It happens after almost every all-candidates night whenever individuals are battling it out to become an area’s MP or MPP in Canada. The combatants look at media coverage and start measuring how much print space or air time they received.

It’s guaranteed that at least one candidate will be crying foul. “Candidate A got more space than me!” one will argue to an editor. “It’s not fair!”

The complainant’s verdict is always the same: the media is guilty of bias. Sure, there may be instances when the media gets it wrong, but usually, fault rests with the candidate(s). The error always stems from the same gaffe: the candidate had no communications plan heading into the event.

Well, OK, there was a plan. But it was pathetic. It involved reciting party platforms and reading from a brochure. Categorize that approach as a #fail.

Candidates must realize one important fact. Journalists go into an all-candidates event looking for a newsworthy story angle. They are seeking a hook. Journalists aren’t seeking to write stories that recite policies and content contained in a brochure.

Two important facts about why a communications plan is critical:

  • Journalists are like spam filters: They will sort the crap from the good. Only the good stuff gets through the filter and stands a chance of being tweeted, read on the web, on paper, or on the air.
  • Social media users are constantly filtering what you say: It’s not just journalists who will be filtering the event. Your audience will be tweeting away. And guess what? They don’t tweet everything. Usually they tweet what matters. You absolutely must be thinking in Twitter mode too — short, snappy phrases that are easily tweetable!

Candidates who think like journalists and prepare accordingly will stand a far greater chance of capturing headlines. tweets and prominence in media reporting.

The biggest mistake a candidate can make is assuming that coverage of all-candidates nights must be fair and balanced. It’s not. Just like the event itself where candidates try to win over an audience, it’s also a competition for media attention and audience tweets. The best plan often wins the greater coverage.