Chapter 1: PREPARING YOUR MESSAGE AND CAMPAIGN
Be ready, willing, and available
Conservative issues and guests have dominated the airwaves because they are ready, willing, and available to be on the air. There are numerous examples of the willingness of Republicans to try new strategies to get their message out. Call it confidence or call it communications savvy, but Republicans have cornered the market on embracing media—especially talk radio, talk television, and talk Internet.
The day after the 2005 State of the Union Speech the Republicans gave seventy radio interviews in less than twenty-four hours. Kandy Stroud at the Democratic National Committee booked several interviews as well, but getting Democrats to do early morning and late-night radio was very difficult. During the 2004 primary season the goal of the Republican National Committee’s Scott Hoganson was to have a Republican presence in every radio market and on every radio station in the country including early morning and late night shows.
Arbitron, a company that rates listenership in radio, recently released data indicating that 18 percent of the radio-listening market went to news/talk stations, and a significant amount went to Spanish-language stations. This does not preclude listening on stations that include talk as part of a music format. While the Democrats were running against each other, the RNC steadfastly promoted President Bush and Republicansponsored ideas and policies. Market share and audience size did not matter. Why? The RNC had a uniform message—every vote counts. One extra Republican vote per precinct can swing a presidential election. It is that simple.
The Republicans are masters of the rapid response. Surrogate speakers are on-call and can take orders from the RNC to go on the air, set the faxes humming, and arrange rebuttal news conferences and events at a moment’s notice. Even though the Democrats also have a response mechanism in place, the Republicans appear to get their word out more quickly and in a more consistent, organized manner. They all seem to be on the same playing field when it comes to the message. The Republicans are willing to appear on the air because they know that the shows and their hosts will make time available to them.
The war in Iraq presented the most daring example of risking a new reporting practice—embedded journalists. Vice President Dick Cheney was against the idea of embedding reporters, but was won over by mediasavvy Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. No one knew how the coverage from the embedded print and broadcast journalists would be reported. Would embargoes be honored and the locations of troops remain secret? Or would reporters try to report “gotcha” stories and rely on yellow journalism in order to be the first to leak a story—no matter how inaccurate—and would the troops be endangered as a result? As preparation for the Iraqi conflict began and before joining troops on land, in the air, and on the sea, the media went to military boot camps. The government, the media, and the public realized the significant benefits of the embedded journalists who could now give an insider angle to news reporting.
Before the 2002 midterm Congressional elections the White House invited more than forty talk-show hosts to broadcast from a tent on the White House lawn, and the event was repeated for the State of the Union Address. The White House made a grand show of this talk-radio event, complete with special souvenir badges and a White House tour. The administration supplied high-level guests to ensure that every host had at least one star. It was a huge success.
On the one-year anniversary of the Iraq War, the Pentagon hosted Talk-Radio Row. At this event three or more talk-show hosts are located in a specific area, each with their own broadcast space. The guests proceed down the row from host to host and are interviewed in turn. At the Pentagon’s Talk-Radio Row, not all of the talk-show hosts were conservative; some liberal talk-show hosts were also included.
Republicans reach out to their like-minded hosts with invitations to fund-raisers and other political events. With the exception of Democracy Radio and Campaign for America’s Future, Democrats and liberal organizations seem to fear any mention of fund-raising and politically related events, and make a point of not inviting their like-minded talk-show hosts. They do, however, remember these hosts when they want to pitch a guest—not a good way to win friends and influence the media.
When George W. Bush was a presidential candidate campaigning in 2000, he was asked to speak at the talk-radio industry’s May 2000 “Talkers Magazine New Media Seminar”. He left the campaign trail and flew to New York specifically for this event. Vice President Gore’s campaign, on the other hand, not only did not show, but also did not bother to respond to the invitation to appear at the Seminar.
Senator Kerry repeated this no-show policy during the 2004 New Hampshire primary. Governor Howard Dean as well as the other candidates understood that talk radio is a powerful medium. But even he came to this realization too late.
At the “New Media Seminar” presidential candidate Bush spent time with the hosts and was as friendly with the liberals as he was with the conservatives. The no-show by Gore set the stage for Democrats and talk radio in the 2000 presidential race. Even when the vice-presidential candidates were named and Joe Lieberman, who was widely considered a friend to the talk industry, joined the ticket, the Democrats continued to be missing in action on talk radio and television.
Throughout his senate career, Senator Joe Lieberman had appeared on more than a thousand talk-radio shows, but when selected as the VP candidate, he was suddenly no longer accessible to the talk shows and hosts. When Senator Lieberman ran for president in the 2004 primaries, although his campaign once again reached out to the talk media, producers and hosts did not enthusiastically receive him.
Despite the advent of Democratic radio initiatives, Democratic strategists continue to argue against putting their spokespeople on conservative media shows. This is a ridiculous argument. A recent study by RADAR, a network rating service of Arbitron, revealed that radio reaches 95 percent of those in the seventy-five-thousand-dollar-plus per year households and that 95 percent of college graduates listen to the radio. Whether the show is broadcast on the Internet, radio, or television, do not overlook or ignore it—it has a following, and it could be an important one. The show’s demographics may not be aligned with you politically, ethically, or morally, but if you are trying to sway opinion, change minds, or reach a potential supporter, it is worth reaching out and communicating your message to this audience.
It is amazing how many people avoid appearing on a show that is considered confrontational—even if it has a large audience. A gay physician refused an invitation to appear on John McLaughlin’s One-on-One television show, and a gun-control advocate did not want to get into a debate with the NRA on The Montel Williams Show. Both shows have huge audiences and those audiences reflect the general public’s views on many issues. A one-minute advertising spot on these shows costs thousands of dollars. Both of these individuals could have received more than the equivalent of that amount in free airtime to push their causes. Why would a well-prepared spokesperson for each cause turn down all this free airtime? The guests control their talking points—the idea is to get your message out.
One conservative activist said, “If a station is five watts, I’m there.” A spokesperson on the left said, “I won’t do single-station shows; I only get on syndicated shows.” Those two statements sum up the difference. Small stations and media outlets create a critical mass. Their audiences tend to be very loyal. They are impressed if a bigwig is willing to do an interview with the little guys. Be willing to go the extra mile and get on the air on small and large stations. If enough people with a minority viewpoint were willing to go on the air, all sides would be heard.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, the Kerry camp gave talk radio and television the short shrift and did not want to be seen on the Fox News Channel—even for a one-on-one interview with Alan Colmes. John Kerry gave interviews to MSNBC, and John Edwards went on Larry King Live, but both avoided Hannity and Colmes. These were the ratings:
John Kerry on MSNBC’s Hardball: 0.7 rating/610,000 viewers
John Edwards on CNN’s Larry King Live: 1.4 rating/1.267 million viewers
George Bush on Hannity and Colmes: 2.8 rating/2.44 million viewers
The Kerry campaign thought they were controlling the media by not appearing on Fox. Because, according to the Pew Center’s poll, half of Fox viewers are either independent or liberal, an opportunity was missed to speak to more than one million of their potential voters—more than if all the Larry King viewers were committed to voting for Kerry and Edwards!
One host inquired about having a well-known airline president on the air. The host was told that the president’s schedule was booked one year in advance. No one is that busy, not even the president of the United States.
A government official said, “We only do shows heard inside the beltway [the eight-lane interstate circling metro Washington, D.C.]. We like to hear our work.” What this official did not realize is that the radio show was simulcast on the Internet; it could have been heard within the beltway even though the host was hundreds of miles away. It can take as little as five minutes for a radio or Internet interview, and it can be done from anyplace—your home, office, or the car. A television interview, including makeup time, can take as little as a half hour once you are in the studio or at the remote location. And it is all free airtime; something the industry calls earned media. “It is also important to be radio active and ready to get going fast,” says Mark Pfeifle, former deputy communications director of the Republican National Committee. Willingness and a rapid-response team are key ingredients that contribute to the success of conservative issues and guests with talk media.