Creating a Media/PR Campaign Around Your Legislation
Eliciting media attention can be an exciting prospect with an issue as hot as adoptee access to the original birth certificate. Even so, a media campaign will require planning, persistence and a basic understanding of how the media works.
Adoption is one of a myriad of topics that TV, radio and print news reporters may cover, typically when something unusual or newsworthy happens. Media professionals compete with each other for "hot" stories that will increase their ratings or subscription base. It's a fast paced business that typically begins with a quick two-three minute pitch or succinct email from you or a press release that must "sell the story" in the first few lines. Contacts mean everything, so:
Create, build and nurture media connections.
If possible, solicit a volunteer who works in media/PR with a connection to the cause.
Learn to quickly and clearly state your message – written or spoken – to media.
Do their homework, not just yours. Media professionals do not have time to investigate the complexities of adoption. They appreciate research, stats, a list of persons who have agreed to be interviewed and Q&A materials.
Be ready to answer the question, "Who's your opposition and why?"
The media is obligated to be fair and accurate, so it's not unusual for reporters to contact the opposition in order to represent both sides. The story you worked so hard to place can sometimes morph into a totally different story not to your liking. Always be cordial to media, thanking them for their efforts and gently guiding them when you feel that your side has been misrepresented.
If you have a formal group promoting the legislation, consider developing a media kit that includes your mission, adoption fact sheet for the state and some of the materials found in the Access Kit.
Include your website information, if you have one, on all media kit materials or releases.
Identify public opinion leaders willing to go on record in support of the legislation. Ask these contacts to develop letters and opinion editorials furthering the issue.
Identify local famous adoptees or local news personalities who have been adopted who could be spokespersons.
Enlist the larger newspapers in your state to formally endorse the legislation.
Pitch feature stories to newspapers that spotlight members from your group. Mix it up with adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parent stories.
Develop and distribute opinion editorials to statewide newspapers.
Pitch magazine articles in local magazines with high readership.
Coordinate a statewide media tour prior to the legislative session to media.
- Think of new angles to pitch beyond the reunion story that has been overused on television and in print media. Explore real life stories that reveal the impact of sealed birth certificates on various triad members.
The Press Release
Go to the library, on-line or to a book store and get a media directory that lists statewide media with contact information. If your time is limited, call the general number of a few news sources and get the names and e-mails of directors and editors. In the fast paced media industry, positions change rapidly so getting your story in front of the appropriate person takes effort but is worth that effort.
Design a one page news release (download sample press release) with a headline and lead paragraph that will hook the producer/editor. Keep on reserve the contact information for people who have agreed to be publicly profiled in the story you are pitching. Tell enough in the release to get the media interested. Allow a day or so for your news release to reach the media; then follow up with a phone call that gauges interest. At this point, use the contact information of those who are willing to be interviewed. If you reach voice mail, quickly recite your pitch, ending with "Call me for contact information on…"
On the day of a legislative hearing or rally, send a quick fax or email reminder that "Today’s the day of…"
Each step in the legislative process should create another press release. The sponsor of your bill may enlist the legislative press corps with a separate press release.
Create a Buzz
Aside from access legislative efforts, media opportunities exist through events held by your advocacy group, national news with a link to adoption and local human interest stories.
National news may spark an editorial/news release as when the Surgeon General urged families to track their health histories, an impossibility for most adoptees. For instance, a story circulated in November, 2004, about the Surgeon General urging family members to track health history by discussing and tracking health at holiday gatherings. The following showed the story through the lens of missing health information for adopted adults.
Gathering Family Medical History Initiative…What About Adoptees?
by Lawrence P. Adams
November, 2004 - Recently U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona began an initiative to encourage supposedly ALL Americans to learn about their families’ health histories. This would be a way of promoting personal health and preventing diseases. He has even collaborated with others to offer a new website and free computer program to help families collect and record this information.
Dr. Carmona stated, "The bottom line is that knowing your family medical history can save your life. Millions of dollars in medical research, equipment and knowledge can’t give us the information family medical histories can."
However, how are the millions of adoptees across the country who have their records sealed suppose to obtain the information that Dr. Carmona says could save their lives?
Don't forget to capitalize on the media efforts in other states and provinces, distributing copies of stories as they appear in adoption reform.
Seven months have passed since the state allowed adoptees to access their birth records. After an initial rush of requests - 343 in the first month - demand has expectedly slowed, with 19 applications filed this month as of July 22. But the process will have emotional significance and practical importance long after the novelty has faded, and it’s almost as natural as registering a car, adoption-rights advocates said.
"People stop me on the street and say how good it is," said state Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, who crafted the legislation and is an adoptive father. "I couldn’t have been happier for these people. It’s a nonpolitical thing. It’s good public policy."
Help the Media: Doing their Homework Helps your Cause
Reporters are generalists, not specialists. Few will have more than a cursory understanding of adoption and given the many stories they have to cover in a 24-hour period, most will not have time to do more than a quick study. It is wise to provide them with background information, resource materials, names and contact information for people willing to be interviewed.
Be sure to offer facts that can be verified, and have the source ready to back up the facts. Choose your words very carefully. You cannot control whether a particular statement will be taken out of context so avoid making sweeping generalizations or inflammatory statements about the opposition, no matter how strong your feelings are.
Media professionals appreciate getting thought-provoking questions they might ask, but be sure that you have ready answers to questions you plan to release to the media:
What does the American public believe about the right of adopted adults to get their birth information?
Why are adoptees denied their original birth certificate when genetic and background information is integral to personality development?
Will the release of original birth information erode the relationship of an adopted adult with their adoptive parents?
Why is there a national movement to reform adoption when the national trend in adoption is for most birth parents and adoptive parents to meet in person?
Whose rights trump if there is a showdown between an adult adoptee getting birth information and a birthmother who wishes to remain anonymous?
What about cases where the birthmother conceived through rape or incest?
Why do some adoption agencies oppose access to records for adopted adults?
Should adoption agencies be the gatekeepers of birth information for adults?
- Does release of birth information automatically lead to a reunion?
Thank and Nurture Media Contacts
Always thank the reporter in writing for covering this issue. Remembering that the media is vested with balanced coverage, so go easy on criticism of their efforts to present both sides. If a correction or other concerns need to be expressed, say so in your thank you letter.
Above all, develop a list of media contacts that have written or aired a story. Return to those contacts over time with press releases or tidbits on other adoption news that they might want to cover.