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Texas Politics - Interest Groups
Jack Gullahorn discusses the impact of communications strategies. Jack Gullahorn discusses the impact of communications strategies.
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grass roots
6.4    Media Campaigns

Coverage in mass media such as television, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet helps interest groups communicate their message to a broad audience that includes both the general public and government decision makers.

A common element in the media campaigns of well funded interest groups is paid advertising, which ranges from television spots to billboards, and even to sponsoring local little league teams. In the intense struggle over deregulation of local phone service, telecom giants SBC and AT&T spent tens of millions of dollars on paid advertising.

Prior to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, telecom advertising in Texas was generally apolitical and focused on the product, much like advertising for cars, toothpaste, and fast food. But with deregulation, telecom advertising campaigns took on more political overtones. In the new paid advertising both SBC and AT&T trumpeted the virtues of deregulation and competition, while charging each other with anti-competitive, anti-consumer, and anti-employee practices. The emphasis on competition might have been exaggerated, given that the two rivals would later merge in 2005.

The two titans also resorted to associations, coalitions, and other proxies that the public might not connect with either corporation. However, SBC's advocacy advertising typically has run as part of its brand advertising. AT&T, on the other hand, has more heavily relied on proxies for its advocacy campaigns.

While advocacy advertising alone is expensive and of dubious informational or persuasive value, it does raise general awareness of specific issues. But advocacy campaigns - whether by powerful corporations or local grass roots organizations - involve much more than paid advertising. Interest groups seeking public attention often attempt to earn coverage from the news media by turning their policy positions into events that may attract journalists' attention. Print or broadcast media offers the ability to reach a large number of people quickly and helps set the agenda for new policy initiatives. These campaigns may target multiple audiences - for example, both the general public and members of government.

Successfully "placing a story in the media" also may help confer legitimacy on your issue. Groups with limited funding may be able to obtain "free" or "earned" media coverage - in contrast to paid political advertising - in an attempt to offset the advantages of groups that can afford to buy advertising. Of course, nothing stops well-funded groups from using their resources to earn such media coverage too.

Media personnel - such as reporters, producers, and news directors - need certain things from any group they may cover. First and foremost, they need to know that you and your group are legitimate and professional, with a real constituency. There is a lot of competition for coverage, and like public officials, they want to work only with serious people. Media personnel work under extreme time and cost pressures. So, anything you can do to lower their costs and raise the benefits to them of covering your story will help. This might include identifying sources and conducting other background research, providing press releases and photos, summarizing issues, and providing a list of subject matter experts with phone numbers. Remember, you're competing for coverage not only with your opponents on an issue, but with groups campaigning for completely unrelated issues and other non-political news.

In addition to using the mass media (television, radio and newspapers) a group might consider using the Internet. Documents created to support mass media campaigns can be distributed through a group's Web site and posted on public bulletin boards. Group members can also participate in online chats to help disseminate information and persuade others to support the cause. Various kinds of groups also use Web sites to host blogs, which enable members to communicate directly with each other, share information, and debate issues relevant to their interests.

Texas Politics:
© 2009, Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services
University of Texas at Austin
3rd Edition - Revision 115
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