What newspapers can learn from public relations pros
The Inlander/December 2013
Nearly every editor can likely relate to this phone call: “Hi, I’m in charge of publicity for the Lions Club. I’ve been asked to contact you about a story to promote our upcoming rib fest.” You insert the organization and the event.
Civic clubs place a priority on finding someone to handle their publicity. It works as newsrooms play close attention to the role these organizations play in a community’s quality of life. Taking the appropriate steps to plan an event is an important ingredient to ensuring success.
Communications plans are standard procedure as organizations plan and promote events. A plan begins with marketing attendance, continues with promoting coverage and finishes with evaluation and follow-up. To-do lists identify the person responsible and dates the task should be completed. The bigger the project, the more extensive the plan using a variety of media platforms.
It’s a lesson well worth remembering for newsrooms as you plan coverage for recurring events and special projects alike. Think about it for a moment. How often do you plan your publicity – your coverage – of any number of events or issues in your newspaper?
Elections underscore the importance of communications plans. Coverage of the months-long campaign season, more so than many of the other things that newspapers do, is scrutinized by readers. The seemingly unending season is chaotic by nature, but brainstorming and putting a plan on paper will help bring some structure. All aspects should be addressed from candidate announcements and letters to the editor to editorial endorsements and analysis of vote totals. The better your organization, the easier it will be to handle the unexpected circumstances, which are certain to arise.
Most to-do lists likely focus on your print edition, but there’s so much more to consider in today’s multimedia platforms. Social media must play a prominent role in communications if you are to reach and remain relevant to all your audiences.
Overall, newsrooms typically gear up for the “big” projects. But don’t forget about the things you do day in and day out. For example:
Governmental bodies: Meetings typically are listed in calendars, and reporters dutifully attend meetings and file stories. Other elements can add value to your coverage. Are key agenda items highlighted in the calendar, and, when warranted, preview stories written on issues that deserve extra attention and participation from readers? Do you have a regular hashtag for different governmental bodies so policy-makers and readers can join the conversation – discussions that can be continued between meetings? Are there segments that can be recorded and posted on your web site? Are reports presented that can be posted in their entirety on the web? What about identifying key constituencies that may be affected by an agenda item and invite them to write a guest blog – either as a preview or follow-up to the meeting?
High school sports: Sports calendars and game reports are standard fare, but consider other items that can broaden and promote your coverage. Do you preview key match-ups in upcoming contests? Do you select an athlete of the week and write an accompanying profile? Have you considered webcasts for specific contests? Do you tweet scores or play-by-play? Why not invite readers to submit nominations for the play and/or player of the game – find an advertiser to sponsor the feature and offer a prize to the winner? Do you have multiple photos that you don’t use in print? Put them in an online photo gallery and sell prints.
Newsrooms are a natural starting point to draft the initial outline for event or issue coverage. But communications plans will not be complete – will not fulfill your companywide objectives – unless all departments participate. Is there an opportunity to generate advertising support? What about a special circulation promotion?
It’s an excellent practice for editors to regularly share calendars and invite representatives from other departments to help brainstorm coverage. You’ll likely benefit from fresh perspectives plus it may prompt ideas for other valuable newsroom initiatives.
The same goes with readers. Share key elements of communications plans in a column, especially when you are launching a major news project or when readers raise questions about newspaper operations and policies. Readers may respond with feedback that can strengthen your reports, plus it will help them understand the hows and whys of news coverage. That’s a win-win proposition for your newspaper and your readers.