CalBike & Collaborators Media Strategy for Three Feet for Safety

Above: Allan Crawford of Bikeable Communities created this short video for CalBike to illustrate just exactly how far three feet is.

If you'd prefer to listen to this post rather than read it please click here and look for our Pedal Love Podcast for "October 4, 2014" under "Why Media Matters."

In the middle of August I took on a new part time role as the Media Director for the California Bicycle Coalition just as CalBike was prepping to celebrate the Three Feet for Safety Act finally becoming law this past September 16th.

Authored by Assemblyman Stephen Bradley of Gardenia, California was the 24th state to enact this type of law and CalBike had worked for years to help make it happen.  The outreach campaign called I Give Three Feet was to educate both the media and the public and was a collaborative effort between Calbike, the Auto Club of California, the CHP and Calbike’s affiliate members.

We only had a short time to put together our strategy but even so we were delighted with the robust media coverage of the law taking effect. I’d like to share with you just what we put into play – which ideas and resources you can put into play for your own bike advocacy media outreach campaigns in the future. 

As of putting together this piece on October 3rd there were 9,900 “news” results when I googled in quotes “Three Feet for Safety Act + California + 2014” including links to 73 stories on newspaper websites, television stations and radio stations. (Note: This number seems to change by day but still the results are exciting).

For media outreach we basically split the state in two. The Auto Club of Southern California handled media outreach in the south in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition, and yours truly handling it in the North on behalf of CalBike with collaboration from the Auto Club of Northern California, San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, Sacramento Area Bike Advocates, Bike East Bay, People Power of Santa Cruz County, San Luis Obispo County Bicycle coalition and others.

Stories on the Three Feet Act appeared in newspapers not only across the state including an Associated Press story that went viral (but even ended up in a few others states like the Seattle Times and a mention a New York Times Op Ed piece). We received coverage in the major papers Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, the Sacramento Bee, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and the San Diego Union Tribune, sometimes more than one time.  

The law, CalBike’s team and coalition members were also featured on television news across the state on the major networks, popular radio programs from NPR stations like KQED San Francisco, Capitol Public Radio Sacramento, and KPCC Pasadena and even more conservative talk radio.

So here’s how we made it all happen:

1) Mid August I wrote the first press release in collaboration with Dave Snyder CalBike's Executive Editor – which gave an overview of the law going into effect, who authored it, and all of the collaborative partners. We also gave feedback to/shared details with the Auto Club of Southern California as they were prepping their press releases for both the Los Angeles and San Diego press conferences they would host.

2) We created a media outreach kit as a downloadable pdf to help CalBike’s affiliates and members across the state understand how to successfully reach out to and speak to the media on the Three Feet for Safety law.

3) On August 28th we hosted a free webinar for Calbike’s affiliates and members on how to successfully reach out to and speak to the media on the Three Feet for Safety Act a few weeks before the law went into effect (Note: normally I’d recommend doing this about a month and half in advance).

4) We put a media room up on CalBike’s website specifically for outreach materials and coverage of the Three Feet for Safety Act and the #IGiveThreeFeet campaign. You can find it at https://calbike.org/media-coverage-of-the-three-feet-for-safety-act/.

This room includes the downloadable media kit, a link to the actual law, artwork of the “I Give Three Feet” bumper stickers and window clings that are available to order, photo images and video that can be used to illustrate just what Three Feet looks like, our basic press release for the law going into effect and as the stories were placed I inserted links to various media stories across the state that feature Calbike or its affiliates in the piece. I also shared the dates and locations of the various press conferences that were being held by collaborators across the state.

5) As all of this was coming together and being made available I tweeted about it regularly with the hashtags #IGive3ft and #IGive3Feet - and the tweets were shared among CalBike's affiliate members across the state and beyond.

6) I expanded my Pedal Love media list to include those who had already covered the signing of the Three Feet for Safety Act being signed into law last year. This gave me a good idea which news outlets would cover the law going into effect favorably and which would feel the need to be more conflict oriented.

Yes, putting together good up to date media list is time consuming but this one reaped big rewards – and we are sharing this constantly updated list with our CalBike affiliate executive teams (and asking them to share media contacts we might have missed).

Note on media lists – some of the most powerful media contacts you can track down are for the newswire services like the Associated Press and Reuters. Why? Because if they pick up a story to write about it has the chance to go viral as our story did.

7) I set up a media briefing in Sacramento for 9/16 and invited our local affiliate and local area collaboration partners to participant in person or via conference call.

8) On September 3rd I began distributing our first release across the state. On September 11th I sent out the media briefing release focused on Northern California – which was interesting because I was actually at the Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place conference in Pittsburgh. Oh the miracle of a laptop and wifi! To add drama to the story as I was sending out the releases the conference hall began a fire drill asking everyone to leave the building...

9) I don't recommend you use your email newsletter program to set up your media list distribution. I know it feels like an easy and elegant way to handle things but it can get you into trouble with the strong permission based services and frankly many of your releases are going to simply go into the media’s spam folders.

My way takes time but it works. I use my basic email program (gmail) and send one release out to everyone at one media outlet that I want to know about the release. It might be the assignment editor and the reporter who covered a similar story in the past, sometimes it might be up to five people. Why? Courtesy. You don't want more than on reporter at an media outlet writing about a story without the other knowing. 

I paste the press release into the body of the email and use hyperlinks – but I do not send any attachments. Many media outlet email programs are set up to send anything with attachments directly to spam or trash – so don’t send attachments until you confirm it’s okay to.

Rather than setting up your media list in your email program consider setting it up in your email program by media outlet. 

10) The press calls for interviews began Thursday evening Pittsburgh time (late afternoon California time) including a call from the San Francisco NBC affiliate who was on deadline and spoke to Dave Snyder from the Pro Walk/Pro Bike: Pro Place closing party - again thank you technology and my smart phone! Another call from television news came while I was standing in line at the airport to fly home – and thankfully I was able to connect with Jim Brown (who was on vacation in Montana) who was able to connect with one of his boardmembers to appear on camera for an interview.

If you’re going to reach out to the press you have to make sure that they can get in touch with whoever on your outreach team is going to coordinate interviews whenever they need to. And know in advance you’re going to need to give them pertinent details again – and send the release again – because they move fast and furious, a different person than who you sent the release was assigned the story and so forth and so on.

You can download our media kit on the Three Feet for Safety media room – but the biggest point you need to remember when speaking to the press is to stay on message. It’s easy to get carried away in the excitement of having your story covered – don’t do it. And be prepared to keep your cool if the media outlet gets antagonistic. The more you rehearse your talking points (out loud in front of a mirror is great) the more fresh and articulate you’re going to sound.

Can you get misquoted? Yes, but you’ll have a much better chance of not getting misquoted if your message is super clear.

And the more those in bike advocacy sound like the voice of reason for safer streets for everyone, the better chance we have of winning new friends, allies and advocates to our cause for a bike-friendly world. Even if the media outlet is antagonistic you can end up being the hero of the piece.

11) It would be wonderful if all one had to do is to write a press release, distribute it broadly and then sit back and wait for the calls. Unfortunately that’s not how it’s done if you want to get strong story placements. In many cases you need to also pick up the phone and reach out to the media you’re interested in connecting with as well.

To be ready for this create a 15-30 message – you can use this whether you get an answering machine or you get an actual person. Again the more you’ve memorized your message the tighter and clearer you’ll sound. Pick up the phone unprepared and you’re going to ramble and not be compelling.

In closing – the media might tell you no and then turn around a few days later and tell you yes. I followed up via phone call with the Associated Press after I sent out the media briefing release and was told by the person who answered the phone that they were not at all interested in covering Three Feet for Safety. A few days later at the end of the day another person called back frantic saying he had nothing on this story and needed the release right away. Had I already sent it to him? Yep. Did I send it right away again? Yep.

12) In closing remember the media are people, people you can create great rapport and relationships with. It won’t always get your story placed, or exactly as you want it, but creating good respectful rapport will go far in creating an ongoing successful media placement strategy. To download our media kit, learn more about the Three Feet for Safety Law going into effect, and many of the media placements featuring CalBike and its affiliate members go to: https://calbike.org/media-coverage-of-the-three-feet-for-safety-act/