September 24, 2017

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Using monitoring to help run a grassroots advocacy PR campaign

Using monitoring to help run a grassroots advocacy PR campaign

Community relations PR work and grassroots public affairs PR campaigns can be significantly enhanced by using media monitoring. While it’s easy to identify the news and information benefits monitoring can provide to these types of outreach, PR pros often stop there. However, by just spending a bit more time during setup of a monitoring tool, it can be used to design an outreach strategy, refine plans, and provide post-campaign analysis—all in addition to the standard issue tracking that would typically be conducted using a monitoring tool.

Research and background

Community relations and grassroots public affairs work usually have a primary goal in common: the need to foster or develop a strong relationship with the public within a designated area. The goals can be varied: sometimes a company needs to reach out to a locality to explain the need for something like physically expanding a headquarters that could interrupt the normal course of business and traffic in the surrounding area for an extended period. Or, a grassroots issues campaign could seek to build support for a potentially controversial measure, like the construction of a new professional sports facility.

Doing solid research involves identifying who key players in the region are and developing a list of those who might be willing to support your cause.

Campaign planning and strategy

Once you have identified probable supporters, you can use monitoring to see what these individuals and groups are currently promoting in the media. You might identify areas of common ground in unexpected places—these can be good outreach bridges.

You should also use monitoring to pay attention other projects, programs, and proposals happening in the community. It is important to know what other issues are being promoted by other companies or organizations, because those efforts could have an impact on the outcome of your proposal or issue.

Knowing what is going on in the region—and even statewide—is important as you plan out your PR program strategy. For example, if a state budget is so tight that core services like public safety and education are being cut statewide, that will directly affect your messaging and strategy.

You should also use your monitoring tool to identify potential coalition partners. Establishing a broad coalition of organizations and individuals who are active locally who lend their support to the effort will enhance your reach and demonstrate that the goals of your program are in the community’s best interests.

Outreach and execution

Media relations work will be important to your success in any community or grassroots efforts. Use media monitoring to get to know and understand who the reporters are who work the local beats relevant to your campaign. You’ll likely have several journalists and reporters who are responsible for covering different aspects of the local scene for each paper, television, and radio station, so make sure that your monitoring tool is set up to capture all of the relevant outlets. Don’t overlook the local weeklies, or even college papers if the city or town is home to a large college or university.

Once you have identified who your media outreach targets are, research their previous work. Examine columns they have written, and review past television coverage. Take note of any interviews that highlight your issues, or issues that are similar to the ones your campaign may touch on—including who was interviewed, how the interview went (was coverage positive or negative?), and any other relevant factors.

During the execution phase of your PR program, media monitoring will likely be used in its traditional role: to track and monitor what is being said about the campaign in progress. Set up email alerts during the campaign, so that you can respond quickly to any issues that might arise, and make sure that you have someone reviewing clips daily, to track if your key messages are resonating, or to determine if there are parts of the community that might need more outreach or contact to build support.

You should also keep track of letters-to-the-editor and opinion editorials. As a campaign progresses, messages may need to be refined to address any complaints or criticisms that might surface; tracking coverage and doing ongoing analysis is the primary means of determining what might need to be adjusted.

Post-campaign analysis

If the initiative was a ballot measure or a similar campaign with a “hard” end date, you should use your monitoring tool to do a post-campaign analysis. Whether it was a win or a loss, factors that should be examined are:

  • The amount of coverage, both positive and negative, that was published or broadcast over the course of the campaign;
  • An analysis of the coverage by outlet (e.g., total coverage from the local daily paper or papers, total coverage from major TV stations in the region, any radio coverage, local blog coverage);
  • An analysis of the coverage by journalist or reporters;
  • Message resonance—how often in coverage were key messages repeated, and how those messages were characterized in the coverage;
  • Any key turning points in the effort, such as receiving a positive endorsement that got extensive coverage—or, conversely, any negative claims that received a lot of coverage—and look at the impact this had on the overall effort.

Doing a post-campaign analysis can be helpful for future efforts, or to see how effectively campaign resources were managed.

Ongoing efforts

If the outcome of the campaign was a success, in many cases this means that community outreach efforts have just begun. While the objective has shifted from reaching a specific campaign goal, you will need to maintain public support to see the project through to completion. For something like a construction project, this means ongoing communications to keep the community informed and updated, especially during times when there might be significant disruptions. Construction noise, dust and debris, traffic headaches, and other annoyances could quickly erode public support for a project if they are not managed effectively.

Most of this type of communications effort is done through media relations, but don’t rely solely on the local media to get your messaging out. For a project that will affect a community in this fashion, it would be smart to set up a website and use social channels to update community members on the progress of a program, alerting them directly to any possible disruptions to their days well ahead of time. Maintain contact with community leaders who supported your effort—they can continue to be advocates and assist with disseminating information to citizens in the area.

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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for just over 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR work, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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