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The Planet

In The Headlines

The Planet, December 1995, Volume 2, number 9

by Jean Freedberg Director of Communications

Just because this column is titled "In The Headlines" doesn't mean that any old headline in any old outlet will do, or that any news is good news for the Sierra Club. Getting your story into the newspapers or radio and television outlets you want is one of the best strategies for effective press work. In fact, targeted, strategic press work is what underlies any good communications plan.

That's why we are developing a comprehensive plan for the Sierra Club that incorporates the key strategic elements of message, audience, outlets and resources. In plain English, any media plan should answer the following four simple -- but often overlooked -- questions: What do you want to say? To whom? Through what medium? What resources do you have available?

All too often, we think that the purpose of our media work is to get the word out to anyone who will listen. But what about when you wanted the environmental reporter from a particular newspaper or the local National Public Radio reporter to pick up your story -- and the only reporters who showed up to your press conference were from some small radio station and the weekly shopper that nobody reads. Your efforts might have been more effective had you made one or two calls to the reporters you wanted at your event and faxed them some materials -- all from your desk!

Targeting your outlets, thinking about specific reporters' needs and building personal relationships with them will produce better results with less effort.

At the national level, gone are the days when every press release went to every reporter on our list. We maintain big lists, but we rarely send out anything to more than 500 people at once. Instead, we focus on targeted "media markets."

A media market is usually defined as an area (most commonly metropolitan) served by the same media outlets. For example, New York is the No. 1 media market in the United States, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. These major media markets serve millions of people, so space and airtime are expensive and valuable. But sometimes small markets -- such as Charleston, S.C., Springfield, Ill., and Fargo, N.D. -- are as strategic as major markets because of a particular environmental message we want to get out.

We want to ensure that in our key media markets, the Sierra Club media operation runs like a well-oiled machine -- with staff and volunteers working closely together, drawing up media plans, determining which news operations to target, figuring out the division of responsibilities among ourselves and stretching our limited resources as far as we can. Our success in stopping Congress' War on the Environment depends on how effective we are in getting our message out in the right place.

In the months ahead Sierra Club media and field staff will be working with volunteers around the country in a series of training workshops to develop and implement strategic plans in selected media markets. Watch these pages for specific tips and ideas on how to create a strategic media plan for your community.

For more information or to get involved, please contact Jean Freedberg at (415) 977-5517 or Daniel Silverman at (415) 977-5508.

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