Monday, May 31, 2010

What questions about PR should a city official ask?

Let me focus on media relations, since that is what I know best. Despite the rise of the Internet, blogs, Twitter, etc., the majority of people still get their news about local government from the mass media.

A city official needs to keep in mind that writing news stories about government is not easy. It’s even more important for officials in smaller communities. Most reporters get their start in small towns, which means that they are less experienced than the ones on national newspapers. (As an aside, there was a columnist in USA Today yesterday who offered advice on how to get coverage in a local newspaper. I’d hesitate to recommend his advice to any business in the Wood River Valley.)

But back to the question. Think about how much you knew about government finance when you graduated from college. Then think about sitting through a city budget hearing and trying to unravel the complexities of general tax revenues, general obligation bonds, revenue bonds, tax increment financing for redevelopment districts, etc., etc. Picture yourself sitting through a three-hour meeting on these subjects, and then having an hour to write a comprehensible story.

So if you want accurate media coverage on a complex topic, take the time to write a background press release and give it to reporters, preferably in advance. If you have time to give reporters a briefing before the meeting, that’s even better. You obviously don’t know what will happen at the meeting, but you can be sure that the reporters at least understand the discussion.

This is good advice for private citizens making presentations to public agencies as well. If you have a press release summarizing your statements and can meet with the appropriate reporters in advance, you’re much more likely to get accurate coverage.

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