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Forming Cleveland

strengthening, unifying and connecting greater Cleveland's arts and culture sector

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Media Advocacy Tools

Letters to the Editor

Letters to the editor affect public opinion, educate readers on an issue, and influence public officials. They can help raise awareness about the arts and culture sector and your Affiliate’s among policymakers, stakeholders, and the public and can add energy to your issue. 

Remember these simple points when drafting a letter to the editor:

  • Keep it short. Check with your newspaper’s editorial department on the word limit requirements. Newspapers often take the liberty of slicing out chunks of your letter, so keep it tight and concise. Keeping your letter short also means your important points won’t be left out.
  • Be clear. Stick to one very clear point.
  • Substantiate. Support your position with facts.
  • Personalize. Write about your own experience—tell why you care about the issue.
  • Make it local. How does this issue affect the community?
  • Sign it. Include your real name, address, email and telephone number. Many papers will call to confirm the author before printing the letter.
  • Cite references. If possible, reference a recent news article from your local paper. While this is not necessary, it helps get visibility if you are responding to a particular story in the paper. Include the headline and date in the first or second sentence of your letter.

Letters to the editor tell the newspaper editor that your issues are important and should be covered, and can pave the way for an opinion-editorial placement on your issue.

Opinion Editorials (Op-eds)

Opinion editorials (op-eds) are longer than letters to the editor, usually around 500-700 words. Op-eds, just like letters to the editor, are intended for education or to retort an allegation in an article or endorsement.

You will have a much better chance of making it to print if you can submit the op-ed under the name of an expert on the issue or a high profile individual—a celebrity, elected official, community leader, or someone who is well-connected to the newspaper.

How to Work an Opinion-Editorial Effectively

The following steps will increase your odds of getting published:

  • Inform your Affiliate. Give the Board/Communications Chair the heads-up that you are working on an op-ed for placement in local papers. Provide them with a copy to review.  If your Affiliate is uncomfortable for any reason with being referenced in the opinion-editorial, find out if it would be appropriate to pursue an op-ed without referencing the Affiliate specifically.
  • Delegate responsibility. Designate someone to be in charge of overseeing the op-ed.  Since there are multiple pieces to make this work, it’s best to have one person overseeing all aspects. 
  • Determine the most effective messengers. Brainstorm to develop a list of potential op-ed signers.  No matter how compelling your op-ed is, it’s tough to get published.  A well-recognized name can greatly improve your chances of getting published. Keep in mind that it’s always best to have someone else toot your horn.  So, if you toot your Affiliate’s horn in this piece, look to someone outside your Board to sign on.  Also, keep in mind the legislator that you would like this piece to influence.  To whom would they be most responsive?  Be strategic in your selection.
  • Determine the length and message. Find out what your local paper’s requirements are for the op-eds they publish. This information is usually provided on the newspaper’s website. You want to know:

Length and Logistics:

  • What is the word limit? It’s usually about 700 words, sometimes as few as 500. Whatever it is, don’t go over. It gives them a great reason not to read your submission or to cut out what they perceive to be extraneous.
  • How do you actually submit the op-ed? Most papers accept email submissions but may or may not accept attachments. If this is the case, the op-ed must be cut and pasted into the body of the e-mail.
  • To whom should the op-ed be sent? Find out the contact’s name, email address, and the phone number for a follow-up call. Sometimes the address is just commentary@yourpaper.com, or some variation.

Message:  Add in local color to make the op-ed appealing to a local paper.  Local color can include:

  • City/county/congressional district/state statistics on incidence, mortality, need, poverty
  • The numbers of uninsured women in any of the above-mentioned areas
  • The support, both financial and otherwise, that your Affiliate provides to the local community
  • The story of someone who benefits or will benefit from the legislation or funding, to put a real face on the issue. 
  • Coordinate press outreach with the op-ed signer.Talk with the signer about placement strategy.  Find out what their turnaround time for approvals and preferred means of communicating is—email, phone, etc.  Keep closely in touch with them to follow-up on your respective tasks.
  • Pitch the op-ed.When you prepare the pitch e-mail to the right address at the paper, be sure to put something catchy in the subject line. In the body of the e-mail take a few lines to tell the editor about the op-ed. If you are sending the op-ed to only one paper, make sure you note that it is being offered as an “exclusive”. Be sure to provide contact information, including a phone number and email where they can reach you after work hours.
  • Follow up.  After you have submitted your piece, wait 24 hours, and then call the paper to see if they have received it. Don’t be a pest, but wait a couple more days (if you don’t hear anything), then call again to see if they have made a decision.  Remember, in the end, getting an op-ed published is as much a matter of luck and timing as design, so don’t take it personally if you get turned down. Rather, look for another paper in your area or state, and submit it to them.
  • Share success.Share the final submission, even if it is not printed, with your Board, public policy committee members and state collaborative. 

Press Releases

A press release is a document (usually one page) that you can send to the media in your service area to announce an event that you’re sponsoring, to respond to a vote in the legislature, or to help ensure that your Affiliate’s statement is included in a news story related to the arts and culture scetor. Here are a few simple guidelines to follow in drafting your release

1.   Have a good reason to write/send a press release.  Have legitimate news to report.

2.  Before you send out a press release, be sure you have the necessary information about the topic. Releases will generate inquiries from reporters, and you may have to answer any questions relevant to the topic.

3.  Keep your content concise and to the point. Picture a busy reporter/editor receiving hundreds of faxed, mailed, and emailed press releases each day. Editors are looking for quick ways to separate what they can use from what they can’t.Try very hard to keep your release to one page. If you must, go to a second page but never a third. The only time you would send more than two pages would be if the reporter requested more information or if you needed to send the full text of someone’s remarks/speech.

Editors look for reasons NOT to use releases. So, misspellings, two pages of solid, single-spaced type, editorializing, impenetrable jargon, etc. are all good ways to lose the battle.

4.  Follow these guidelines. To make sure your release doesn’t end up in a reporter’s garbage can, here are some specific tips:

  • Include an accurate, revealing, and brief headline.
  • Write the release from the top down—with the most important facts first, in the lead paragraph (follow with the who, what, when, where…the rules of news reporting). 
  • Write it as news in the voice of your speaker(s), with direct quotes throughout. Demonstrate a benefit for the readers. Try not to be overly positive about your claims and try not to include too many superlatives that position your group and issue as the “only” issue in town.
  • Attribute opinions and judgments to a knowledgeable, identified source.
  • Include important specific details.
  • Break up solid type with paragraph indents and subheadings.

5.   Include this essential information on every release:

  • Who is making the release—your organization name, address, and phone number.
  • The name, phone number(s) and email of a contact person.
  • When the news is being released—the release date—(if immediately, write “For Immediate Release” at the top).
  • What the news is about—a headline that states the main point of the release.

6.   Finally, it will help if you observe certain formatting conventions:

  • Put your Affiliate’s name and contact information, and the name and phone number of the contact person at the top of the page.
  • Type the headline in solid capitals, centered and bolded.
  • Type the text double-spaced with ample margins.
  • If the release is more than one page, type “more” at the bottom of the first page.
  • At the end of the release, type “XXX” or “###”

Press Conferences

Staging a press event to advocate for your issue or to praise your legislator’s leadership can be a very effective way to gain media attention and raise public awareness about the arts and culture sector.

1.  Determine the appropriateness of a full-blown news conference. 

News conferences, because they provide for an active discussion between the press and the spokesperson(s), are best suited for very timely or controversial matters.  Make sure you have a local, timely news hook. When your issue is being considered on the house or senate floor (or in committee), you may consider holding a press conference to raise local awareness about both your issue and your legislators’ positions, particularly if your legislators are wavering or unsupportive.

News conferences also should provide the media with access to people they don’t usually have access to and to visual images they couldn’t get anywhere else.

2.  Pick a good location.

A central location that doesn’t provide any obstacles to the press is of utmost importance in planning a media event. In some cases, it makes good sense to hold your news conference at a site related to the topic of the news conference, such as a hospital or screening facility. Whatever you do, make sure the media can find the site and it is convenient.

3.  Choose the right day.

Earlier in the week is better than later for media events. By the end of the week, many reporters and editors are busy putting together Sunday and weekend editions. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are good days for news conferences because they are generally slower news days, and it’s easy to pitch the event to reporters the day before (unlike Monday news conferences).  Avoid weekends, unless you can tie the press conference to a pre-existing event.

4.  Choose the right time of day.

Most non-daily newspapers have a date and time they “put their papers to bed”

(otherwise known as a deadline). Daily papers have a time each day—generally near 

2 p.m.—that the paper is completed, except for late-breaking news. Television and radio stations have deadlines that correspond to their news cycles. Know your targets’ deadlines and try to have your event between 9 a.m. and 12 noon.

5.  Give proper advance notification.

To distinguish your conference announcement from a news release, label it “media advisory.” Arrange it in a one-page format, using five separate headings: Event, Time, Place, Speakers, and Background.  Email advisories at least four working days prior to the event.

Make follow-up calls the day after you sent out the advisory and the day before the event. The best way to send advisories is directly to a person, not to a title. If you can’t get the name of the appropriate person, address the advisory to “assignment editor” or “news desk.” 

6.  Don’t forget the “daybooks.”

Research whether or not your city or area has a newswire calendar. Sometimes there are city, regional, and/or state daybooks that list scheduled events in the region. These are wire services read by all media as they plan what to cover. Usually, the daybook runs at 7 a.m. the day before the event day. Get your information to the wire services at least 72 hours in advance. Call 48 hours before your event to confirm that they received the information and will be posting it on the daybook.

In most areas, the local Associated Press (AP) and/or United Press International (UPI) bureaus publish the daybook. 

7.  Send a press release.

Send out the press release the day of the event.

8.  Create interesting visuals.

You don’t need a big budget to create an image that a newspaper or TV cameraperson would find appealing. Groups of people, blow-ups of postcards, petitions, letters, and logos also work

9.  Make sure someone from your Affiliate brings a camera.

You will want photographs of your event and the people involved. Try to find someone who will volunteer to take pictures for you. Make sure the person has a decent camera and some skill at framing shots, etc.

Post the picture on your Affiliate website and social media along with a link to the news coverage and your own account of the event.

10.  Prepare the site.

If you are holding your media conference in a room, choose the smallest viable option. A group of 5 reporters will look lost in a room set for 75 but will look like a good crowd in another setting. Make sure you arrive at least 45 minutes early to make sure the room or site is in good order.

With small groups, do not use a microphone. All TV and radio reporters come fully equipped, and in a small room, amplified sound can cause feedback and distortion. 

Bring a sign featuring your Affiliate’s name and logo for the podium or for use as a backdrop.      

Station an assistant at a table by the door or at a logical “entry point” to your event. Arm that person with a sign-in sheet for reporters, extra copies of press releases, press kits, and any other relevant information.

11.  Brief all participants with speaking roles.

Prepare bulleted talking points for speakers and develop a list of anticipated questions. If possible, run through a mock news conference to counsel the spokespeople on how to handle difficult or complex questions. It’s a good idea to go over the agenda, message, and talking points together. If you can’t meet in person, try a conference call.

Make sure your speakers are media-trained to stay on message. If there is to be more than one spokesperson, select a moderator. Agree on a signal to end the conference. Wrap it up after 30 minutes, or earlier if the questions start to drag.

The moderator should orchestrate the Q & A and wrap up the event before it begins to get dull or out of control.

12.  Keep press kits simple.

A press kit is a folder that you can hand out to the media representatives who attend your event. You can also drop the press kit off at the offices of reporters who weren’t able to come but whom you want to keep apprised of your event.

Your press kit should include:

  • A news release summarizing the announcement/event
  • An issue fact sheet
  • A list of names and titles of speakers
  • Very short biographies of the speakers
  • A fact sheet on Komen and any other organization(s) involved in the conference.  

Additional materials—such as feature articles, related clippings, fact sheets, and contact sheets—can also be helpful.

13.  Follow-up

Monitor the press coverage online, in print, on the radio, and on television.  It is OK to call reporters to ask them if they wrote or ran something, but do not ask them to send you the clip.

If a reporter didn’t cover your event, talk to them after the event to see if you can pitch them on a different or more specific angle. Maybe they will want to interview one of your presenters or have a survivor or participant provide an article.

Keep in touch with reporters who did and didn't cover the event on a regular basis. Call them even when you don’t have a specific or “breaking” story to pitch. They may be having a slow news cycle and find your story to be an appealing filler.

Editorial Board Meetings

Editorial board outreach is an important aspect of raising the profile of your policy issue.  The significant benefits of a favorable editorial include:

  • The public generally views editorials as having a high level of credibility.
  • Policymakers are acutely aware of public opinion, and editorials often convey local public opinions.
  • A good editorial can be circulated among partners for coalition-building purposes. 

Finally, successful editorial board outreach helps ensure positive coverage by a newspaper as the arts and culture sector issues wind their way through the legislative process. 

How to do it:

1.   Conduct reconnaissance.

The first step in reaching out to an editorial board is determining if anyone within your Affiliate has contacts or relationships with any member(s) of your newspaper’s editorial staff. If so, this individual is likely the best person to contact their associate and request a meeting.

2.   Submit meeting request.

Draft an email to request a meeting and outline why the issue is important. You should also mention the role that your legislator plays—or should play—in the political battle.

3.   Designate roles in advance and practice.

Before meeting with the editorial board, make sure to conduct a meeting or conference call with your group to brief everyone, outline the goals and message of the meeting, distribute and discuss an agenda and talking points, and assign tasks—such as charging someone with managing the editorial board meeting and determining how questions will be handled.

4.   Share Materials.

Be sure to have information packets to distribute to the editorial board, including:

  • Fact sheets about arts and culture sector, particularly about your Affiliate.
  • Fact sheets about breast cancer and the particular issue of concern.
  • Personal, local stories that exemplify the importance of the issue and make it compelling.
  • Any relevant media clips.
  • Bios and contact information for your representatives. 

5.   Send information

If you do not have a direct line to the editorial board staff or are unable to schedule a meeting, email or drop off an information packet.  Follow up with phone calls and/or emails to ensure that your materials are noticed and to establish yourself as a contact.

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