Media Relations with Paul Miller CW 16 Transcript

Various microphones aligned at press conference isolated over aJohn Tsarpalas: My guest today on the Commonwealthy podcast is Paul Miller, head of the political and media consulting group, The Paulie Group. Paul and I met back in 1996 at the Iowa Caucuses for Forbes. We’ve worked together on many a campaign and for many an organization since.

Paul, you are really great at getting things in the press. How do people work with the media and get things published? Let’s bare in mind that we are talking about a guy or a gal who is going to be running for local office. Where do they start? When do they start?  

Paul Miller: Well, thank you. It is great to be with you today, my old friend. And I mean old.

John Tsarpalas: Badum, ching.

Paul Miller: Yes, exactly. In all seriousness, you just kind of alluded to it. It depends on the size of the race and what you are running for. If you are running for a school board or a small county board or something of that nature, it is going to be a lot different than state rep, state senate, or Congress.

However, also the smaller the race that you are running, the harder it is to get media attention. What makes your race sexy? What makes it interesting? Why should the public care? Why should a journalist care?

Candidates often make the mistake by assuming that because I am running for office, I am automatically going to get media coverage. Nothing could be further from the truth. What you may have your mind about what is media responsibility and journalist responsibility is not necessarily what the press is thinking and usually it isn’t.

As you know, over the years on and off I’ve been a journalist myself. I could tell you without a shred of doubt, when you are dealing with most members of the press, you are dealing with some of the laziest people out there. They need to have their hand held.

So the first thing you do is, where is the news coming from in your area? Is it a blog? Is there a guy or someone who runs a community blog that is popular? Do you have a daily paper? Do you have a weekly paper? Is there a bigger paper in your area that might have local reporters? That has become very popular. Is there like a Patch style newspaper in your area?

John Tsarpalas: What’s a Patch style?

Paul Miller: So Patch is those small, local community papers that become popular. Last I remember America Online owned them. A lot of them have been closing up. They are not doing well. But a lot of local communities have these what is called The Patch as their publication.

John Tsarpalas: And Free Readers, too. Is that similar?

Paul Miller: Yes, a lot of Free Readers as well. Whether they do news or not all depends on the local place.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Paul Miller: So the first thing you have to do is basically put yourself as a member of the voter. Where is the voter going to get his news? How is the voter going to find out about your campaign from the media?

You have to then go to those sources. It is a phone call. It is an email introducing yourself. Who is the beat writer? If it is a smaller shop, who is the publisher? Introduce yourself. Make a phone call or send an email.

Just say, “Hey, my name is John Doe. I am going to be running for blah blah blah. What is the best email I should use to get you information about the campaign?” And they will give it to you. There is no doubt about it. They are going to give it to you. You are going to get that.

And then from there that is when you can start deciding on your media approach. What is your media plan? First and foremost, are you already a candidate who is in? Have you announced? Have you put together an exploratory committee?

What is the status of your current candidacy? Something you are pondering? Something you have already pulled the trigger on? Are you having a big announcement?

What I am talking to you about right now is your opportunities. What are you excuses to send out press releases and possibly get coverage?

So maybe you’ve formed an exploratory committee. That is a press release. Let the public know, let the media know that John Doe has formed an exploratory committee considering running for blah blah blah. Here are my issues and here is why I am considering. I thank everyone who is urging me to run and I look forward to getting them an answer soon.

Or the next step is you’ve made the decision. Well, you make a decision and you want to have a press conference, if that is feasible. If there is actually a real size press pool in your area, you can call that. Chances are, if it is a small race, it is not going to happen. You are not going to get anyone to show. But it is still always go as a rally for your supporters.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So have a little event and then send a press release that you had the event with pictures.

Paul Miller: You can do that. I would also though at least get a small press release, a brief style press release. Just something like two paragraphs that says you are going to be announcing that you are going to be running at so and so, blah blah blah. In that press release, I would put one or two key issues of what is important to you and what you want to get done.

Then of course you have contact information on all of your press releases of whether it is you, if it is a smaller race, or maybe you have a press person in your campaign who will handle all of those calls.

I recommend the latter. Usually with smaller races you don’t necessarily have something like that. But if you’ve got a volunteer or if it does become a larger scale race and you hire a professional, it is good to have a press contact as a part of your team that is not the candidate. Let them field the calls.

As a side note, one of the reasons you’d like to actually get the phone numbers of the media locally is that you want to put that in your phone. You want to know who is calling. You never want to answer a call from the press cold.

You want to hopefully have them leave you a message. Maybe they give you an idea of what they want to know and then you can give them a call back. They are going to tell you what their deadline is. Once you are mentally ready to talk to the press and know what you think your answers will be, that’s when you call them back.

John Tsarpalas: Let me jump back on a couple of thoughts I had.

Paul Miller: Sure.

John Tsarpalas: So you write a press release. You’ve got the email address for your local paper or whatever. Local radio stations too?

Paul Miller: Absolutely, everyone. Bloggers also.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. Even local television if it is small town?

Paul Miller: Might as well. You might as well. It doesn’t hurt. Emails don’t cost you anything.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So you’ve got this little group list that you are going to blast this out to. Okay, should you then take the press release and put it up on your website? Should there be a press section on your website for your campaign?

Paul Miller: Absolutely. That’s a great little point there. Your website should have your media releases. And also sometimes you are just going to have a media statement. It is a fine line how different they are. A release is more of what you are doing, what you’re maybe concerned about.

The press statement is actually what it is; it is a statement. It is something for the media to use if they so desire, and hopefully they will, to put and quote you from if they are writing a story- something breaks, something happens.

You are running for school board and the school board did this or the school board did that and you want to comment on it. So what do you do? You send out a statement.

What you want to also do is, especially if it is a smaller race, follow up on that press release. I would say a couple of hours after you send it out, you call the journalist and make sure that they got it.

And if you get their voicemail, which half of the time you will, you say you want to make sure they got it and that you are happy to answer any questions they might have also. Of course you just leave your phone number again. Always a good chance that a member of the press might have lost it because, like I said, they are pretty lazy.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. If you have an email list with some followers, should you send the press release out as an email?

Paul Miller: It depends. It depends what you are saying and what you are trying to communicate. From putting away my media hat and putting on my communication hat, I think you need to monitor how many emails you send out to your supporters. You don’t want them getting to the point where while they might be supporting you, they are just tired from hearing from you all of the time and they just instantly delete everything.

So you want to make sure that your supporters are getting your requests for donations, your events, your parades and what have you.

John Tsarpalas: So you are not overloading them.

Paul Miller: Exactly.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Paul Miller: However, a media statement is usually going to be more for everyone anyway. The release itself just talks about making this announcement, something that isn’t geared towards a particular issue. That is something you just send to the press.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Paul Miller: And even if they don’t respond or write about you, don’t get frustrated because you are at least getting in front of them. At least they are keeping you in mind for when the times come and maybe they have to write those one or two stories.

John Tsarpalas: Right, something might happen that they need someone to go to and/or as it gets closer, they might need to be writing those stories. A lot of local papers will do endorsement sessions.

Paul Miller: Absolutely.

John Tsarpalas: They’ll ask people to come in. We’ll talk about endorsements in a whole other podcast and how that all works. This is going to evolve and grow the relationship with them.

Are you actively pursuing a relationship with them? Or are you making these few calls, these reach outs, and then you just kind of let it happen?

Paul Miller: Well, you want to make sure it happens, at least to the best of your ability.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Paul Miller: I don’t want to lie to people; there are going to be races that are just so small that you aren’t going to get a blurb. It is just not going to happen.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Paul Miller: Also, maybe you don’t have much press if any press in your community. We’ve seen this in the past ten to fifteen years where more and more local papers have closed up; they’ve shut their doors. Even mid-range newspapers and a couple of major ones have closed up.

John Tsarpalas: Sure.

Paul Miller: A lot of them though are now online. They are just not printing a paper anymore, but they are online.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Paul Miller: Great, and then it still serves your same purpose if they are still in existence.

John Tsarpalas: We are going to have a sample press release. Will we have a sample media statement as well?

Paul Miller: Absolutely.

John Tsarpalas: We will put that up on the Commonwealthy.com/resources/media-relationship. You can use that sample because there is a very definite format for press releases.

Paul Miller: Yes, there definitely is. And the first and foremost is don’t let it drag on. Don’t ramble. Don’t make it overly long.

John Tsarpalas: So one page?

Paul Miller: Rarely should a press release ever be more than one page. And I have seen them be two, three, five pages. Basically some candidate decided they are going to ramble on and they basically have recited War and Peace.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Paul Miller: So that just gets deleted instantly. And you also take away from your creditability. A couple of things that you also want to do is you want to have a media kit. So let’s say you are having an event. The press does show. You want to make it as easy for them as possible.

You are going to want folders that will have information about you, the candidate, a photo, and your bio. You are going to want to have even possibly a resume. Not necessarily, but as long as it is a very detailed biography, that is good enough. You are going to be able to have maybe even your platform. Maybe you are going to want to have specific issues that you have basically put out what your position is.

Put all of this stuff in what we call a media kit. That’s something you can make physically. Have it available at all of your events. Also, that’s something that can go into the media section on your website. It is simply an electronic version of a media kit.

The other thing I wanted to bring up before I forget because I forgot to mention it earlier is another excuse for contacting the press and sending that introductory email I talked about is you are going to want to send them a headshot, a photo. At some point, whether it is an endorsement session, a regular story, or the election night coverage, they are going to want a photo; they are going to need a picture. That’s another reason to get in touch with them.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. So you should get a good, professional headshot.

Paul Miller: A very good picture, yes.

John Tsarpalas: Have it available. Make sure they’ve got one on file, but make sure you are ready to get it in. Can they pull it off the website?

Paul Miller: They can do that, too, but you know what?

John Tsarpalas: Your opponent is going to grab it.

Paul Miller: Assume that the journalist covering you is just lazy as can be. That is actually something that can be your advantage because one thing you and I learned twenty years ago almost (This was right after we were working for Steve Forbes. This is when we were working on a congressional race.) We found that press releases we were sending out were basically being copied verbatim in local newspaper.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, because they didn’t have anybody to write it.

Paul Miller: They didn’t have anybody to write it or whoever did write it was lazy. They just basically sent it in. In fact, you are going to be asked often to supply the photos.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Paul Miller: Let’s say you are having a fundraiser or an event, something is going on. They might not send a journalist over, but if you send them a press release of what happened and you send them photos of the event, they may just print what you send them. Meaning you got free, good advertisement for your campaign.

John Tsarpalas: Right, because you are supplying it to them and they don’t have people to send over.

Paul Miller: Exactly.

John Tsarpalas: And they probably don’t have enough people to even fill the paper. So you are sending them things they can print. Every story is better with pictures.

Paul Miller: Sure.

John Tsarpalas: Just like on your website. You want to put a lot of pictures on your website as well. You want to do that with your press releases.

Paul Miller: Absolutely, you want to put some very good photos on there.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, so you mentioned having a media kit at your event. Are you inviting the press to every event?

Paul Miller: No.

John Tsarpalas: So how did they find out about the event and why are they showing up?

Paul Miller: Well, it depends. If it is just a fundraiser, it is not for the press’s concern. If it is an event that you are maybe having with other candidates, maybe you are having a guest speaker or maybe it is an endorsement from someone prominent, you definitely want the media there.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. When it something of note, you want to let them know.

Paul Miller: Exactly. But when it comes to fundraising and things of that nature, that is not for the press unless you are having someone of note. Let’s say there is a politician of note who is going to be coming to your fundraiser. The more information out there about that politician supporting you, the better. You invite them over.

You invite the media to be there. And just keep in mind that the audience you are speaking to isn’t going to be a hundred percent friendly, meaning that you really need to be careful what you say and don’t pull a Mitt Romney and talk about the 47%.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Okay, let’s talk about that. You always need to be mindful when you are talking to the press, even if you say words like, “This is on background” or something like that. I don’t know how that works. You can explain some of that to us now.

Paul Miller: Off the record?

John Tsarpalas: Off the record. Well, I think there is a term “on background” too.

Paul Miller: Yeah, but basically they cut to the chase and you are either on the record or you are off the record.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, are you ever really off the record?

Paul Miller: No. I’ll say it this way: You actually should be. Professional standards say yes, where you can say, “We are off the record here,” and then you get the journalist to confirm that he is agreeing that you are off the record.

John Tsarpalas: They have to say yes.

Paul Miller: And then you can speak more freely.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Paul Miller: If a journalist decides to go against his word, you might be in trouble, but the journalist ultimately would be in worse trouble because that means candidates aren’t going to trust that individual in the future. A journalist who doesn’t have anybody willing to talk to them isn’t going to be a journalist that long.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. So you touched on earlier that you should get their phone number so you can put it into your phone with their name. So when they are calling you, the name comes up and you go, “Okay, it is the guy from the press. I want to answer” or “I want it to go to voicemail.”

Paul Miller: You want it to go to voicemail. Call them back at your leisure, obviously in a reasonable amount of time.

John Tsarpalas: Well, usually they are calling because it is something that is got a deadline to it. So you don’t want to call them back a week later. You want to call them back an hour later.

Paul Miller: Oh, yeah, exactly. You are talking a few hours at the most. They also maybe should tell you what their deadline is. They should give you that courtesy. “My deadline is at five” and maybe they are calling you at two. “My deadline is at five o’clock. I would really appreciate a call back beforehand.”

Also another thing might be depending on how things go with a certain reporter, maybe you don’t call them back. Maybe this person has covered you unfairly and you’ve just determined that there is nothing positive that comes from you speaking to them. The best thing he can do is write, “As of the printing of this, there is no comment from the so and so campaign.”

John Tsarpalas: Okay. Will most reporters give you the reason they are calling in their message?

Paul Miller: Half will.

John Tsarpalas: And if not, get someone else to call and say, “John Doe is tied up at the moment, [The candidate is tied up and get someone else to call] but he will be calling you back. Could you give me an idea what the topic is?” Ask something like that?

Paul Miller: You could do that, but even better in this day and age is the candidate themselves can text them and say, “Hey, I am in a meeting right now” or “I am doing blah blah blah, but I want to get back to you as soon as possible. Can you text me or email your question?”

What’s great about that is obviously you see the question, you can formulate as good of a response as you can or you want, and you also then have a record of it. So if you are misquoted or your words are taken out of context, you then have your own record where you can then send a release saying that, “Joe Shmoe at the Chicago Whatever is taking me out of context. We are very disappointed in him. Blah blah blah.”

John Tsarpalas: Okay. Can you just email your response?

Paul Miller: Sure.

John Tsarpalas: Maybe that is good enough. You don’t have to speak to them.

Paul Miller: Even as a journalist, when I am in that journalist role, I prefer it all on email because I want that accuracy. See, I personally believe that a good reporter today will want everything in email because they have the record. They can then more easily just in a cut and paste manner get it right.

John Tsarpalas: They don’t have to type even then, right.

Paul Miller: Instead of recording it or taking notes, which notes you never get verbatim. I believe in being as accurate as possible. That’s when I have my journalism hat on. But when I am doing media work for a candidate or maybe it is a businessperson, you don’t always have that luxury.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. So campaign is going along. You are looking for highlights to send out every now and then, trying to create a press-

Paul Miller: A regularity.

John Tsarpalas: A regularity. So you are staying in touch. You don’t want to disappear on them.

Paul Miller: Absolutely. During your campaign cycle, during that complete cycle, from the time you announce you want the media to at least hear from you once a week.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Paul Miller: Let’s say we are talking a November election. Once the summer comes, you want them hearing from you probably more often, two times a week or a third if there is news. And then really constantly in their face after Labor Day.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. Do you want to send negative press releases about your opponent?

Paul Miller: It depends. It depends on the race and it depends on the topic. It also depends on how you word it. “The Joe Shbotnick campaign was disappointed to learn that our opponent, Blah Blah, said this about us or took this position. We disagree. We feel blah blah blah.” So you show your contrast. You do in a manner that is respectable.

John Tsarpalas: And respectful.

Paul Miller: Thank you. Yes, the communication guy who is having trouble with English today.

John Tsarpalas: But I mean there is showing respect. Anyway, keep going.

Paul Miller: I think you guys out there get that. So what you’ve done is you’ve gotten your positions out there. You’ve shown the contrast. And you taken really a jab at your opponent without doing it in a mean manner.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. So you want to question their judgment and their issues, but you are not calling them slanderous terms.

Paul Miller: Exactly. “JoJo decided they wanted to raise taxes. I am against that.”

John Tsarpalas: Okay. Any thoughts for radio or pitching the Sunday morning show so to speak? I’ve done a lot of Sunday morning shows. They want to talk about an issue or something. Go after those?

Paul Miller: Absolutely. If there are programs on the air, on radio or on TV, you want to include that press in everything you do. And you also want to be able to send out what is called media availability. So you can send out to radio stations and the television stations that so and so is available for interviews and questions on so and so topics.

John Tsarpalas: There you go.

Paul Miller: Also, if there is a show that is popular, don’t hesitate to call the producer and say, “Hey, I feel that I would be a good guest because of my race. And because of my background, education, expertise, it would be important for me to be a guest on your show.”

John Tsarpalas: Right, “Or these issues are happening in this situation and I would be a good guest.”

Paul Miller: Exactly. “There is an education thing going on. I am running for school board here. This is my background. I would make a good guest.”

And then what you can do is if you can get on the show, you also have most likely similar to what we are doing right now. There might be a podcast or some type of audio link that you can then broadcast out to your supporters and put on your website.

John Tsarpalas: Sure, all of that builds credibility.

Paul Miller: It builds credibility, helps with raising money, and it also helps with convincing donors, also known as voters, which is ultimately the goal.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. Let me throw in a little aside. The Sunday morning show is usually taped during the week because they don’t want to be working Sunday and neither should you. I am just telling you the thought. That is when it airs 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning and I tape those things on Thursday afternoons.

Paul Miller: Yeah, exactly. There is a Sunday night show that I am on often that we actually tape on Tuesdays at times.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Paul Miller: So the unfortunate thing is a lot can change.

John Tsarpalas: I know the show. I have done it myself.

Paul Miller: Yes.

John Tsarpalas: I remember I was in Arkansas. I forget what the topic was, but I taped a whole bunch of Sunday morning Arkansas radio on Thursdays at different places.

Paul Miller: I remember that. I arranged those.

John Tsarpalas: You did arrange those. See, I told you he is good! If he can get me on radio in Arkansas, he can do anything for anybody.

Paul Miller: Why not? Yeah!

John Tsarpalas: Well, let’s start to wrap up here. Any final thoughts? I think we have kind of covered it all.

Paul Miller: I think this is really a great intro. The information I have given today I think will be a really great start for any local race to use. Obviously if it is a bigger race, federal, state, or what have you, there are some different rules to follow. But when it comes to the relationships with the press, it is very similar.

John Tsarpalas: Okay.

Paul Miller: They are lazy. Don’t trust them. Don’t try to deceive them. Be true to yourself and you are going to be okay.

John Tsarpalas: I think I will throw a couple more in: Be patient, keep trying, and don’t burn any bridges.

Paul Miller: Yeah, don’t get mad at them. In fact, don’t decide that you are going to attack them if they are not interviewing you enough or they are not giving you enough coverage.

A good example is five or six years ago I was involved in a campaign. The candidate that was angry that he didn’t get their endorsements. He was angry that they weren’t attending certain events of his and reporting this or that. He was constantly ripping on them in his blog and in press releases. And then when they didn’t endorse him, he was livid. I actually ended up having to call one of the journalists from an editorial board and say, “Hey, this was an inaccurate and this was inaccurate.” They were like, “Your candidate is a jackass,” and I am cleaning it up.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah.

Paul Miller: They said, “We can all disagree, but to attack us personally? What do you expect from us? Why should we even care?” I wasn’t able to really defend that because it was the truth. Don’t attack the media.

You need to accept the fact that chances are they are not going to be fair. They never really are. Objectivity in the press is a lost art. You do the best you can. You stay professional and true to yourself. Establish relationships with them. And you will be okay.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, great. Where can people reach you and find you?

Paul Miller: You can find me at pauliegroup.com. I am also involved with another organization called The Salomon Center. That’s salomoncenter.org. There you can actually catch a lot of my editorials and my regular writings. But Paulie Group is where you want if you want to learn more about me and the media.

John Tsarpalas: Thanks! I think this has been really informative. I believe it will help a lot of people.

Paul Miller: Pleasure to be with you, buddy.

John Tsarpalas: Thanks. If you have questions, feel free to write to me at john@commonwealthy.com. I am happy to answer questions anytime. We are here to help. We are here to give you training. And we are also interested in wanting to know what you need to know.

Please pass this on to friends and others who might be interested in campaigns and politics. Let them know that we exist. Subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher. Feel free to leave us a review at our website as well as in iTunes and some of these other sites. Reviews on iTunes really would help us out.

I hope you enjoyed today’s podcast. We always have show notes and transcripts on the website at commonwealthy.com.

Paul Miller: First and foremost is don’t let it drag on. Don’t ramble. Don’t make it overly long.

John Tsarpalas: So one page?

Paul Miller: Rarely should a press release ever be more than one page.

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