Successful media strategies for activists, organizers, and underground hip-hop artists

By Ashahed M. Muhammad -Asst. Editor- | Last updated: Jul 16, 2012 - 6:34:38 PM

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( - To all energetic organizers, activists, and underground hip-hop artists: Alternative media can be a force multiplier, if you use it correctly. You have to have a strategy, a consistent message, and it can’t be ego driven just to get your name in headlines.

A strategy for the “mainstream” media is different because they are headline driven, focusing more on personalities and sensationalism. Most ego driven activists, politicians, preachers, entertainers etc., think that’s where it’s at. It may satisfy the ego, and get your face recognized, but if you want to get your ideas out, it is not optimum.

At minimum, a real media marketing strategy takes thousands of dollars. Most lack financial resources to truly saturate the airwaves, but even if you do have dollars for advertising, are you making smart use of those resources?

Think about it: Presidential candidates and those vying for other political offices spend MILLIONS to get their word out, but even with all of that, you never really know what they stand for. You remember their slogans and their faces. You may THINK you know what they stand for, but if questioned on their policies and voting records, you probably recall very little.

We also have the same issue with many artists and entertainers. Some make it a habit of saying wildly provocative things about anything and everything, or doing something outrageous in order to make headlines and keep their names in the news.  It’s impact is temporary.

Then, as it relates to the ego-driven activists, preachers etc., I mentioned earlier. They may be successful in getting on the news for about 30 seconds on a slow news day, but how many times have you seen only short video snippets aired of a press conference, rally or march voiced over by the field reporter or the news commentator instead of the words of the actual speakers?

There was a time when news reports were loss leaders and considered more of a public service aimed at bringing more viewers to the station in order to expose them to additional programming. Those days are done. Network news stations and Cable news stations are after revenue just like everyone else. If your issue doesn’t carry with it commercial value, it will be tough to get on for any meaningful amount of time.  

Why would a national news program give time to an activist speaking out against a policy or about injustice when having Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian on for a minute brings a legion of eyeballs and possible sponsorship dollars and commercial revenue? And don’t forget the added benefit of their loyal Twitter followers (Bieber-24 million, Kardashian-15.1 million) wildly typing on their smartphones and tablets: “OMG! Turn to channel (you name it) they are on right now!”

The old saying: “If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense” exists as an empirical truth in this case.

If you consider hiring a “specialist” in marketing and/or public relations, the first thing they should ask you is “What’s your message?” then “What audience are your trying to reach?” If their first thing is telling you how massive their e-mail list is, then you can end the meeting right there because what you are actually dealing with is an internet version of a telemarketer. They are playing a numbers game, not focused on a specific marketing and public relations strategy to meet your needs.

There’s no shortage of “specialists” eager to take the hard-earned money of your organization, entertainer or client in order to feather their nests with a “shot-in-the dark” strategy yielding results considered minimal at best.

You are an organizer, or activist, an artist with an important message that needs to be viewed and heard yet facing challenges. No problem, it just means you have to be more creative. Next time, I’ll share strategies that can assist anyone in using alternative media to spread ideas and grow your movement.

(Ashahed M. Muhammad’s blog “Take Another Look” and column by the same name are widely read. Follow him on Twitter @AshahedM.)