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We’re excited to share some tips and tricks for SCOTUS media planning with you. But before you read on, be sure you’ve already checked out Part One of our SCOTUS Media Checklist!
The months are flying by, and you’re (hopefully) implementing your communication strategy, seizing (or creating) big moments to get your perspective in the news, and telling a powerful story about what’s at stake on Decision Day.
Speaking of Decision Day—planning for in-person rallies or press events at the court, as well as just prepping for the moment a ruling comes down in general (that can be…a bit unpredictable) is a whole process in and of itself. So here’s Part Two of our checklist:
Plan for your presence at the court.
Optics matter, and you can bet there will be reporters aplenty doing live shots and photographers snapping photos galore on big days like oral argument and when a decision comes down. You don’t want your supporters to be missing from that moment—or worse, for only your opponents to have a visible presence.
If you are planning a big rally, here are some logistics to keep in mind:
- Don’t forget about permits. The sidewalk in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on First Street NE is open to the public, but you won’t be able to plan events in the actual plaza space. If you’re planning a march on the Capitol grounds, or want to hold an event anywhere else near the Supreme Court and Capitol complex, check in with the U.S. Capitol Police at least two weeks in advance (but really, as far in advance as possible) to secure a permit.
- Coordinate colors and signage. If your coalition has a logo or catchphrase (think “Love Wins”) then make sure you’re printing out signage and banners that supporters can have on-hand at the court. Encourage folks to wear one common color (for marriage equality in 2013, we wore red)—it creates a sense of solidarity amongst supporters at the court and creates a powerful image for cameras.
- Think through tech needs. If you’re having a press event and want to make sure reporters can use the audio in their coverage, rent or borrow some of the essentials: a podium, mic, speakers, and a mult box. Otherwise, your speakers may be drowned out by the sounds of the city.
- Prep rally attendees to engage with the media and the opposition. If you’re putting on a press event, no doubt you’re already a pro at prepping the speakers and making sure they’re on message. But in an open and uncontrolled setting like the steps of the court, where reporters are roaming freely and seeking out interviews with attendees, you want every one of your supporters prepped as well. Consider creating small palm cards that have your top three to four message points (one sentence each) on them, so attendees have a sense of the messaging you’re using. Depending on the strength of your opposition, you also may want to have a designated number of volunteers in the crowd trained in nonviolence and de-escalation tactics, so they can help defuse any tense situations that may arise between people.
Have a Decision Day plan.
You’ll be furiously refreshing SCOTUSblog every time a possible Decision Day rolls around, and when you see court reporter and all-around SCOTUS extraordinaire Amy Howe declare “We have a decision in X v Y…”, you need to be ready to move. Here are a few essential components of any Decision Day plan:
- Have a clear chain of command. Identify every person (usually a few lawyers and comms people) who will huddle to fully dissect and understand the ruling before you issue any press statements.
- Have as many draft materials ready to go as possible. We described in Part One how important it is to create a roadmap for various possible outcomes, and by Decision Day you should have draft materials for each of those scenarios prepped and ready to go. Just make sure you don’t push any of them out until you get clarity from the group tasked with analyzing the ruling. While that review happens, consider a quick holding statement for social media like “The Supreme Court just ruled, and we’re digging into the decision right now. We’ll let you know what it all means ASAP…”
- Ensure your spokespeople are trained in the various messaging scenarios, and hold a quick prep session if time allows. You should work with your top spokespeople in advance of a ruling to ensure they’re comfortable talking through each of your messaging scenarios. If there’s time when a ruling comes down, consider holding a quick prep call for any who can join. One comms person should lead this call, but also have a lawyer on who can help explain the likely legal nuance. Use this time together to make sure folks understand your topline messaging, and reiterate how they can pivot away from questions we’re not yet ready to answer (e.g. “Well Peter, I’m not a lawyer, but what I can tell you is…”).
- Get to the court—or a central community location. Again, assuming it’s safe to do so. If your case is one of the big ones—abortion or gun safety, for example—it’s a safe bet that every single network will be live outside of the court after the ruling. If your ruling is coming down in May or June, and you have the staff capacity, consider having a comms person stationed outside the court every single Decision Day, so you already have a person on the ground ready to go the second the ruling comes down.
If you’re not in DC (like…the vast majority of Americans), identify a gathering place ahead of time where supporters can rally once a decision comes down—maybe it’s a large park, city hall, a community center—and let your supporters (and the media!) know that’s where you’ll be. Supreme Court rulings impact Americans in every single state, and local media absolutely will want to get the local perspective. But even if you’re not in DC, many of the same rules still apply—you’ll want your supporters to be hoisting signs and banners with your message and wearing a common color, and you’ll want to make sure you have all your tech and AV bases covered. Also consider connecting virtually with fellow advocates in other states and even at the court in DC, via streaming platforms like FB Live.
After a decision comes down, it’s time to…keep working. We hate to say it, because Decision Day is often the culmination of months (if not years) of tireless prep work. But now that a decision has been reached, it’s time to communicate about the implications of the ruling—what comes next, what are we doing about it, and how will this impact our communities?
Have you worked on major SCOTUS media efforts before, and have ideas for things that really worked well? (Or, hey…things you tried and wouldn’t recommend doing again!) We love nerding out about big media campaigns that garner attention and make a difference, and would love to hear about your SCOTUS experiences—or even brainstorm with you if you’re working on something that may come before the court in the years ahead. Reach out to Dan to talk more about this!
Dan Rafter loves rolling up his sleeves to design big campaigns for causes that deserve the media spotlight. When he’s not working, he’s desperately attempting to make a dent in the growing backlog of books on his shelf (his success rate here is decidedly mixed.) You can find him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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