Media Relations and Outreach
The local media play an influential role in every community. When you tap into their resources effectively, they can serve as powerful vehicles for outreach. Working with them as a method to inform and persuade the public can aid your efforts to advocate for fire prevention. For example, you can communicate a variety of messages, such as:
- Fire dangers for high-risk occupancies and individuals
- The full scope of fire loss
- The cascading impact on a community when fire strikes
- The benefits of effective prevention measures
- The importance of local leaders working to advocate for prevention
Similarly, you may be able to change attitudes and behaviors. For example, well thought out media placements can help your audiences understand:
- Personal and collective roles in community fire safety
- The importance of strong leadership in prevention efforts
- The need to invest in local fire prevention
These examples show how important it is to follow a media strategy that supports the goals and objectives of your campaign and to develop a good plan to carry out that strategy.
This section provides baseline media outreach guidance. Resources for more detailed guidance are at the end of this section.
Develop an effective media strategy
Ignore the old (incorrect) adage “any publicity is good publicity.” Instead, be deliberate in your prevention advocacy media outreach strategy and efforts:
- Make strong contacts within the media, and work to keep them strong and effective.
- Develop accurate, relevant content for media distribution.
- Follow your plan so your media outreach is timely and strategic.
- Hone your communications skills in order to effectively convey your key messages via the media outlets available to you.
Your local media can help you meet your objectives by reaching a large audience with your messages and by keeping your topics in the public eye. A good media strategy can achieve a steady stream of coverage that is relevant to your target audience.
1. Identify your audience.
Determine who you want to reach and tailor your strategy accordingly.
2. Develop a sound media plan.
Think about the best ways to get your story out. Make sure that your media outreach is relevant to the audience(s) you have identified. If you want voters to understand the role that local funding plays in fire prevention, you’ll want to target media that reaches adults. Should you refine your outreach further? Perhaps you want to target older adults, parents of young children, or people with disabilities in particular?
Consider if and how editorial outreach might help you. Is news coverage most effective? Or should you also try to get opinion pieces published? Can you “piggyback” your points on another, related story? How can case studies and testimonials work in your favor? (Please see the Real Life Stories as Inspiration section)
Decide what you want to achieve through media interaction. Are you trying to inform? Persuade? Change behavior? Perhaps a combination of these? To be effective, you must know what you want to achieve before you begin media outreach.
Decide how you will convey information through the media and on what schedule. Tip: Less is more. Plan to interact with the media only when you have useful information to share.
3. Develop appropriate media relations tools.
These might include background information, case studies, fact sheets, news releases, and media advisories.
4. Determine who should be your spokesperson or spokespeople.
Make sure they have clearance to represent the department and are prepared and comfortable with their role. Confirm that they understand your media plan, have your talking points and know the goals of your campaign.
5. Evaluate the effectiveness of your media strategy.
What constitutes success? Is your goal to increase news coverage about fire losses? Increase awareness of the need for more prevention activities? To persuade constituents to support municipal funding for prevention? Before you begin media outreach you should know which measures would help you meet your goals and objectives.
6. Obtain benchmarks.
For example, if your goal is to increase news coverage, do some research to determine how often fire stories have appeared in the news and set a goal for increasing that level of coverage. If your goal is to change the way the local media cover fire stories, determine what’s been the norm and how you’d like it to improve.
7. Compare your results to the benchmarks.
Measure your success in three- to six-month intervals. If you are not seeing the change(s) that you wanted, you may need to modify your outreach efforts.