One month to one week before the action

1. Decide what person or persons will be in charge of media strategy. The benefits of consensus aside, it is nearly impossible to write a press release, focus on a key sound bite, contact key reporters, or accomplish any other media tasks by committee. So empower a media team to make these decisions, and let them do their jobs without second-guessing and micro-managing.

The most logical makeup of the media team is a media coordinator, an action coordinator and the lead campaigner. During the action itself, each of these people will likely be stationed at a point where they can serve as media spokespersons. If the media coordinator is to be stationed at the action site, you need one more member of the team: Someone to stay in an office and work the fax machine (unless you have on-site fax capability).

2. Settle on one simple message. Accept it: You’re not going to be able to communicate all the points, sub-points and shades of gray about the issue you’d like to. An action is like a freeway billboard, designed to hammer home one – and almost always only one – message. If you can’t focus on one issue that’s the main reason you’re doing the action, you shouldn’t be doing the action at all.

3. Choose a strong image that clearly communicates the message. Remember the freeway billboard: With one glance it is (or should be) unmistakable what product or idea is being sold. Ideally, your action should communicate the message without any words of explanation – and always in as few as possible.

If you find yourself saying, “They’ll understand it when they read the banner,” your image isn’t clear enough. But the banner, which will probably contain language very similar to the sound bite, must also be capable of communicating the message on its own. You may not pull off the image; or you may not get the banner up; each, therefore, has to be able to stand alone.

4. Craft sound bites that communicate the message and enhance the image. Assemble the media team. Take out a legal pad. Lock the door. Throw out short, simple, declarative sentences that express your message. (Remember: The average soundbite on U.S. TV is less than 10 seconds.) Write them down. Stay in the room until you have five that might work. From five, choose three. From three, choose one. Shape and refine it until it’s as close to perfect as hard work and creativity can make it.

5. Choose a date and hour for the action that will maximize your chances for coverage.

Sometimes you have to do an action when it is possible to do it, or when it’s safe to do it. But if circumstances permit you to choose the date and time, make your choices with the media’s convenience in mind. Again, there’s no formula, but there are some general rules of thumb:

Morning is better than afternoon. Almost no event short of a major catastrophe gets covered on the evening news, or in the next morning’s paper, if it occurs after 3 p.m.

Monday through Thursday are the best days, and Monday’s best of all, because the later you go in the week, the greater the chance that some other big story will come along and blow you off the news map. Avoid Friday (lowest TV viewership Friday night; lowest newspaper readership Saturday morning; lots of competing news.). Saturday and Sunday are also not the best, because news outlets operate with skeleton crews on weekends.

Combining the above guidelines, we arrive at the theoretical best time for a hypothetical action: 10:30 a.m. on Monday, after news crews have reported to work for the day, but before they’ve got other stories going.

But that’s assuming your action occurs in a news vacuum, which it won’t. Try to time the action so that it either anticipates or responds to an event the media will recognize as a story – “the news peg.” If the President plans to sign the bill you’re protesting on Thursday, do your action on Wednesday.

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