Five Steps To Creating Results
Some projects always seem to get good press. The Boston Natural Areas Fund has scored major coverage in recent years, and as a result built support for their two greenway projects they are working on. BNAF Executive Director Valerie Burns says that newspaper editorials play a key role in their press strategy.
“Editorials have showcased our issues, and considerably raised public awareness of our projects. We have found that they also help to put a decision in context. Editorials are usually read by politicians and community leaders, and they allow the writer to concentrate on making a philosophical argument for a project or idea, in terms of the larger role it might play in the development of the city. It is also easier to address policy issues in an editorial.
“For example, in one neighborhood where people were initially opposed to allowing the Neponset Greenway to run through their town, an editorial writer helped the selectman who was making the decision understand that it was not just about them. He wrote that the greenway fit into a larger picture that encompassed the metropolitan area around them, but included the selectman’s opinions in the piece, so as not to alienate him. We won that vote, in some part because that editorial was written and investigated well.
One note of caution. Because an editorial is typically short, it may not recognize all the partners involved, so it is important for the editorial to be only one part of a larger media strategy which should include press releases and other outreach techniques. If a public sector partner is involved in the project, I usually let their press staff to handle the press release and other traditional PR concerns. They have the staff and expertise to devote to these activities.”
Burns also noted that getting editorials written on your issues requires a basic set of principles, many of which are equally true for regular news stories.
1. Know your staff writers and what they like to write about. You also must know more than one writer, because you can have success pitching different stories to different writers if you understand what might interest them. For example, to cover a story on the opening of a community garden in an underserved neighborhood of Boston that doesn’t get much good press, Burns called a certain editorial writer who she knew had family from that part of town. After visiting the site himself and speaking to residents, the reporter wrote a piece calling on local authorities to pay more attention to this part of town.
2. Keep up on the paper’s editorials and understand what kinds of issues they typically address. In order to get editorials in a newspaper, it is first important to know what viewpoint that paper traditionally takes. In BNAF’s case, the Boston Globe editorial page is inclined to support her position, which is lucky. Boston’s second paper, the Herald, is not. As a result, the BNAF receive far less coverage there.
3. Give writers every opportunity to come out to the site and see it for themselves. This point, according to Valerie Burns, is critical. “Don’t underestimate editorial writers,” she said. “They are journalists who have probably been covering the city for a while, and as a result, they like to interview lots of different kinds of people, and they must see a place for themselves.”
4. Help writers to see the “opinion” in the piece. A good editorial can come from a variety of places, but you have to provide the “trigger.” For example, after a long struggle, a greenway that BNAF had been working on was holding its groundbreaking, suggesting a simple news story rather than an editorial. However, after talking to Burns, the paper wound up taking the point of view that the first one-half mile of trail was a great success, but it was only the initial piece of a much longer project, and grander vision for the city, which would need continual support.
5. Tell them all the sides of the story. Burns says she does not believe in hiding facts or opposing viewpoints from reporters. “They are real professionals,” she said, “and they can tell when you are hiding something, so I think its best if they hear it from me.”