Use the Media to Communicate Effectively with Congress
The press can help shape public opinion and can be one of the most influential advocacy tools. When seeking effective media strategies keep the following in mind:
- Stay local. One strong article in your hometown newspaper may be worth 10 in the New York Times.
- Keep it focused and stick to one issue at a time.
- Make sure to send press clippings to your members of Congress. A good article can have a long life.
- Don’t forget your own media outlets. Take advantage of school district newsletters, publications, radio and cable programs to educate and get others involved in your advocacy campaigns.
- Give just the facts. Stick to what you know and never exaggerate. You can always get back to reporters after finding the right answer.
- Don’t just say it — show it. A demonstration or real-life testimonial goes a long way to illustrate your point and make it more colorful.
- Build media relationships. Get to know the education reporters and take the time to meet with editorial boards.
- Put media relations in your federal advocacy policy.
- Media relations should be a year-round function.
- Appoint a press spokesperson for your school board. This contact person must be fully informed about your federal advocacy agenda to know what and what not to tell reporters.
- Take advantage of all the media outlets. Congressional offices may read newspapers most often, but radio and television have a powerful impact on public opinion and should not be overlooked.
Write Letters-to-the-Editor and Op-Eds
Letters-to-the-editor and opinion editorials (op-eds) written by readers are useful ways to speak out on an issue, respond to an article or editorial, or express your position in your own words. They often are read by members of Congress and can be an effective lobbying tool.
When writing a letter-to-the-editor or op-ed, keep in mind the following:
- Be brief and focus on one issue. If the article is too long, the newspaper may edit out some important facts. To get an idea of how long is too long, take a look at your newspaper’s opinions page and count the words in the average letter to the editor. The average op-ed is usually longer than a letter-to-the-editor and is between 500 and 750 words.
- For a letter-to-the-editor, refer to a recent event or an article which has appeared in the newspaper and include the article’s date and title.
- When applicable, close your letter or op-ed by asking readers to contact their members of Congress or other policy makers about the issue.
- Give your address, school district and phone number so that the newspapers can verify authorship.
- Clip your published letter-to-the-editor or op-ed and mail or fax it to your members of Congress.
Meet with Editorial Boards
There is nothing more powerful than a newspaper carrying a positive lead editorial that supports your cause. Meeting with editorial boards in advance to explain your views can be the catalyst for a favorable editorial that will help address the issue at home as well as on Capitol Hill.
To facilitate a successful meeting, keep the following in mind:
- Request a formal meeting by writing a letter to the editorial page editor or by calling the editorial office. Briefly explain the issue you would like to discuss and who will be with you at the meeting.
- Go to the meeting prepared to lay the facts on the table as well as your background materials. If possible, bring the president of your school board and other leaders from a coalition, if one exists, to lend weight to the meeting.
- Although a face-to-face meeting is more effective, you can also write to the editorial page editor, send your background material, and follow-up by phone.
- When preparing the background material, try to include both the local and broader implications of the issue so the editor can see that it hits home and is of wider concern.
- Once you have made contact with members of the editorial board, keep that relationship going. Send a thank you note for the meeting and another note if they run a favorable editorial.