Ever since our founding 20 years ago, the Institute for Justice has insisted on fighting each of our lawsuits in two courts: the court of law and the court of public opinion.
We have built a reputation not just as first-rate litigators, but also as excellent communicators. IJ attorneys and lawsuits have been featured in countless local, regional and national media outlets nationwide and beyond. We set the terms of debate on issue after issue in the nation’s top newspapers and broadcasts with a consistent approach featuring IJ spokespeople who are accurate, timely, positive, thorough and open. And our media team personalizes, humanizes and dramatizes every story we pitch.
Yet we realize that the media market is rapidly changing. Newspapers are closing, editorial boards are shrinking and reporters of all types are busier than ever. By contrast, blogs and online social media sites are experiencing exponential growth. IJ has strategically adjusted our media relations efforts to capitalize on these profound market changes.
As a result, our communications efforts continue to thrive. We still secure great coverage in prominent traditional media outlets—like The Economist, The Washington Post, Townhall.com and National Public Radio—but now we advance liberty in the online social media world, too.
Two IJ attorneys are regular Huffington Post bloggers. In the past year, IJ’s Facebook page has grown from fewer than 3,000 fans to more than 33,000. And we have one of the most popular nonprofit channels on YouTube.
We recently pioneered a new type of YouTube clip we call a “video op-ed.” Like traditional op-eds (akin to newspaper guest columns), these pieces present opportunities for IJ spokespeople to offer our insights and set the terms of debate on popular news stories. Unlike traditional op-eds, however, video op-eds are very quick to produce and publish ourselves by simply uploading them to our YouTube channel. We then promote each of these pieces to bloggers and allies across the philosophical spectrum, thereby maximizing their impact.
Video op-eds allow IJ to make a big impact in a short time. Consider IJ Senior Attorney Clark Neily’s video op-ed on Dale Smith. A former IJ law clerk notified us that Smith, an 82-year-old Oregon barber, had been shut down by bureaucrats in a classic case of occupational licensing abuse.
Within one day, IJ produced and uploaded a video op-ed to YouTube and had it embedded on several blogs, including Ed Morrissey’s popular site, HotAir.com. Within two days, we were contacted by Playboy magazine, which saw our video and wanted to give Dale Smith a special “Heffy Award”—an honor named after Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, which recognizes those who demonstrate spirit in their golden years. The local Oregon newspaper did a story on this angle and featured IJ. Within a week, our video op-ed had more than 14,000 views.
IJ’s media team will continue to evolve and capitalize on changes in the media market, but our basic strategy will always be the same. We will consistently make a compelling and positive case for liberty in the court of public opinion.
And one day soon, the Institute for Justice will be a household name.
Bob Ewing is IJ’s assistant director of communications.