One week to a few days before the action
1. Write a draft press release. Circulate the draft release to the media team. Discuss and revise, discuss and revise, until it’s perfect or you need to move on.
Remember: The press release is not the message. It also is not the action. The action is the message. The press release is an advertisement to get the media to cover your action. The first two paragraphs are far more important than the rest of the release; the headline is even more important than that.
2. Make a list, with phone and fax numbers, of every news outlet you can think of that might be interested in the story.
If you have time before the action, consult a media directory. The standard national references are the Bacon’s News Media Guides, with geographically indexed volumes for print and broadcast. (Bacon’s, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60604.) They’re expensive, but available in good libraries. Or try to find a directory for your state or region, which may be published by a press club or the like. In a pinch, get out your Yellow Pages.
Check the phone number and fax number listed in the directory to make sure they’re correct. Prioritize this list in order of most important outlets, but remember: The Associated Press is (almost) always first.
3. Begin practicing sound bites and mock interviews with the media team.
If someone’s never been interviewed on camera and you have one available, videotape each other, play it back and look carefully for anything – words, gestures, expressions, mannerisms, posture – that doesn’t enhance effective communication. Practice until you eliminate those things.
4. Decide what supplementary materials – fact sheets, background papers, maps, etc. – are needed for the press kit.
Assemble the materials and folders to put them in. Get them all ready to go, except for the press release, which you’ll add after any last-minute changes.
A few days to one day before the action
Gut check: Decide if it’s safe to tip off key reporters in advance.
If there are one or two reporters whose coverage is key, and you decide they can be trusted, approach them now – strictly off the record – and let them know what’s going to happen. You may find out they’ll be out of town, but they can tell you who will be covering in their place. They may tell you they live two hours away, so they need extra notice. They may want to cover the action from a strategic vantage point. Make adjustments to accommodate them if you can, but never at the expense of a safe, effective, authentic action.