Using the Media in Local Elections & Campaigns

At a time when we have so many TV and Radio stations to choose from that you can easily lose count, it is very easy to assume that you have got to be prominent in the media if you are going to be a success in politics.

Many existing politicians already mistake media relevance as a key priority. They focus their best efforts on policy announcements, events and making associations with others that will be considered ‘newsworthy’. They consider getting their picture, a story about them or even an interview with them in the news as being more important that achieving real results for the people who elected them.

In many ways it is because so much media chasing goes on in politics, that so little good work actually gets done. So when we consider that the news is probably more than 95% opinion, it is easy to see how coveting media attention can become a trap of a very special kind.

Locally, the rise of the Internet and Social Media has been a game changer in just about every respect, and it is sensible to see the change for what it really is.

The Regional Press has been decimated virtually overnight. Not because of news moving online. But because classified advertising and the massive profits that it once generated have.

Local, Evening or Regional news was for a long time subsidised by this advertising. But as news at a local level really doesn’t ‘sell’, this benefit has now gone, and so has the opportunity to get the same consistency of journalism at a local level.

This isn’t a ‘forget local media’ speech. It’s a ‘local media has its place’ approach, with the suggestion that you focus on doing what you have committed yourself to do – putting your community first before going up blind alleys, chasing the beginning of a media rainbow.

If you are doing your job in the best way that you can, the media will find their way to you without you ever having to chase them*.

Suggestions:

  • Focus your primary effort on connecting with the people you are going to ask to elect you. Do this through canvassingquestionnairesand attending local public meetings where you can and should take the opportunity to speak and/or ask questions.
  • Utilise your Social Mediaaccounts at every turn. Blog about local issues, making sure you use and include words which are like labels for your area, such as street names, estate names, bus route names and numbers, the local council name etc. Make it a conversation and talk about things that matter to local people. Things that are real.
  • Write, print and deliver a regular newsletter and put it through every door in the Ward or Division where you hope to get elected. It is easy to think that everyone has easy access to the Internet, Twitter and Facebook, but they don’t. Put your news in forms which are accessible to everyone, and you will pick up support from people who may not even read it that way!
  • Comment on articles which are relevant to your campaign, which are published by the local papers online. Use your name and contact details, and talk positively about how things can be done differently, rather than focusing on why what you are reading may seem so wrong. Always link your comments to your Facebook and Twitter accounts so that your followers can see that you are active and also read what you have to say about issues as they arise.
  • Facts are your friend. When you do have a story which isn’t just exciting for you, but has a genuine feel that it is going to be important to more people, along with some interesting and quantifiable facts to support it, drop the newsdesk at your local not-for-profit and smaller community focused Radio stations a line. (BBC Local Radio is as ambitious as you need be. They will pick up far more local news of the kind which matters in a local election than the commercial stations, who appear to behave like they are national stations with a local presence. If your story really ‘has legs’, a bigger news channel will soon pick it up from there)

REMEMBER: News is a consequence of what you do, not the reason for doing it. Focus on the important things and the unimportant things will take care of themselves.

* In 2007, I was a newly elected Councillor at Tewkesbury Borough, when Gloucestershire experienced an unprecedented flooding event one July Afternoon. In itself, the speed and nature of the flood which followed was something extraordinary in itself. But those very same floods inundated the Mythe Water Treatment Works on the banks of the River Severn at Tewkesbury, and polluted the supply of drinking water to massive parts of Gloucestershire. When supplies ran out that Sunday, I took to my Ward delivering bottled water to residents, then spending over two weeks coordinating and delivering supplies across the area. That same Monday, I was surprised to have a call from Radio 5 Live asking me if I could spare a few minutes to be interviewed live on air…