Public Involvement Techniques
1.C.g - Media Strategies
What are media strategies?
Media strategies inform customers about projects and programs
through newspapers, radio, television and videos, billboards, posters
and variable message signs, mass mailings of brochures or newsletters,
and distribution of fliers. Working with the media, an agency takes
an active role in disseminating information. For example, the San
Francisco areas annual "Beat the Backup" program
during California Rideshare Week promotes ridesharing in partnership
with a full range of the media.
Media strategies take a variety of forms. The simplest examples
are fliers about projects within a corridor (a targeted market area)
or variable message signs on highways that inform motorists (a targeted
market) of delays ahead or of alternate routes. (See Public
Information Materials.) Promotional brochures are used in direct
mail campaigns oras in Portland, Mainethrough a full-size
newspaper supplement explaining the regional transportation plan.
Briefing reporters and editorial boards of both newspaper and broadcast
media with in-depth background on a project or program prepares
them to analyze an agencys approach and report on aspects
of an issue in an even-handed way. (See Briefings.)
In New Jersey, media executives were briefed on high-occupancy vehicle
HOV lane proposals at the outset of planning for the project.
Why are they useful?
An agency proactively frames the message, rather than allowing
the media to do it. Framing the message takes thought and attention
about all aspects of a program or process. Media strategies are
routinely incorporated into projects that need public focus, consensus,
and understanding in order to move forward. In Idaho, the Department
of Transportation uses video to introduce programs to the public
and to provide news stories accompanying press releases.
Effective media strategies deliver a uniform message to
alleviate the spread of misinformation that often becomes a barrier
to understanding or implementation. Strategies can be styled to
meet varying levels of interest. For Seattles regional transit
plan, a detailed program of media coverage was integrated with other
forms of community outreach.
Many people rely heavily on the media for information about
events, plans, or projects that affect them. The media are an important
resource for people who have little time to attend meetings or participate
in public involvement activities.
Do they have special uses?
Media coverage helps generate interest in a project or program.
In any program, the critical first step is to develop a central
message addressing such questions as: What is the plan or project?
What does the public need to know in order to participate effectively?
Who is the audience? Once these questions have been addressed, the
specific media to carry the message are defined—the kinds of
media that will best serve the need of encouraging public participation.
The media disseminate information widely. This includes
informing and educating the public via major articles and profiles
on television and in print as well as eye-catching ads to supplement
the more formal, required legal notices. Specific transportation
projects typically reach out to community residents along the affected
corridor, to interest groups, and to municipal officials. A media
strategy for these kinds of projects involves many activities. For
example, in Washington, D.C., a media program to encourage ridesharing
ranges from mall banners and decals for shop windows to an education
program in elementary schools called "Its Cool to Pool."
Cable television is particularly useful as a tool for getting
the word out. It is much cheaper than paid network advertising and
has a more local flavor. Public access channels often videotape
public meetings and other forums and play them repeatedly over a
period of time. (See Video Techniques.)
In addition, local cable channels have news programs, guest editorials,
and interviews where project issues can be highlighted. For assurance
of broad outreach to people who do not watch cable channels, programming
on regular stations and networks is an effective alternative.
Who participates? And how?
Stakeholders and agencies often cooperate in a media program
for a project. Civic advisory committees or other community representatives
help identify the best way to get the word out. (See Civic
Advisory Committees.) As individuals directly affected by a
particular project or program, or through past experience, they
may know the best way to reach the public. Agencies use community
residents as part of speakers bureaus that send representatives
out to promote a project at meetings of organizations such as Rotary
or Lions Clubs and chambers of commerce.
How do agencies use the output?
Agencies monitor reactions to a media plan. Random surveys
test market penetration and determine whether the message is meeting
a targeted population.
A media plan elicits community responses. Mass mailings
can include simple questionnaires to be returned to the agency.
(See Public Opinion Surveys.)
A television presentation can suggest that reactions be mailed to
the agency. On two-way talk shows, agency staff interact with community
callers to answer questions directly. As programs and projects evolve
and progress, media activities are adjusted to reflect their status
and to introduce new information.
The key is to put together a plan that informs and educates
the public by delivering the central message, no matter which type
or types of media strategies are identified.
Who leads media strategies?
Media strategies are led by agency staff, either the staff
members most closely identified with the project or the public affairs
officer. The involvement of local people is particularly important
to a successful media campaign. Community input and feedback help
to "take the pulse" of a program to be sure the media
chosen are appropriate and effective.
What do media strategies cost?
Because media strategies are often expensive, they must be used
carefully and efficiently. A minimum strategy includes a central
message, perhaps contained in a basic press kit with maps, fact
sheets, and other background information, supplemented by a media
tour of the project site. Complex projects call for a more elaborate
strategy. For example, in New Jersey a strategic media plan was
developed for outreach to print and electronic media to support
the long-range transportation plan.
Time involved is often substantial over the life of a project
or program. Some strategies are relatively low-cost. Briefings with
editorial boards of both print and electronic media, as well as
regular low-key contact with reporters and other media staff, are
low-cost ways to deliver a message. (See Briefings.)
A public service announcement is usually a low-cost activity.
Costs rise with the kind of media used. A television/radio
or newspaper campaign can be costly, involving air time and production/printing
costs. Costs vary by project complexity and length. There are low,
moderate, and high levels of investment for utilizing the media.
Depending on the needs of the project, a media strategy ranges from
relatively simple placards or videos to a high-profile media campaign
involving radio and television ads in prime time.
Although costs of a paid media campaign are high, the investment
pays off, particularly when:
- An agency wants to guarantee that an announcement, information,
or meeting date is published or broadcast;
- An audience probably will not be reached in any other way,
or maximum exposure is needed;
- An agency wants a say in the placement of the material; for
example, requesting a certain page location for a paid ad or a
certain time slot for radio/television;
- A map, graphic, logo, slogan, or written material needs to
be shown in a certain format or with a certain design that identifies
the project or plan;
- An agency wants to assure that its message goes out exactly
as written—paid advertising is not edited;
- The media are likely to give an agency better free coverage
if it is already known as a paying client.
How are they organized?
Media strategies should be comprehensive. Strategies need
to be evaluated as they are being assembled and after implementation.
Questions to ask include:
- Breadth of techniques to use—How many and what kind of
techniques are appropriate?
- Effectiveness—How many people were reached and how did
they react to particular media?
- Ease of implementation—How easy or difficult is it for
the agency to implement the various elements? Is an outside consultant
- Cost—What are the cost-effective benefits in view of constrained
How do they relate to other techniques?
Media strategies are used in conjunction with other techniques.
For example, televising civic advisory committee meetings enhances
the participation process by giving it a wider audience. (See Civic
Advisory Committees.) Results of brainstorming, visioning, charrettes,
and community surveys can be reported in the media. (See Brainstorming;
Public Opinion Surveys.)
News stories can promote a telephone hot line for answering questions.
(See Hotlines.) A
visioning process in Atlanta included televised town hall meetings,
newspaper editorials, and a six-newspaper survey of public opinion
that produced 10,000 responses.
Are they flexible?
Media strategies are extremely flexible. A wide range of
techniques is used, depending on the project, its budget, and the
complexity of the message. In Los Angeles, a commuter newsletter
bulletin was prepared for widespread distribution to inform commuters
about ride options and programs.
Preparation and monitoring is crucial. Advance work is essential
for staff to prepare the overall program and central message and
to identify the targeted audience. In New York, for example, a range
of media has been designed to promote the new HOV lane on the Long
Island Expressway: a video on ridesharing for businesses to use
at their companies; posters in the workplace on carpools and vanpools;
local cable channels for advertising spots; and variable message
signs along the corridor. All these target a specific audience—either
residents or employers in the corridor or daily expressway users.
What are the drawbacks?
Media outlets may outpace an agency by looking for a scoop
and framing the message without agency or community input. Public
agencies have little control over stories before publication or
broadcast. Agencies frequently spend valuable resources to explain
a message or to try to reshape public opinion rather than framing
the message in the first place.
Media strategies take a high level of commitment sustained
over time to be successful. Strategic planning starts at the outset
of a project with the development of a detailed central message.
When are they most effective?
Media strategies should be developed early and sustained
over time. In this way, the public is well-informed and aware from
the beginning, thus enhancing the public participation process and
creating greater opportunity for successful implementation of the
project or program.
For further information:
|Central Puget Sound
Regional Transit Authority, Seattle, Washington
|Idaho Department of
|New Jersey Department
of Transportation, Communications
|Rides (Commuter Services),
San Francisco, California
|Washington, D.C., Council
of Governments Ride-finders Network
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For more information about the TPCB program, contact Michelle
at FHWA (202-366-9206) or John Sprowls
at FTA (202-366-5362).