Getting Terri's message out: Making the most of the opportunity

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As one of over 200 bloggers writing to support Terri Schiavo's right to receive food and water, despite her physical handicaps, I appreciate the hard work of the organizers of Blogs for Terri. I admire their efforts to think outside the box -- to find some creative way to break through the fog of mainstream media misconceptions about Terri's condition, to help Floridians understand what is really going on, so that they can apply pressure on all branches of Florida government to see that justice is done. What I'm about to say is offered in the spirit of constructive criticism.

I was pleased to see the effort to place a newspaper ad in the St. Petersburg Times, the daily paper in Pinellas County, where Terri is being warehoused by her husband. The purpose of the ad was to put out the truth about Terri and direct readers to online resources where they could get the details. I was pleased to see that the fundraising effort succeeded. I was disappointed to hear of the Times' threats to censor the ad, but happy to learn that the Tampa Tribune agreed to run it as is.

But when I saw the ad, my heart sank. As I thought about it, I started to think about the problem in a different way, which pointed to an entirely different approach.

Here's the ad. Don't try to read it -- just look at it, the way it might catch your eye as you're reading the paper. See if you can guess why it disturbed me.

Tampa Tribune ad for Terri Schiavo

If you're skimming the paper, you are going to skim right past a dense block of text with no headline, no pictures, and no variation in font. You have no reason to believe that the information in this box has any relevance or interest to you. For all you know or care, it's a legal notice about a zoning change.

This thought hit me: "This is a classic mistake of political novices." You focus on the words, and you cram in as many as possible, which does you absolutely no good if something doesn't compel the reader to look at it and then decide to read it. I made that mistake during my first City Council campaign, and while I improved during the second campaign, my mail pieces were still far too wordy and lacking in visual interest. They drill it into you at candidate seminars -- your campaign mail piece has only the 10 seconds between the mailbox and the wastebasket to make an impression. I've been involved in enough campaigns to have seen both very effective and practically useless efforts to reach voters.

That thought led to this one: Terri's situation requires the application of political strategy. The goal is not simply to inform the public, but to stir them to take action. In a campaign, the action is to vote. In this case, we want Floridians to lobby public officials to help Terri. Next, because you've got a budget, you've got to decide whom to target -- who will be easiest to stir to action. Then you've got to figure out which media to use to reach your target audience most effectively -- possibilities include direct mail, direct phone, radio ads, newspaper ads. A series of 30 second spots during national radio talk shows might produce a far better response than spending the same amount of money on another newspaper ad. Finally, whatever medium you use, the message has to be compelling enough that your target audience will pay attention and then follow through.

This is a job for political consultants. At the very least, if there's going to be another newspaper ad, a consultant who specializes in designing campaign literature needs to put it together, so that it will be eyecatching and will get the key information across in the few seconds that a reader will give it his attention. Better still, have a campaign consultant design a media campaign that will have the best chance of producing the desired response.

There are bound to be some solid conservative consultants based in Florida who know exactly how to reach pro-life voters and stir them to action. One or more of them need to step forward and offer to work with Blogs for Terri to help make it happen.

(Almost forgot: Here's a link to a larger image of the ad that ran in the Tampa Tribune.)


Guest said:

Bates: "There are bound to be some solid conservative consultants based in Florida who know exactly how to reach pro-life voters and stir them to action."

Oh, no doubt. Lean heavily on the edited videos.

I have a question: if your motivation is religious, why do you want to keep this poor woman locked into this less than half-life on Earth? Why not let her go?

(I could just as well ask the other side: if she is brain-dead, what's the difference if Terri's parents want to keep a simulacrum of her alive?)

Terri Schaivo's cerebral cortex is almost completely destroyed. This is the thin layer of brain tissue responsible for conscious thought, memory, sensory perception and personality.

To quote the court, "Unless an act of God, a true miracle, were to recreate her brain, Theresa will always remain in an unconscious, reflexive state, totally dependent upon others to feed her and care for her most private needs."

To the political right, Terri is no more than a football to be moved down the field in support of their dear "right-to-life" issue, then spiked and forgotten.

Richard said:

Two comments in one.

To "guest" in the above comment who failed to use his or her name, Terri's plight has nothing to do with a "right-to-life or right-to-die issue, rather, it has to do with the right of any disabled person, regardless how sick or infirmed, to be provided the most basic of human necessities - food and water. If we can't care for the "least productive" among us, we as a people have in fact failed as a people.

Yet, Terri is not unconscious, she responds to her parents and visitors that she knows, including health care workers that have been close to her, and she tries desparately to communicate. She has been denied all forms of stimuli and rehabilitation for years, yet remarkably, has actually become more responsive on her "good" days. If we are going to make a huge mistake, don't you think that we should err on the side of caution and on the most basic right of all of us - to simply be cared for and loved?

Now as to the ad. The ad was suppose to have the BlogsforTerri banner across the top and the content itself actually came from the Schinler's media center. Although we would have much prefered to have a spicier and more succinct ad, we were having to attempt to get as much info out as possible to counteract the massive media misconceptions in the SPT an the Tampa Tribune. At least the Tribune ran the ad, although owing to the very last minute (literally) change when we yanked it from the SPT, there was no time to get a proof and all the emphasis was lacking when it went to press. The next ad goes into USA Today, will be smaller (3 3/4 X 7), will be more succinct, and will have a picture of Terri (black and white since coloer is $3,000 more).

Although the Tribune (originally St. Pete Times) ad was lengthy and not perfect, it got read and helped to correct press "outright lies" that have been floating around for some time.

It was experts that we approached before and it was then determined to get the fire hydrant out in terms of info. The USA Today is a different audience and a different approach. With the first ad we had to let the press know that the real info was out there and that people were going to get it if they didn't print it. That message is begining to resonate, we were interviewed by the New York Times over the weekend.

We do appreciate the constructive criticism though and ask that it keep coming. That helps all of us to help Terri. As for disappointment in the first ad, we are right in line with you, but with no time to have a proof and with an emergency message to get it, we decided to run with it. As it turned out, it helped to dispel the "head job" that the SPT did on Terri in their editorial the very next day in Pinellas County, Fla., center of the death crowd.

Greatest of respect and appreciation for all that you bloggers are doing,
Richard at BlogsForTerri

Richard said:

Just one additional comment. We are always open to extra professional help. If there are media consultant bloggers or pro-bono consultants willing to get involved, join in, just contact us at BlogsForTerri. We work directly with the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation and between us bloggers and the Foundation, we can always always always use the help.

Again, greatest respect and appreciation,

W said:

Yup, that ad is just about worthless. People won't read the thing because they'll think it's a legal notice or lawsuit or some other eye-glazing missive. Too bad all that money was pretty much wasted.

I'm afraid it's too late for Terri Shiavo for a more political campaign. It should be a lesson to all of us; If you state your wishes for euthanasia, get it in writing.

Jan said:

Just a comment to "W": what if you don't state your wishes for euthanasia? According to the Florida courts, that means your spouse can decide to deprive you of food and water and watch you die a slow death. THAT is the issue. Until now, most people thought you would naturally recieve food and water unless you specifically stated IN WRITING that you agree to have such things withheld. Now comes Mr. Schiavo claiming a right to starve her to death. If she had been allowed therapy, she would likely be able to swallow today, but he deprived her of that, too. So, this lesson to all of us would be: if you don't want to be starved to death by the state, put it in writing and hand it out to as many people as possible.

Richard, thanks for commenting and thanks for all the diligent work you are doing to help Terri. I appreciate the clarification on the effect on the format of the ad of the last minute switch to the Tribune. I can see how that could happen. I'm happy to hear it got some response. I do hope that some political and media consultants will pitch in. I think the question needs to be asked -- will a USA Today ad be the most effective way to spend $20,000 to help Terri's cause?

I'll respond to the other comments in a separate blog entry.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 1, 2005 11:40 PM.

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