Posts tagged ‘Bradford Fitch’

How Legislatures, Including Congress, Really Work

When you attempt to influence a group of people, it is important to develop an understanding of the environment in which that group operates. Congressional and state legislative environments differ from other environments, including private and public workplaces. Learning to appreciate those differences as well as the inherent characteristics that are unique to legislative environments can provide you with an increased chance for successful grassroots advocacy.

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One of the most common mistakes of citizen advocates is viewing legislatures through their own work environment. While it is true that Capitol Hill can resemble a group of independent small businesses, Congress has a definite hierarchical nature. Understanding that nature of Capitol Hill is essential to your success in achieving your goals and outcomes.

Constituents play a critical role on Capitol Hill, driving almost all decision making within congressional offices. The American system of government is set up in a manner in which legislators are first and foremost beholden to those they represent. Rules of the House and Senate reinforce this association by legally prohibiting members of Congress from spending their office budgets on behalf of non-constituents.

Two types of constituents interact with legislators: those who have an interest and those who have an opinion. Members of Congress rarely accept meetings with non-constituents. This can be quite frustrating for a group with no constituent connection that wishes to influence a member.

If you want to influence a member of Congress that does Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad Fitchnot represent you, your best opportunity is to have your own legislator work on your behalf to influence that member.

Constituents also play a prominent role in setting the daily agenda for legislators. Any constituent that makes the effort to actually travel to Washington or even to write their member of Congress will almost always receive a meeting or some type of response.

Ultimately, your efforts to persuade any member of Congress depend upon your constituent connection to that member of Congress or your ability to have that member’s constituents make an effort to reach them. Without that association, your efforts may very well come to naught.

To learn more about learning how Congress works, consider TheCapitol.Net’s 1/2 day course, Congress in a Nutshell.

Reference: Citizen’s Handbook, by Bradford Fitch, Part 1 How Government Really Works

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Preparation is Key to Taking Advantage of Opportunities in Media Relations

It is sometimes assumed that the development of a communications plan is similar to the production of a play, in which the public acts as the audience. In reality, much of the work involved in public relations can be reactionary and unpredictable in nature. It is not unusual for members of Congress to determine their strategy and their message by reviewing the daily news and then deciding how they will respond to a particular issue.

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The best work in public relations involves the creation of great plans and the adaptation of those plans based on changing circumstances. The best way to take advantage of opportunities is to prepare for opportunities in advance. Every sphere within the world of Washington public relations has its own distinct set of possible circumstances that determine the best methods for advance preparation.

Generally, the best all-in-one approach to preparing for opportunities to is to be certain you have good resources and contacts in place. This will allow you to capitalize on Media Relations Handbook, by Bradford Fitchthem whenever the need arises. This could mean reaching out to reporters you might not call regularly or compiling press contact lists that might not involve your primary subject area. Even though these actions might be outside your day-to-day work, they could prove crucial if conditions change.

In some cases, it might be better to allow some opportunities to simply pass by rather than attempt to capitalize upon them. The degree to which your operation is cautious or aggressive regarding opportunities will typically be determined by the personality of your principal or organization. Be on the lookout for opportunities that are worth pursuing. Ultimately, you must ask yourself whether the opportunity is close to your mission and whether the opportunity warrants changing your plans in order to pursue it. What are the costs if you should decide to pursue it? Will you be able to effectively pursue the opportunity during the short-term nature that is offered by the news cycle? Finally, determine the likelihood that you will receive positive media coverage as a result.

To learn more about the best ways to take advantage of opportunities as they arise in public relations, consider TheCapitol.Net’s Advanced Media Relations Workshop.

Reference: Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch, Section 3.11 Taking Advantage of Opportunities

For more information about media training from TheCapitol.Net, see these resources:

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Creating a Communications Plan

One of the earliest tasks of many new press secretaries and communication directors is the development of a communications plan. A large portion of early reviews, research and interviews will result in the development of this plan. Without the presence of such a plan, any proactive press work is virtually impossible.

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In some instances, you might enter a situation in which a communication plan is already in place. In this case, your main responsibility would be to assist in implementing that plan. If you are the only or the senior press liaison, you will likely be expected to deliver the message along with drafting the plan.

It is important to first consider the message you wish to convey when you are drafting a communications plan. You also need to take into consideration the strategic goals of your principal or organization as well as the tools available to you for communication. Communication goals may be associated with a time line. This could be a legislative calendar, an election campaign, or some other series of important events.

Communication plans should never be created from a sheer void. Recognize the individuals involved when you are considering the specifics of internal politics. It is also important to take into consideration the people who may need to review and approve the communications plan for it to become a reality. Media Relations Handbook, by Bradford Fitch

Developing a strong communications message can be one of the most difficult aspects of the job of the public relations professional. Ultimately, your goal is a message embodied in a clear and concise statement that makes a connection with your audience in a way that is meaningful and valuable. In marketing, the message for a product is summarized in a slogan or advertising.

The communication plan you develop will define the organization, agency or person you represent in the mind of the public. When developing your communication plan, remember that messages fall into two broad categories: strategic messages and campaign messages.

Strategic messages are often broad in theme and feature an overarching set of principles that are used for guiding and shaping all communications.

Campaign messages are a subset within a strategic message. The campaign message has a time limit and is often defined by a measurable outcome.

To find out more about developing an effective communication plan, consider TheCapitol.Net’s Advanced Media Relations Workshop.

Reference: Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch, Section 1.14 Creating a Communications Plan, and Section 3.2 The Message.

For more information about media training from TheCapitol.Net, see these resources:

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Common Ethical Challenges in Media Relations

To work successfully in media affairs or public relations, you want to develop a solid understanding of the ethical challenges you can face on a daily basis. Even a seemingly innocent and routine conversation with a reporter can pose ethical questions that the public relations professional must be able to resolve in a second or two.

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One common ethical challenge the public relations professional must address is the use of language. Even a relatively simply choice of words can result in ethical implications. For instance, if you exaggerate the impact of a piece of legislation, it could be construed as trying to mislead the public. Ensuring that language is accurate and honest is not only a matter of ethics, in most cases it is more effective. Because reporters have come to view exaggerated claims as being the rule rather than the exception, you will often find that communication that is honest and straightforward is a far more convincing tool.

When posed with an ethical question regarding language, ask yourself whether the language will pass the test of the media. Will the media question the veracity of the statement you plan to issue? Will anyone Media Relations Handbook, by Bradford Fitchbe able to refute your data? Consider the credibility of any sources that might challenge your statement and your data. Be certain that the language you choose is capable of withstanding a detailed examination.

Misappropriation of credit is another common ethical challenge the public relations professional faces. Ethical problems can arise when a public relations professional feels they must “enhance” the work of their principal or an organization to the point that it extends beyond any work that was legitimately accomplished. This is a struggle that Congressional press secretaries frequently face as the matter of taking credit can be a particularly delicate issue for members of Congress as their survival depends on their ability to demonstrate achievements to their constituents. For instance, did a member only “sponsor” a bill or did they “vigorously support” it? Did they “vote” for it, or did they “champion” it? The choice of wording can make a tremendous difference in how a public figure’s role is portrayed. You must be able to back up all claims when you take credit for your principal and able to justify those claims with documentation.

To learn more about ethical matters in media relations, consider TheCapitol.Net’s Advanced Media Relations Workshop.

Reference: Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch, Section 13.4 Common Ethical Challenges

For more information about media training from TheCapitol.Net, see these resources:

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5 Mistakes to Avoid in a Crisis

Trying to avoid a crisis with the media may be well and good, but the fact is that a crisis can not always be avoided. When one does occur, it is essential to know how to handle it, and, as importantly, what you should not do.

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1. Ignore the problem
One of the most common reactions to a crisis is to ignore it and hope it goes away. This rarely works, especially when it is a media crisis. When you have a crisis, you must meet it head on and deal with it immediately.

2. Not changing your decision making model
One of the most common mistakes organizations make is to try to overcome the problem by working harder. Whenever there is a communication crisis, a team that is already overworked suddenly must take on even more of a burden. To effectively deal with the crisis, new decision making protocols must be established. In some cases, you may need to form a completely separate Media Relations Handbook, by Bradford Fitchcommunications team to specifically address that crisis.

3. Allowing lawyers to direct public relations policy
While it may be advisable to have the best attorney representing you if you go to court, when you are facing a crisis in the media you need an expert on the court of public opinion. Choose the right advocate to handle the right battleground.

4. Withholding information
If you attempt to withhold information, it will eventually come out. When that happens, it will add to the crisis and make it appear as if you are trying to hide something.

5. Not immediately correcting errors
The public understands that people are human and will, from time to time, make mistakes. When a mistake is made during a communications crisis, it is going to be amplified. If you say something erroneous, do not hesitate to correct it immediately. Failure to do so will only cause reporters to believe that you misled them on purpose. The result? They might just tell a few million listeners or readers that you deliberately deceived them. It is far better to come clean and own up to your mistake and correct it on your own.

To learn more about how to effectively handle a media crisis, consider TheCapitol.Net’s Advanced Media Relations Workshop.

Reference: Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch, Section 12.15 Eight Mistakes to Avoid in a Crisis

For more information about media training from TheCapitol.Net, see these resources:

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Writing Effective Newsletters

Newsletters can be delivered electronically, but there are still differences that set them apart from web sites. One of the most important differences is that while people visit a web site when they need to find something specific, a newsletter is personal and provides the basis for an ongoing relationship regardless of how it is delivered.

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When creating a newsletter, keep the content subject-oriented, not self-congratulatory. The content of the newsletter can be persuasive but avoid appearing merely self-serving.

One goal of sending out a newsletter is to encourage people to visit your web site, so include links throughout the newsletter that link to Media Relations Handbook, by Bradford Fitchspecific sections of your website.

The newsletter should include information that is not yet available to the general public. By providing details that are not yet available in the off-line media you will be able to encourage your readers to continue looking for the arrival of your newsletter.

One question asked about electronic newsletters is how often they should be sent. There are no hard and fast rules for how often you should send out electronic newsletters. Newsletters that provide interesting and relevant information can be sent on a daily basis. Other newsletters are better suited for a weekly format. If you separate your newsletters by more than a month, you run the risk of readers forgetting you. However, providing your readers with information that is timely and relevant is more important than sticking to an arbitrary schedule. If something newsworthy has occurred, feel free to send out a special edition even if it is not yet time for a new edition to be sent.

Finally, offer recipients the choice of HTML or text versions of your newsletter. Some people simply do not want to have HTML files clogging up their email, while others prefer the flexibility it provides, so give them a choice.

To learn more about good writing, consider TheCapitol.Net’s Writing Workshops. To learn more about communicating effectively with the media, consider their Advanced Media Relations Workshop.

Reference: Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch, Section 6.1 Tips for Email and E-newsletters

For more information about media training from TheCapitol.Net, see these resources:

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Developing your Organization’s Media Message

Organizations can have multiple messages they wish to convey to stakeholders and the media at any given time. There are many ways a campaign message can be created, but here are four basic steps that can help to ensure the process goes smoothly.

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First, you must have agreement on the goal of the message. There is usually little debate when the goal is clear, such as supporting an effort to get Congress to pass a bill. In some cases, goals might not be clear and it will be necessary to clarify specific goals.

Media Relations Handbook, by Bradford FitchOnce the goals for the campaign message have been agreed upon, the next step is to identify the target audience–who the message is intended for. Do some research and identify their needs and interests. Ask yourself what their values are and how those values relate to your organization. A smaller audience significantly enhances the chance that your message will be successful.

Next, you need to develop and clarify the language you will use in your message. Words serve as the building blocks for any successful public relations campaign. The language you use in the campaign is critical, and can make the difference between success and failure. The choice of words can also have policy implications–journalists are always on the lookout for inconsistency. The language you use must mesh in a seamless manner with the actual policy. When deciding on the language, also consider your target audience. Ask yourself what words and tone will resonate best with the target audience.

Test your message with your target audience. It is well worth the time and effort.

Finally, be creative. Boring messages do not succeed. Competition for the attention of the public and the media is fierce. What images and phrases can be used to connect with the audience? Make your message stand out.

To learn more about developing a memorable message, look at our 2-day Advanced Media Relations Workshop.

Reference: Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch, Section 3.5 Campaign Message Development

For more information about media training from TheCapitol.Net, see these resources:

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“Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials” Author on C-SPAN Washington Journal November 26, 2010

Bradford Fitch will be on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” on Friday, Citizen's Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: Citizen Advocacy in State Legislatures and Congress: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates, by Brad FitchNovember 26, 2010, 9:15 am. He will be interviewed about his new book, Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials. Video of the program will be available following the live show on the C-SPAN Video Library.

The Citizen’s Handbook provides practical guidance how to prepare for and meet with elected officials and staff, how to write effective letters and emails to elected officials, strategies for influencing legislators face-to-face, best practices for communicating with Congress and state legislatures, and how to write persuasive “letters to the editor”. Includes the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

The Citizen’s Handbook is a practical handbook on how to be a successful citizen-advocate and includes off-the-record comments from Members of Congress and staff on what truly influences legislative outcomes. The overall theme is summed up in a quote by Thomas Jefferson: “We do not have a government of a majority; we have a government of the majority to participate.”

Press Release: Who Really Has the Power in Washington? The Surprise Answer: Ordinary American Citizens

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Assessing Media Strengths and Weaknesses

When working with a principal and preparing them for coping with the media, one of the most important tasks you face is assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Part of the process of getting to know your principal is conducting an honest assessment. The result should allow you to develop a fair understanding of what will make them look good and what should be avoided.

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One of the best ways to do this when you first take over a communications operation is to review your principal’s clips and taped interviews to gain an idea of the best forums that will help to advance their message. It is also important to develop an idea of where they fall in three categories: paranoid principal, media hog, or media mouse.

Some public figures tend to have the idea that the media is “out to get them.” The only way to successfully work with the paranoid principal is through education. The paranoid principal often focuses on a single poor story, but when you redirect them and reveal the totality of coverage they will see that for the most part coverage is balanced and fair. You must make sure that this type of misconception does not interfere with the potential for positive media coverage in the future.

Another common type you may encounter is the media hog. In this case, whatever coverage they get is never Media Relations Handbook, by Bradford Fitchenough. There is often very little that you can do to please a principal who does not have a good understanding of the media and therefore expects too much. The only thing you can really do in this scenario is to work toward changing the way your principal views the media. You should also make a point to document their successes and try to manage their expectations by making clear and consistent predictions regarding the amount as well as the quality of press coverage prior to an event.

In some cases you may find you are dealing with a media mouse. This type of principal often believes the media simply is not interested in them. You need to exercise extreme persistence and patience when dealing with this type of principal. Standard media training techniques can go a long way toward helping your principal overcome their fear of speaking in public and moving beyond the idea that they are not yet ready. To learn more about preparing to speak in public, consider media training workshops from TheCapitol.Net: Media Relations for Public Affairs Professionals, Advanced Media Relations Workshop, and Speechwriting.

Reference: Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch, Sections 7.3-7.6 Dealing with the Principal

For more information about media training from TheCapitol.Net, see these resources:

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Assessing Media Strengths and Weaknesses

When working with a principal and preparing them for coping with the media, one of the most important tasks you face is assessing their strengths and weaknesses. Part of the process of getting to know your principal is conducting an honest assessment. The result should allow you to develop a fair understanding of what will make them look good and what should be avoided.

Police Chief Sir Ian Blair faces Inquiry over Stockwell Tube Shooting
Creative Commons License photo credit: Annie Mole

One of the best ways to do this when you first take over a communications operation is to review your principal’s clips and taped interviews to gain an idea of the best forums that will help to advance their message. It is also important to develop an idea of where they fall in three categories: paranoid principal, media hog, or media mouse.

Some public figures tend to have the idea that the media is “out to get them.” The only way to successfully work with the paranoid principal is through education. The paranoid principal often focuses on a single poor story, but when you redirect them and reveal the totality of coverage they will see that for the most part coverage is balanced and fair. You must make sure that this type of misconception does not interfere with the potential for positive media coverage in the future.

Another common type you may encounter is the media hog. In this case, whatever coverage they get is never Media Relations Handbook, by Bradford Fitchenough. There is often very little that you can do to please a principal who does not have a good understanding of the media and therefore expects too much. The only thing you can really do in this scenario is to work toward changing the way your principal views the media. You should also make a point to document their successes and try to manage their expectations by making clear and consistent predictions regarding the amount as well as the quality of press coverage prior to an event.

In some cases you may find you are dealing with a media mouse. This type of principal often believes the media simply is not interested in them. You need to exercise extreme persistence and patience when dealing with this type of principal. Standard media training techniques can go a long way toward helping your principal overcome their fear of speaking in public and moving beyond the idea that they are not yet ready. To learn more about preparing to speak in public, consider media training workshops from TheCapitol.Net: Media Relations for Public Affairs Professionals, Advanced Media Relations Workshop, and Speechwriting.

Reference: Media Relations Handbook, by Brad Fitch, Sections 7.3-7.6 Dealing with the Principal

For more information about media training from TheCapitol.Net, see these resources:

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