A common element among all successful changeouts is a strong public awareness program that galvanizes support for the campaign, shows how it will benefit participants and clearly communicates how they can get involved.
As is true with all public education campaigns, successfully raising community awareness starts with a plan. The overall action plan that you develop with your coalition partners should include a communications component to guide for your public awareness efforts. The communications section of your action plan should include some or all of the following components:
Continue referring to your communications plan as the campaign unfolds and fine tune it to reflect new opportunities, changes in plans or fresh ideas that emerge.
Earned media refers to visibility you are able to generate for your changeout in local newspapers, TV and radio newscasts, and local online portals. News coverage is important for your changeout because it tells your story to residents through local print and broadcast media they already count on as trusted information sources. Additionally, earned media allows you to reach large groups of people for little or no cost.
Media outreach should have an instrumental role in your efforts to build support and awareness for your changeout. You have an interesting story to tell, one that will have positive impact on the community. By packaging your story for maximum news value and developing relationships with reporters who can cover it, your program can gain widespread visibility in print and broadcast media before and during your changeout. Read on to learn about the tools and tactics used to generate media coverage.
Media coverage does not just happen by itself. If you want reporters to do stories on your changeout, you need to make them aware of it and why it matters to their readers, listeners and viewers. As you begin reaching out to reporters, there are three critical rules to remember:
- Find the local angle. The single most important consideration when reporters and editors are considering a potential story is how much direct relevance it has to their community.
- Be mindful of deadlines. Media work on tight deadlines, so always promptly return their calls and respond to their requests. Never call a newsroom late in the afternoon when they are filing stories or doing evening newscasts. Make your calls brief and to the point.
- Remember that reporters and editors are people too. They will always respond best when you are polite, responsive, and offer to call back if they sound busy.
Here are the media outreach tools and tactics you can use in your public awareness campaign, some of which are also included in the sample materials section of this tool kit. Be sure that your contact information is included on all of the material you send to the media.
- Media list – All of the newspapers, TV and radio stations, and news bureaus in your area should be compiled into one centralized list that allows you to efficiently reach them by phone, e-mail, fax or regular mail. If possible, try to identify specific individuals to receive material, but if your time is limited, direct communication to the assignment desk.
- Media advisory – If you are pitching the media to cover an event or interview one of your changeout organizers, a one-page who/what/when/where/why advisory provides them with a straightforward look at the opportunity you are offering and why it is newsworthy. Click here to see a sample media advisory.
- News release – When you make an announcement, hold an event or reach a significant milestone in your changeout, a news release is the preferred method for delivering the information. Written in the style of a newspaper story, a release includes a headline, who/what/when/where/why opening paragraph, and quotes from key changeout organizers and supporters. Click here to see a sample news release.
- Press kit – For reporters who want detailed information on your changeout, a press kit provides a more in-depth look at your program with additional material such as topical fact sheets, past releases, reprints of news stories, bios of organizers and photographs. Increasingly, organizations are using web-based press kits, although hard copy versions are still useful handouts for media as well as community leaders and interested citizens.
- Pitch/follow-up calls – There is no substitute for personal contact when you are trying to interest reporters in covering your story. Any announcement, event or news-making opportunity should be supported by a strong pitch/follow-up calling effort. Don’t be shy. Assignment editors and reporters spend considerable time on the phone, and taking calls about possible stories is an integral part of the job.
- Tailored pitches – In your written and phone pitches to reporters, make sure your pitch is tailored to their beat. For example, a health reporter will be most interested in how a changeout might reduce the number of asthma cases in the community, whereas a business reporter is more likely to want to hear about potential economic or environmental impact.
- Interviews – Offering an articulate, well-informed spokesperson is a key component to generating media coverage. Also make sure that there is a hearth industry expert on hand from the industry who can speak to technical issues.
- Visuals – When planning an event or an announcement, always try to provide interesting visuals to help tell your story both in print and on television. Examples might be a comparison between emissions from chimneys with certified and uncertified stoves, or at a junkyard where a dump truck is dropping off dirty old stoves to be recycled. HPBA affiliates may be able to help with examples and samples.
- Backgrounders – There may be times when you do not have breaking news to announce but just want to familiarize key reporters with your program. One-on-one desk-side briefings with reporters (in their office) or roundtables with small groups can provide you with that opportunity, particularly in the early planning stages of your changeout when they need educating.
- Editorials – Every newspaper has an editorial page where issues of the day are debated from a variety of viewpoints, including op-eds (which are opinion pieces written by members of the public) from credible outside parties. If you have a unique point of view you can offer on a local air quality, public health or environmental issue that can wrap in a reference to your changeout, there may be potential from someone from your coalition to byline an editorial. Letters to the editor are another way to offer your views on the editorial page.
The timing and frequency of your press activities is important. Too little communication with very short notice will result in low program participation. Communicating too early or too frequently can result in your audience forgetting about the event or the media tuning you out because you have asked them to do too many stories.
An ideal pattern for the story would include:
- A press conference announcing the formation of the coalition and providing an explanation of the issue along with the future dates for the changeout.
- Periodic press releases providing updates on developments such as new coalition members, participants and details.
- Hold a press conference and/or issue a press release with final details, dates and how to participate about one week out from the beginning of the changeout dates.
If you are making an announcement of particular significance or want to demonstrate various products and technologies in your changeout, news conferences and special events offer potential for significant media coverage. Here are some tips to follow that will maximize your chances of success.
- Build in plenty of lead time for planning and pitching. When you decide to have an event, ideally you should build in at least six to eight weeks of lead time to secure a location, plan the agenda, recruit speakers, send advisories and make pitch calls to media, develop handout materials, and ensure turnout by other community leaders you want to attend.
- Avoid scheduling news conferences on weekends and Mondays. Many news outlets operate with skeleton staffs on weekends, while Monday events can be hampered by communications breakdowns between weekend and weekday news crews. Mid-morning is the optimal time, so it is not too early yet gives reporters all afternoon to write their stories.
- Select a convenient location with an interesting visual backdrop. Media do not like to travel long distances to get to events. They also are more likely to attend events in locations that reinforce the story line, which in the case of a changeout might be a junkyard with piles of disabled old stoves, or in a neighborhood that has chimneys emitting smoke from both certified and uncertified stoves.
- Link event to seasonal trends, news cycles and other community happenings. Examples of themes for a changeout news conference or special event might include holding it on Earth Day to emphasize environmental benefits, or tying an announcement to high heating costs. You can also make your event part of something larger such as a festival or a county fair. Local fire departments often host Fall Safe Fire Campaigns that can be leveraged.
- Keep list of speakers and length of their remarks brief. Your program should be focused with a clear agenda that makes three to five primary points rather than trying to cover too much ground. Try to keep the event to no more than a half hour.
- Strive for an interesting photo-op. The media is much more likely to do a story if there is an interesting accompanying picture, whether it is for newspaper photo or visuals for TV.
- Make sure there is a staffed sign-in table. When you have media and VIPs register at a sign-in table, it allows you to record everyone who attends for future reference, and you can provide them with handout materials. The sign-in table also serves as a focal point where attendees can go to ask questions and speakers can be escorted to their places.
- Follow up after the event. If your event is well-attended and successful, chances are you will make new contacts in the local media and with other community leaders. As appropriate, get back in touch to thank them for coming, and encourage them to support your changeout. This follow-up, particularly a personal note, will help cement your relationship with them.
Media outreach will be an instrumental part of your public awareness program, but there are other ways you can raise the profile of your changeout. Here are just a few low cost/no cost ways you can supplement the exposure you gain through media coverage.
- Speeches – Community groups such as the chamber of commerce, the Rotary club and various civic associations have regular meetings and are always looking for guest speakers to talk about local issues.
- Community events – Festivals, county fairs and other community events often have areas where groups can hand out materials and set up exhibits to educate citizens.
- Leverage advertising/direct mail – If you or your fellow coalition members are already conducting advertising and/or direct mail for your businesses, you may be able to incorporate information about the changeout in your ads, even if it is just to provide the coalition’s web site address.
- Web links – If your changeout coalition has a web site, be sure to ask other coalition members with web sites to add a link to your site from theirs.
The final step in your changeout program should measure success against the original, community-specific goals. Here are some ideas:
- Quantify the number of changeouts completed
- Track media coverage
- Monitor traffic to the coalition web site
- Obtain feedback from changeout participants using surveys
- If possible, measure improvements in your community’s air quality
Ideally, you should identify metrics for judging success when developing your project plan. Setting baseline numbers to improve against is helpful. Also, be sure to generate a post-campaign report. This report will serve many functions in the future. It will:
- Act as an official record of your campaign’s performance for you to keep and others to review as they form their own programs.
- Provide documentation to funding providers of your campaign’s success.
- Provide the background of your previous success when requesting future funding.
- Document both successful elements of your campaign and lessons learned. (Contents would include retailers that were involved, contacts at Agencies, media pickup, etc.)