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Creating a Media Strategy
In order to put together a media plan, you need to think about a few things:
- Audiences: who are you trying to reach?
- Media: what kind of media do the people you're trying to reach pay attention to?
- Messages: what are the main points you want to get across in any news coverage?
- Spokespeople: who will be effective at getting your message heard by the people you're trying to reach?
- News and calendar: what kinds of information do you have, or events you can create, which will interest the media and let you keep placing stories or spokespeople in print or on the air?
Who's your audience and how can you reach them? Creating a media list.
You should have a good idea of the audiences you are trying to reach. Start by taking stock of all the media in your area that can reach members of your intended audiences.
Your media list will include "mainstream media" – such as the daily paper and local TV stations – as well as weeklies like neighborhood papers and papers targeted to specific audiences such as African Americans or Latinos.
What radio stations are most popular in your target communities, and what kind of local news or community affairs programs might interview your spokespeople?
Don't forget the Internet; most areas now have websites and bloggers that cover community affairs and local politics. Many of them have influential audiences, which include mainstream journalists.
Once you've made a list of all the outlets you want to reach, figure out the key people you need to reach.
If you or organizations in your coalition don't already have contacts in the media, you can build your own list. Start by including people who you would like to cover your campaign: columnists and reporters who cover local issues, reporters who have already written about the census, producers for local television and radio news, news anchors and reporters who cover public affairs locally.
Find out who covers your area for Associated Press and introduce yourself. You can call news organizations to get names of assignment editors and find out whether someone has been assigned to the census "beat." Also think about all the issues that the accuracy of the census count will affect – like schools and health care and the state or city budget – and make note of journalists who cover those issues.
You will want to have a handful of spokespeople who can convincingly communicate and reinforce your campaign messages. Your spokespeople should be:
- Considered credible and trustworthy by you, the media, and your audience;
- Willing to be team players and stick to your campaign plan and messages;
- Have experience working with media or are willing to spend some time practicing and learning how to do it well; and
- Willing to commit time to appearing at public events or talking with reporters.
In addition to leaders of organizations that make up your local coalition, effective spokespeople might include a well-known religious figure or a trusted elected official. Since getting an accurate census count should not be seen as a controversial issue – there shouldn't be many people opposed to getting an accurate count – you ought to be able to interest people, who might not normally get involved in issue campaigns.
Try to include people who might not normally be seen as allies – a union official and a business leader, religious leaders from different faiths or denominations, or political figures from different political parties. Think about identifying "real people" who work for, or are served by, local organizations whose funding will be influenced by the census count – teachers, nurses, etc.
If you aren't sure who might be the best spokespeople, talk to people who are part of your target audiences and ask them which local voices they trust.
Make a list of the people you would most like to have on your communications team and send them a letter explaining the goals of the campaign and the role that you would like them to play. Follow up with a phone call from someone in your local coalition's leadership group – ideally someone who has a personal connection to the spokesperson you are seeking.
Be clear about what you are asking for and what would be expected of them, such as:
- Appearing at a press conference launching your campaign or another campaign events;
- Being interviewed by local media about the campaign;
- Lending their name, image, and voice to campaign materials.
Get agreement on your main messages
The materials in this toolkit include suggested messages designed to explain quickly and clearly why it's important for people to be sure they're counted in the census. Your overall message should be positive and empowering, even as you want people to understand that there's a lot to lose if they aren't counted.
Use the messaging materials as a starting point, and tailor them with specific messages that will get the attention of people in your community. Local messages could include:
- Information about well-respected local projects or agencies supported by state or federal dollars whose future support could depend on census data;
- Specific local challenges to an accurate count your communities might face, such as high foreclosure rates, large immigrant communities, lack of trust for government officials;
- The Federal or state funding that could be lost to your community by each uncounted person (see chart in resources section).
Think about the kind of news you can make
Think about campaign milestones, activities, or events that the media can cover. Among the possible topics for news coverage could be:
- The creation of a local coalition or Complete Count Committee;
- The launch of an outreach campaign targeting a specific neighborhood or group of people;
- The addition of new, "high touch" campaign spokespeople;
- A story focused on a particular part of your coalition, such as churches and other religious organizations reaching out to their members;
- The approach of deadlines or important steps in the timeline (For example, as the end of the year approaches, encourage newspapers to write about the census as one of the most important events that will take place in 2010. With just a month to go before census forms start arriving in the mail, local groups are stepping up their outreach, etc.).
- Profiles of local activists who got engaged in voter registration or turnout efforts in last year's elections who are now turning their organizing energies to the census campaign – it's always good to put a human face on a story.
Keep in mind that the Census Bureau's paid advertising campaigns will begin in January and February 2010 and will grow in March, the time when most people will be getting and filling out their census forms. That's when you'll want to generate maximum media attention, but you can help build awareness, and build relationships with journalists, starting now.