Making Life Easier on the Media

Ah, your website. It’s awesome. Easy to navigate, eye-catching, and
well, it’s got everything about your agency in human-speak finally
after years of rewrites and doldrums. (Or maybe that’s my
organization’s website.) The members of the public that stop by love
it, and more and more of them are doing that. Hell, you’ve even
segmented your audience giving folks exactly the information they’re
looking for in the simplest way.

But are you hitting all of your audiences? Maybe not.

A few weeks ago, PRDaily had a post
up
on crafting a
webpage for the media. What a neat idea! My first thought when
reading about this was a historical reference for press releases, and
obviously up to date contact information.

But then I started thinking about government agencies, and what their
websites look like (generally bad), and if they have media pages
(usually not). While PRDaily is usually geared towards our friends in
the private sector, I think that we as government folks can still
learn something about best practices from it. I wonder, should we
start building media pages on our websites?

Well, let’s think about what that entails. Like I said above, a
release archive (and if we’re asking for the stars, why not a search
function; find all documents about E. coli, etc.) and contact
information. In fact, the article is very focused on having good, easy
ways to get in contact with someone on the PR staff. Easy enough,
though I know of no agency that posts the PIOs cell phone number
online (as the article recommends).

None of that sounds too hard, right? So let’s step it up a notch. Why
not have your media page have bios of key Directors and Managers (both
short and long)? Why not have descriptions of what each part of your
organization does? (This is a good one, I think. The article talks
about an About page, but the difference between what McDonald’s does
and what the Philly Health Department does couldn’t be greater. For
starters, we don’t just do one thing, we do dozens of things. And too
many folks—reporters included—cannot describe the difference between a
lead abatement program and an asbestos abatement program. Why not help
them out?)

Again, we’re not yet moving mountains. Most of this stuff probably
already exists, so posting it shouldn’t be too difficult. So let’s get
crazy. Why not post video footage and audio clips (both easily done
using the tools found
here
)?
When you post a new press release, video the Commissioner saying two
or three key quotes. Post mp3 audio clips too so your local news radio
station can get on the air more quickly with soundbites.

So besides some making the job of lazy reporters easier, why do this?
Well, for one, they’re usually not lazy, they’re overly busy, and by
making things easier on them makes it more likely that your stories
will air. Instead of tracking down a spokesperson’ phone number,
calling, leaving a message, and waiting on a callback, they’ll know
right away what an ozone alert day is, and why it was called. Boom,
straight to print.

Another reason is that your PIO is too busy. Seriously, how many times
do you or members of your communications staff get phone calls for the
exact same information over and over.? Where did Dr. So-and-so
practice before… How many apparatus does the Department have
available… Etc. Etc. Etc. All of that background is easily posted on
a website and potentially saves the reporter from having to call you,
and saves you from having to talk to them.

The final reason has to do emergency communications, and how being
first is akin to setting the tone. If the first thing the media hears
is citizen reports of death and doom, and they head straight to your
website and only find happy, happy articles—none of which talk about
your day-in and day-out emergency response planning—well, then you’re
already seen as being behind the incident. Sure they could click
around a while, but c’mon, really? We both know that ain’t happening.
But, if you’ve got a ten-second clip of the Commissioner saying we’re
aware of the incident and are actively working to learn the scope of
it already posted (literally the FIRST thing you should do in an
emergency), well madam, you’ve just set the tone for the media. Sure
it’s not consistent, approved messaging, but when no one understands
exactly what’s going on, platitudes help.

My recommendation? Seriously consider a “Media” button on your
agency’s website. Your local reporters should get tons of use out of
it, and if you’re ever unlucky enough to have national or
international media stop by after a disaster, well, they might just
find the best intro to who you are and what you do—without having to
call you.

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5 thoughts on “Making Life Easier on the Media

  1. I think a Media specific page is a great idea. There is some intelligent life out there in the MSM.

  2. Hi JimGreat post, especially as I am conducting a trawl of an awful lot of local government websites (and local health organisations: also government over here) in the UK. In each case I’m trying to get an email address for the top emergency planner and the top comms person. Or the comms team and emergency planning team. I’m not fussy. I don’t want to spam them I just want to send a brief email saying that I’m around if they need any help with online stuff in emergencies.It is astonishingly hard work. There are great examples. They are pretty rare.But maybe it’s a deliberate ploy to prevent consultants clogging up their inboxes with unsolicited emails?

  3. Good stuff, Jim. You’re quite right on so many fronts, as ever.Birmingham City Council have gone dowen this path. Birmingham is the second largest city in the UK and the largest council in Europe.You can find their flexible WordPress-based press office site here: http://birminghamnewsroom.com/?p=homeThe very excellent Geoff Coleman is behind this. He’s @colebagski on Twitter.The site gets a LOT of traffic and helps cut down on the number of repeat visits, as I unsderstand it.

  4. Wow, what a great resource! Thanks so much, Dan.Can't wait to learn more from Mr. Coleman.Jim

  5. HA! I wouldn't doubt that at all.It's a shame that's considered normal or okay. Like the public is our enemy or something.Thanks for stopping by and the comment! Jim

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