National Partnership for Reinventing Government
Planning Guide for Hammer Award Outreach to Local Media
To Hammer Award Recipients and/or their colleagues:
Exciting opportunities exist to get positive media coverage for Hammer Awards and for public employees in general. Being that most Hammer Awards are local in scope they carry clout in the local community. They often tell the story of how public employees are transforming government forever -- saving tax payers money while operating more efficiently. We at NPR encourage you to tell this wonderful story over and over again via the newspapers, radio stations, Internet and television stations. Remember the American public is often unaware of how much the average public employee does to make government work better and cost less. Now is your chance to make this happen.
For those of you who do not have experience working with the media or need a quick refresher, here's a quick guide on how to spark media interest in your good news.
Vice President Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government
P.S. Remember to share your information with us. Email a press release, story and/or any other relevant information you have regarding your reinvention to firstname.lastname@example.org. We too, would love to share your wonderful story with others.
Prior to Getting Started
Assign one person in your location to be the media coordinator/contact to coordinate press activities. This person will have the primary responsibility of dealing with reporters and their assignment editors. This will include pitching the story and/or event to the media as well as follow-up conversations that may be required.
Identifying Types of Media
We are dealing with newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, and the Internet. They produce products designed to appeal to certain audiences.
Understanding What News Is
The audience of each news organization affects how news is defined. To the editor of a small community newspaper, a Hammer Award can be big news. Reporters gather information from many sources, selecting only the information that they believe is of interest to their audience.
Reaching out to the media is far easier than most people think. It does require planning and it does require time. It also is very worthwhile.
Gather statistical information on the total amount of money saved by the Hammer Award so that you can show a real savings to taxpayers and information on what prompted the development of this innovation. This information can be very important when trying to convince the local media to carry your story. Decide what you want your community to know about your Hammer Award and your reinvention activities. Make sure that people hear your message. A consistent message can give your plan much more power.
After talking with key people at the various outlets, choose the ones you plan to use and develop a timeline for submission of stories, calendars, etc.
Once you make media contacts, you need to keep them alive. Stay in touch throughout the year with items of interest. Let them know that stories about reinvention are newsworthy. An occasional thank-you note to a reporter or a letter to the editor won't hurt either. Journalists like to know their work is read and/or heard and appreciated!
- Develop a list of all the local possible media outlets. Local newspapers, radio or TV talk shows, the Internet or billboards all have good potential. You may want to talk to the editor of the local paper, the manager of the radio station, or the producer of a cable television talk show and/or the webmaster of your community's homepage before you decide which outlets will be the most effective for your message.
- Some tips for using the various media outlets follow this section.
- Keep a file of good quotes and action photos. You never know when you might need them in a hurry. We live in the age of the sound bite and visual image. To be effective, you need to capture the attention of your readers or listeners in the first few seconds.
Using Various Mediums of Communications
- There are many ways to get your story into the newspaper. The key is to be creative and persistent.
- Keep your story suggestions short and to the point. Use facts and figures but don't forget the human interest angle.
- Use plain English. Avoid government jargon, technical terms and acronyms like the plague.
- Be prepared when you suggest a story. Have the information at hand. If you don't know the answer to a question, find out, but don't guess.
- Think pictures. Suggest good photo opportunities whenever possible.
- Prepare a story about the Hammer Award and those who've made it happen, and send them to the press, allowing for a lead time of one month. Use them in your own agency publications as well.
- Develop a list of "Facts and Figures", if possible, on the surprising and unique contributions of the innovation and send to local newspapers and agency/department newsletters.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspapers about the importance of what your agency is doing to rebuild a government to better serve America through innovative programs.
- Invite the press to each of your activities having to do with the Hammer Award.
- Have your event(s) listed in the event calendar of newspapers, television and radio stations, and the local community homepage.
Even major metropolitan areas have a community newspaper that often is a more effective communication tool than a paper with a national focus. Read through several days' papers to see where your message can be expressed most effectively. Business, metro and city sections are all good possibilities. Look for the names of key reporters for each section. These are the people you want to contact. This is where it pays to do your homework. You can make a persuasive argument about why your story or event should be covered if you are armed with the facts. Whether you meet with a reporter in person or over the phone, you'll need to convince them that the story you have to tell will warrant their time and their editorial space. Find out the best way to contact them with story information and their deadlines. The best story in the world won't do reporters any good if their deadline is passed.
These are key places to list your event if you want the community to attend. The reason most often given for unsuccessful outreach efforts is lack of publicity. Find out what the deadlines are and if you can submit photos with your listing. Be sure your date, time and location are clearly stated.
In-house newsletters or monthly magazines by and for public employees are often overlooked outreach opportunities. You can include an article that emphasizes the importance of the Hammer Award and your reinvention activities, salute the outstanding employees in the innovation, or highlight your event. Contact the editor about deadlines and potential story ideas.
Radio and Television Coverage
Local radio and TV stations are also good outlets for information about public employees. Again, it is important to do your homework. Does the station offer a community news segment or talk show that might offer an outlet for your message? Call the stations in your area and learn the names of the news director, the assignment editor, and the contact person for public service announcements. Is there a "drive-time" segment on a radio station that is willing to interview one or more of your employees about their accomplishments? Call and find out who you should contact about scheduling. You may find that there is a station interested in doing a remote broadcast from your event site. Just as you do with the print media, you should start early developing your electronic media contacts.
Most cable TV companies must offer a public access station. Possibilities may exist for producing your own program by and about public employees. Many public access programs are also more interested in promoting community activities.
Public Service Announcements
PSAs are short information items that usually announce events or provide educational information of interest to the public. They are usually offered to radio or TV stations, but can also be offered to the print media. If a station agrees to use a PSA, it is at no cost to you. They will usually schedule the PSA to run periodically for a week or other given period. Every station has different format requirements for the PSAs they will accept. Some stations take written PSAs and have their own announcers read them on the air. Others require broadcast quality tape. Find out from the station which format they prefer. Again, if you are advertising a special event, be sure the date, time and location are correct. Your community access station may assist you in the development and recording or your PSAs.
Other Ideas for Media Coverage
- Arrange for a photographer to be at your event(s). Give copies of the photos to your public affairs office and local newspapers.
- Publicize plans to your own employees through computer bulletin boards, posters, flyers and tent cards.
Preparing for Media Interviews
- Many cable access channels have video bulletin boards. Ask if they will run a message about your Hammer Award.
- Ask radio stations to broadcast live from your event. Arrange for the Hammer Award recipients to appear on talk shows. For example the employees from the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service and the United States Post Office in Monroe, Louisiana appeared on the GOOD MORNING SHOW at KNOE TV to promote public service during Public Service Recognition Week.
- Target non-English publications and stations.
- FAX "reminders" of your events to radio stations early in the morning (5 a.m.) to capitalize on the morning commute time
We've given you a lot of information about media relations. You don't have to do everything at once. If you haven't been involved with the media in the past, decide what you're comfortable doing. The important thing is to do something. Starting small is better than doing nothing!
Many of the ideas and concepts of this guide were obtained from the Public Employees Roundtable's "How to Celebrate Public Service Recognition Week". Many thanks to this organization for their willingness to share their resources in the spirit of partnership with NPR.