While your Blue Trail can gain important publicity from having a spokesperson quoted in the newspaper or interviewed on the evening news, the true power of the media is its ability to affect change. An effective media campaign can educate the general public, inspire citizens to act, pressure decision-makers to do the right thing, and draw public attention to the importance of your issues and goals.
Before developing a media campaign, you should carefully identify your campaign objective. What do you want to achieve? Your objective may be to connect people to their river so they will be more likely to conserve it, to enhance your community’s economy, to promote better health, to improve general quality of life for your community, or all of the above. Your objective will guide your media campaign.
Identify a target audience: Once you have defined your objective, identify the audience you are trying to reach. Individuals in a position to help you achieve your objective are your “primary targets.” Primary targets may be local decision-makers, business owners, civic leaders, or local or state government entities. Then identify your “secondary targets,” the people who can influence your primary targets. Secondary targets may include constituents of an elected official, paddlers, anglers, or private landowners.
Your media strategy should include efforts to educate your secondary targets about the benefits and opportunities for your Blue Trail. The ultimate goal of this education is to inspire these constituents to support your Blue Trail and encourage others to support it as well
Develop a message: Once you know your objective and have identified your target audience, develop a strong message that will connect you with your audience. Your message is the thought or idea you want your target audience to remember and act upon.
A good message:
- Is clear and simple
- Is consistent throughout your media campaign
- Encourages your target audience to take action
- Communicates the problem and solution in matter-of-fact language
- Is easy to understand by someone who’s not familiar with your project
- Avoids jargon, acronyms, and complicated terms
To help develop your message, identify the one or two points you would want your target audience to remember after reading or hearing about your community’s Blue Trail. Then incorporate the values you share with your primary and secondary targets into those points. Perhaps you share concerns about protecting the riverbank from poorly planned development. Framing your message around themes that reflect values held by your target audience will help you connect with them.
Your media campaign should have one main message that is consistent throughout your campaign and among all spokespeople. Because your overall message typically will be too wordy and cover too many issues to be quoted in the media, you should distill that message into a sound bite to get your message into the news.
Create a sound bite: A sound bite distills your message into a brief and memorable statement that is instantly understandable even to someone unfamiliar with your project. It should accurately capture the essential message you want to communicate. Because it is the statement most likely to get quoted, you should also make sure that your sound bite is on message.
A sound bite should not provide context or detail. To the contrary, a good sound bite will be stripped of context and qualification. In a newspaper article or broadcast, the report will provide the context. In a press release, you can provide the context in paragraphs following your sound bite. In an interview, you can follow your sound bite with the context and facts that support your message.
Develop a media strategy
Your media strategy should identify when you will attempt to get your message into the media to reach your target audiences and who will be your spokesperson. Ideally, this strategy will take advantage of both opportunistic and strategic media to deliver your message in as many ways and as many times as possible.
Opportunistic media will take advantage of news created by other parties to deliver your message. Taking advantage of opportunistic media often will require an ability to respond rapidly to news events about which you may have little advance knowledge.
Strategic media is when you create your own newsworthy events to promote media coverage of your message. For example, you could issue a news release or hold a press conference on the day you dedicate your Blue Trail. Strategic media allows you to control your message and the timing of your media efforts.
A key element of strategic media is to make your media activity newsworthy. To determine the newsworthiness of your activity you should evaluate whether it creates a news hook that will compel a reporter to write a story about the activity right away.
Three elements that give news a “hook:”
- Timeliness: By definition, news must be something that is new
- Proximity: Stories that are closest to the reader will have the greatest affect
- Relevance: News that applies to a reader’s life will be most interesting to the reader
You don’t always have to generate new information to generate news. You may be able to creatively repackage existing information to make it newsworthy, or you could send your message with unusual or nontraditional allies such as birdwatchers flocking to your Blue Trail. A joint announcement by recreational users, businesses, environmentalists, and civic leaders supporting the Blue Trail could generate media because these groups typically may not join forces in these ways.
You may be able to enhance the newsworthiness of your announcement by tying it into something else that is going on in the world of potential readers (within the government, on television, or in the community where they live).