one with compelling speakers, stories, clear facts, and easily explained goals—will give reporters the tools they need to amplify your story in newspapers, on-air, and online.

Where and Who?

To make your message more impactful, choose a location for your event that will reinforce the importance of your campaign. Hold your event at:

  • A public location like a school or community center
  • A local conference or town hall meeting

As you structure your event, consider speakers who can talk persuasively and credibly about the importance of your issue and campaign goals. This can include representatives from your organization, but do not be afraid to think beyond the obvious. A diverse mix of speakers will provide your media attendees with a range of perspectives. Be sure to include spokespersons who are fluent in languages appropriate for your community and media outlets.

Event Tips

The following tips cover some of the basics of event hosting. However, the list below is not comprehensive—every event is different, and you will need to adapt your planning to each event’s unique requirements.

  • Establish a point of contact. Your event point of contact should manage all logistics and be easily accessible. This person could be a paid staff member or a trusted volunteer. Whoever you choose, make sure they have existing experience with event coordination and execution.
  • Send invitations in order to make sure key influencers are in the room. Even if they are not speakers, their presence can lend an air of credibility to your efforts. Make sure to issue personal invitations to these influencers, and follow up with them if necessary to secure their confirmation.
    • If someone on your staff has an existing relationship with these influencers, ask that person to try calling them on the phone or sending a personal email. People are more likely to respond to messages from names they recognize.
  • Create briefing books. Prior to the event, you will want to share briefing packets with media and key influencers who will attend. Consider sharing your organization’s policy position statement on your campaign, the fact sheets from this toolkit, individuals or organizations that are able to give more information about the topic, and relevant news articles, reports, or studies about your issue. The fact sheet can be customized to include information specific to your community, state, and campaign.

Media Engagement

  • Research recent media stories—newspaper articles, TV segments, radio shows, etc.—to determine which media figures or outlets might be already engaged in your issue or most likely to be interested in hearing from you. Be sure to include ethnic media. Include the media most important to the decision makers you want to reach with information about your campaign. Based on this research, you can create your media list to reach out to in order to secure coverage of the event.
  • Once you have established your media list, you, your volunteers, and your staff can immediately begin pitching to these contacts and outlets. Consider pitching both general stories to editorial boards as well as specific storylines to reporters, depending on what makes sense. As the editorial board makes significant decisions on media placement, meeting with them in advance of major stories can ensure your story is not only included but also is elevated for greater reach. This work should start at least one month prior to the event. Consider developing a plan for follow-up pitching after your event in order to re-engage these contacts and ensure they have the necessary information afterward to write their stories.
  • Distribute a media advisory to all of your selected media outlets, and pitch print and radio two weeks out from the event. Make sure to follow up with reporters to confirm coverage and/or attendance.
  • Distribute a press release in the days leading up to the event, and include an embargo to ensure media adhere to your event date for releasing any new data.
  • If you are planning a TV spot, follow up with the producer two days prior to the event and the morning of the event. Also, reach out to unconfirmed print reporters two to three days prior to and the morning of the event.
  • Depending upon media interest, coordinate media availability on-site before or after the event to facilitate media questions and interviews. This could include setting up interviews with advocates, exchanging contact information between relevant individuals and reporters, or assigning a member of your staff to specifically welcome and assist the reporters in attendance throughout the event.
  • Prepare an op-ed to submit to a target newspaper about the event and the news you are releasing. Take a look at the sample op-ed provided in this toolkit for ideas on how to shape yours, but make sure to include information that is relevant to your community. Aim to have this submitted so that it runs on the day of your event or in the days leading up to the event. You could also consider writing a recap op-ed to run after the event, but be sure to include next steps and calls-to-action for community members so that the readers know that your campaign isn’t over yet.
  • Monitor for and report on any mentions of the event by targeted reporters and outlets, both leading up to the event and after. You and your coalition partners can amplify any online mentions by sharing posts and links on your social media pages.

Blogger Engagement

  • If you have local bloggers in your town or city, consider inviting them to the event, especially if they write about the issue your campaign is working to resolve.
  • As with any other media, research and develop an outreach plan and engage bloggers accordingly. Make sure your outreach is personal and calls out direct reasons why that specific blogger should attend or cover your issue.
  • Track confirmations/declines, and shape your follow up outreach accordingly.
  • Monitor for and report on any mentions of the event by targeted bloggers, both leading up to the event and after.

Database Growth

  • On the day of your media event, set up a table where people can sign up to learn more about the issue. Because they are already attending the event, it is logical to assume they may want to join the campaign and stay involved down the line.
    • Make this effort simple but effective by asking for minimal information such as name, email address, and mailing address. That way you know how to easily get in touch and can use their home address as a way of segmenting your communication to them based on topical issues happening in their school district or neighborhood.
    • Consider using the sign-up opportunity for a dual purpose. For example, at the end of the event, attendees may be motivated to make some sort of commitment that supports the issue in their community. Combine the sign-up with a pledge where they can share the specific way they will help the cause.
      • This will also help you keep track of the types of people in your database and the specific ways you can engage them based on their stated interest in the issue.
    • Transcribe the sign-up forms and upload your new advocates to your organization’s database. Send them a follow-up email welcoming them to your email list, thanking them for their attendance, and asking how they want to be involved in the future.

Post-Event Activities

  • Leverage the event by posting the speeches, photographs, and videos to all relevant websites and social media platforms as appropriate to extend the event’s purpose beyond just a moment in time.
  • Follow up with local influencers and potential advocates as appropriate to gauge their interest in further involvement.
  • If there are members of the media, including bloggers, who could not attend the event, provide them with information and an event synopsis with photos so they can cover the event retroactively.

Key Takeaways

  • Start working on this event early. Between identifying speakers, inviting journalists, and coordinating a run of show, a well-executed media event can take weeks to plan.
  • In order to make sure you get the right people in the room, research journalists and their beats before inviting them to your event.
  • Location and speakers are important to the event’s success.
  • Once your event is over, follow up by making photos, speeches, and videos available online.