Using Maps to Deliver Your Message
I had the opportunity to attend the Planning and Conservation League's annual Symposium this past weekend. There were many sessions to choose from but one in particular caught my attention. The topic was using maps to persuade and mobilize. The presenters were Larry Orman and Tim Sinnott from GreenInfo Network and Rebecca Moore from Google Earth Outreach.
Larry Orman started off with a great point: we're overloaded with geographic information. We've got access to road maps, mash ups, interactive maps, climate change maps, election maps, and geotagged photos. But Larry pointed out that mapping is about having a point, not just about showing data.
Why are maps a popular choice for displaying cross-sections of information? One reason is that data is not an obstacle. It's available and much of it is free. Also, computers and mapping software are less expensive. And new generations of folks are map-savvy.
GIS (geographic information system) is one mapping tool that marries data and places. GIS can be used to analyze information, such as land use, commercial development, pollution impact, and to define alternative outcomes.
Maps, in general, can be used to tell a story or convey a message. Mapping tools let you unfold data in layers to reveal parts of the story. It is important, Larry emphasized, that you think about mapping as communications. Technology is whizzy and great, but it is still critical that you have a good story. You need to know who your audience is, what your message is, how much time people will have to view your map as well as at what distance and in what context.
Rebecca Moore reinforced that maps can be very effective for telling a story or delivering a message, particularly when you don't have much time to deliver it. She noted that maps can change an abstract concept into something personal for people. When done right, maps can show what is at stake instead of just telling what is at stake. They can inspire action, influence decision-makers, reach the media, and impact public policy.
The Benefit of Building a Targeted List
The Sea Change Strategies blog recently posted about the Tyranny of Big Lists and how too many non profits are attempting to communicate with very large lists, yet getting a very small response or open rate.
The metaphor they pose about sharing your thoughts on a movie with the whole theater versus just your close companions is especially compelling.
It made me think about how non profits really need to think about targeting their audience. Sending to a list of thousands or even hundreds is not always effective, especially with the decline in open rates and the increase in spam filters. We need to take more time and cultivate our media lists, making sure we are reaching the right people. And that may only need to be a few people, not hundreds.
The next time you rush through sending out your press release, take a minute to look over your list, think about its size, and whether the contacts on the list are ones who will truly want to hear from you or cover your issues. You may realize you need to refine the list and make it more targeted.
How to Pitch Blogs
I recently attended a training held at the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights office, the first of the C-Team's Third Thursday training. This training focused on the ins and outs of blogging and had some great tips on how to pitch your news to bloggers.
Adam Green fromMoveOn.org explained that bloggers should be seen as activists and strategic partners. Blogs are so effective because they band together as a community and are able to make news that way. George Allen's "macaca" incident was picked up by the news because so many bloggers were writing about it. So when you are ready to pitch to blogs, think strategically. You need to target the right audiences. Who is your audience and what blogs target them? Secondly, don't treat bloggers like reporters. Your goals need to be aligned and you should give them a heads up about your issues or campaign - let them know what you are working towards and how they can help. Finally, legitimize blogs. You can do this by helping them build credibility - bring them the hot news and the breaking news first.
People for the American Way suggested looking at Technorati.com and searching for blogs focused on your issues and see if any blogs have already covered your organization. Try pitching the influential bloggers in your issue field. Invite them to your events and who them you support them.
Jen Mosely of NARAL Pro-Choice America explained the experience they've had from their blog, Bush vs. Choice. She explained that when starting your own blog, it helps to have someone who is knowledgable and commited to your issue. Let your supporters know about your blog and encourage them to start commenting on the posts. Even add a post from your blog in your e-newsletter so your supports can learn more about it.
Tom McCann of the Ocean Conservancy suggested looking at your favorite blogs and figuring out why these are your favorite blogs. This can help you make yours even better. He also reinterated that you need a blogger how is passionate about the issue at hand and has the willingness to devote time to the blog - at least several times a week. Your blog should be quick and easy to read, and employing some humor can always help.
How to Use Research and Polling to Measure Results From Your Communications Strategy
Widmeyer Communications recently held a really informative presentation about how to get measurable results from your communications through polling and research. Here are some of the key tips that were shared for doing just that.
Doug Meyer, who is the Senior Vice President and Director of Research and Polling, explained that you can still use the traditional ways of measuring media success, such as through media clips, click-through rates and television ad views. Yet these traditional ways leave certain questions unanswered; for example, is your message actually getting out there and who is hearing it?
You have to remember that effective measurement needs to evaluate the reach and penetration of your message. Before any outreach, do some planning and research. You are trying to increase the awareness and knowledge of your issue and to do so, you need some quantitative objectives that will illustrate that. You can increase your chances of succeeding if you pre-test your campaign. You can do this through polling your audience to see if they feel your message is compelling and credible to them. You can also conduct surveys, focus groups and interviews with your audience.
If you have a small communications effort, it may not be worth the time and money - it takes about 5-10% of your campaign budget to take on an endeavor like this. But if you have a larger communications effort, it is worth it to become more efficient with your messaging and targeting.
If you want to create an effective campaign, research needs to be a part of it from start to finish. Polling, surveying and testing helps you to learn more about your members and supporters, learn about potential members and even renew interest in your issues and help them gain visibility.
Here are a few examples of research you can do:
Qualitative: Focus groups by phone, email or in person. Small group or individual interviews.
Quantitative: Telephone interviews. Online surveys (SurveyMonkey is a great tool). Video and website testing.
Think about what would work best for your organization so that you can make the most of your campaign and have it work effectively for your group.
Had enough? Even more tips from the SEJ Conference...
When a disaster strikes, the public tends to turn to the media for coverage and answers. At the SEJ Conference last week, one of the breakfast sessions was about Covering Disasters...Without Becoming One. The tips and strategies that the reporters on the panel shared could be used not just by journalists, but also by the progressive community when it comes to preparing for disasters.
With Hurricane Katrina and other recent disasters such as the 2004 tsunami and the wildfires raging in California still fresh in our minds, it's smart to have a communications plan in the event of a crisis. Environmental reporters are often sent into the thick of things when a disaster happens in order to accurately report on what is happening. But at the same time, many non profits are also end up riding out the disaster as well or are working on issues related to the crisis.
Mark Schleifstein, an environmental reporter for the Time-Picayune in New Orleans, explained how easy it can be to become personally involved in what is happening around you. His newspaper was forced to evacuate after Hurricane Katrina hit and they saw the devastation that Katrina left behind first-hand. Seeing what was happening to the people still stuck in New Orleans emotionally affected some of the Time-Picayune staff. Whether you are covering a story, doing advocacy work or gathering information for your members, you need to make sure you are prepared for the emotional toll of a disaster. Also remember that your safety comes first - you may think being right in the middle of a monster storm is the exciting place to be, but you'll be able to get to most information from people doing through the disaster at an emergency center or local shelter.
Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston Gazette was asked by his editor why he kept covering local mine safety. Then the recent tragedy at the Sago mine happened and Ken told his editor, "That's why." He explained that it is important to educate the public on why a disaster happened and if it was preventable, so that it won't happen again. Climate change is a huge issue right now and progressives are working hard to get this issue in front of the public. Even if your issue doesn't get covered initially, don't give up. Some news can help to avert a disaster and that is why Ken kept covering mine safety - he was hoping to avoid what happened at Sago.
George Wuerthner, a freelance writer and photographer, explained that he covers wildfires so that we can give the public the proper information on this "disaster." Wildfires can be devastating, but sometimes they are needed and are a way nature helps to clear out a forest. George's main tip was that words and photos can change the way a story is interpreted. Watch what you write if you don't want your audience to read your story the wrong way. It is up to us to deliver the fact correctly and make sure the news is covered fairly. Even a photo can change the way a story is viewed. George detailed how he had seen a photo of a wildfire he witnessed that show the fire reaching towards the sky. This was only in one small section where the trees had collapsed to make the fire in that one section rasie up. It wasn't a proper illustration of the wildfire as a whole.
Another tip the journalists shared with those attending the session is that during a disaster, communications may be minimal. Power may out and there may be no access to email. If you have stories you want covered, be prepared that some journalists and/or news outlets may have no way to recieve those stories until the disaster blows over.
The SEJ Conference was an interesting experience and I think the GMT staff who attended learned a lot of new tips and met some great people!
Do you need a feed reader?
And it just keeps coming... the GMT staff had a great time at the annual SEJ conference in Burlington, VT. We got to hang out with some members that we've only ever talked to on the phone. We met some great folks. We got taste Vermont cheese and delish maple syrup. Oh yeah, and we did some work.
On Friday night, we attended beat dinners on current hot topics. Each dinner was attended by about 15 folks and was hosted by a reporter or two. I attended "Reporting Outside the Traditional Newsroom," hosted by Amy Gahran, media consultant, and Rob Davis, reporter from Voice of San Diego.
Topics (& margaritas) were flowing, but one particular conversation focus was on the use of feed readers not only to stay on top of the issues you're interested in but as a way to filter out the information overflow. Those of us that are non-media should take note: reporters are using feed readers as a way to not only read other bylines but to keep tabs on issues and possible resources.
What's a feed reader? Wikipedia says it's a news aggregator that uses a web feed to retrieve syndicated web content such as weblogs, podcasts, vlogs, and mainstream mass media websites, or in the case of a search aggregator, a customized set of search results. These kinds of aggregators are user-controlled and are known for saving time since you no longer need to regularly check websites for updates. It sounds like there are many possible free feed readers out there -- Bloglines, Feedzilla, Google News, and FeedReader. (Note that this is not meant to be a comprehensive list, it just includes a few of the feeders discussed during the dinner.)
The benefits of a feeder include that you get to subscribe to the feeds that you're interested in -- content is customized by the topics you select. One downside could be that even though you're being fed the news you're requesting, you might miss out on other stories and topics that you'd normally see when visiting an outside site.
But, like Amy said, using a feed reader may not be the right fit for you. It's all about matching personal preference with your goals. Amy ran the unofficial (volunteer) SEJ 2006 Blog and you should also check out Amy's personal blog, Contentious.
More from SEJ: Ways to increase readership through visuals
During a panel discussion called Visualizing your Stories, three award-winning environmental reporters shared their strategies for coming up with the perfect visual to help complete their story -- and make it more attractive to their readership.
The topic was introduced with a now recurring theme: readers are becoming viewers adn are going online for news. Print publications can no longer depend on circulation and revenue to survive. They have to keep their readers interested through integrated multi-media presentations. With more and more newspapers redesigning their print editions to look like websites, Dina Cappiello from The Houston Chronicle weighed in with reasons why graphics are important.
First, she says, that graphics engage readers in a different format. They let you attract visual people, not just word people. She also says that graphics in print translate well to graphics in web presentation. Finally, she says that graphics enhance the story and that they are particularly criticial for issues such as science. For online stories, Dina suggests using Flash technology as well as narration to drive a story home.
Dina's requirements for a good graphic are:
-- It will illustrate or illuminate the nut or the gist of the story.
-- It will help with very technical stories to clarify details and difficult topics.
-- Good reporting is the basis for a good graphic.
After hearing only Dina's comments, it comes to mind that organizations that are pitching reporters can put these rules into practice as they are shaping their messages. Provide solid data to reporters and think about what the full story will look like. Consider using onling mapping technology, GPS, blueprints, and exact locations to support your newshook.
Next Lisa Stiffler from the Seattle Post Intelligencer talked about when a graphic is needed to make a story stick. She says consider using a graphic for timelines, data trends over time, maps, comparative data, sequential events, report cards, explaining complicated processes, and multi-layers of data, such as showing the relation between income, race and pollution.
Lisa further reminded us that the graphic can be the one shot to convey the story to the reader -- so make it good and make sure it supports the gist of the story. If you're not sure where to start in terms of creating your own graphics, Lisa suggests looking to scientific and government publications for inspiration. Be sure to check out Dateline Earth, a blog that Lisa co-authors with fellow Seattle PI reporter Robert McClure.
Finally, Peter Essick, a photo-journalist that works frequently with National Geographic, simply state that you should tell your story in pictures.
It seems that all of these tips could be applied to how organizations write articles for our e-newletters, for content and stories for our websites, and for reports, whitepapers and scorecards. And it definitely seems that groups should keep the reporter's needs in mind when developing materials to accompany your news.
-- Bobbi Russell
October 28, 2006
Live from SEJ - Tips on how reporters are writing their stories.
A couple members of the GMT staff are here at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Burlington, VT. There has been much discussion about tools of the trade -- particularly about how blogs and wikis are changing the way reporting is done. I sat in on one session, however, that was led by Frank Allen, Executive Director of Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources.
Although his session focused on writing tips for reporters, specifically ways for reporters to tell environment stories better, the advice he gave seemed beneficial for those of us who might be pitching a story to a reporter so that we have some insight as to how they're writing it.
Reporters are looking for a story that will be read from top to bottom. But, if a reader only glances through the first few parapraphs, they might be structuring their story along these lines:
-- Start with an attention grabbing lead
-- Jump right into the topic (a couple of sentences to draw in the reader)
-- Present the who and why
-- Present a flash-by of points that will be supported later on in the article
-- Acknowledge that there could be concession to these points (i.e. what is the other side saying)
-- Show and tell the best statistics and quotes
-- Use an anecdote that captures the essence -- action and behavior -- of the story
The goal the reporter has is to keep the reader/listener/viewer remembering the whole story as they read on. So the model above encapsulates a layout where the main story elements are revealed at the top of the story, then are supported throughout.
One other tip of the trade we've been hearing from reporters: Just because their email address is listed at the bottom of their story does not mean they want to receive all of your press releases. Reporters ask that PR folks pay attention to the recent stories that they've written and use common sense to decide if the news at hand is really of interest for a particular reporter. One online reporter suggested that instead of just adding him to your media list, send an introductory email to say who you are, who you work for, and then which topics you could provide resources for the reporter. This way, you're connecting with the reporter and asking permission to engage further -- not just adding them to a broadcast list of email addresses.
We'll share more feedback as we get it...
-- Bobbi Russell
Do you have media production needs?
If you are looking for a place to meet your media production needs, check out High Plains Films: http://www.highplainsfilms.org/. They are a project of the Big Sky Film Institute, a non profit whose mission is to promote non-fiction filmmaking.
High Plains Films can do everything from PSAs to b-roll to documentaries. You can also check out their website to view their latest films and join their list serve to get updates on upcoming screenings.
The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival is Feb. 15-21 of 2007. Find out more information and how to attend here: http://www.bigskyfilmfest.org/home.html.
Green Media Toolshed has great guides to PSAs and more within their Media Training section.
Attend the SPIN Academy in August!
Applications for the Eighth Annual SPIN Academy, taking place August
16 - 20 in Petaluma, CA, are now open at http://www.spinproject.org.
Don't miss this opportunity!
The SPIN Project's signature training conference, this residential
retreat offers progressive leaders accessible, comprehensive
communications training and support, in order to help organizations
dedicated to social change become more media-savvy. The SPIN Academy
provides training and development in:
1. Specific communication tactics & skills
2. Strategic communications planning
3. Organizational capacity building through more effective communications
4. Communications leadership growth and networking
The SPIN Academy is ideal for activists who work regularly with the
media, who are in a position to share their media skills to help
develop leadership skills in colleagues and allies, and who will use
strategic communications to help build a stronger progressive movement.
Participants benefit from more than 15 interactive workshops led by
experienced trainers on topics like Strategic Communications
Planning, Coalition Communications, Fundraising For Communications,
Developing Relationships With Reporters, and Reaching Your Target
Audience. Participants also meet one-on-one with expert consultants,
build individual media strategies, and receive valuable resources and
materials to support their ongoing media work, including the Train
the Trainers Kit to help participants lead media trainings of their own.
Participants also develop cross-movement relationships with other
activists faced with the challenge of earning media attention for
progressive issues, and deepen their understanding of the connection
between strategic communications and the success of the progressive movement.
Don't miss this unique opportunity!