HO, HO, HOLD THE PRESSES!

By Constance Campanella, President and CEO

Labor Day, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Veterans Day, Halloween and Valentine’s Day are holidays to most, but for elected officials they are something more–an opportunity to issue press releases, website posts, tweets and other announcements.

With headlines such as “Attorney General Settles with Florist (February 14),” “Avoid Halloween Tricks by Credit Card Companies,” and “Governor Challenges Superintendents at Back to School Gathering.” Attorneys General, Governors, Mayors and state legislators take advantage of the natural news hook of a holiday, season or special event to promote public policy messages.

Last year, a national industry association used the Christmas/Hanukkah gift giving season as the hook and encouraged state Attorneys General to promote safety tips for particular online purchases. The association produced a top ten list of consumer tips and offered the information to AG’s offices.

In all, 11 state AG’s issued press releases or published the information on their websites. The cost was minimal, but the benefit was great. The AG’s offices appreciated help in producing a quality consumer notification. And, while the association did not get public credit for their idea, recognition by the AG’s was more than enough reward.

The flip side is equally noteworthy. Some AG’s use the New Year (or thereabouts) to publish annual Top Ten “Anti-Consumer” lists. Not limited to fraudsters, these lists sometimes include legitimate businesses that are in disfavor or which represent higher cost alternatives to consumers. These lists are published online and lapped up by the print media, especially the content-desperate weeklies. Discovering your legitimate business on these lists can be very troubling, especially given the permanency of information on the web.

So, recognizing that holidays and special seasons are PR and press bait–let’s roll with it and outline both positive and defensive measures you can undertake.

Step 1.   Open your calendar and note the seven (7) day period just prior to a holiday or special season. For Back to School season, note late July to mid-late August. Tax Day is not a holiday, but please mark it as well as St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day and any other “Hallmark” days.

Step 2.   Take a look at your public policy agenda and brainstorm with your colleagues to find any connections to the various special dates you have selected.

Step 3.   Imagine how each of the policy issue items you matched to holidays and seasons could be treated in either a positive or a negative way with respect to your business. This is important. You need to consider both options.

A positive treatment would be like the example above with the national industry association. They wanted to promote safe and legal shopping online and shared that view with the AG’s in a form that was most appealing, usable and respectful.

A negative treatment would be your business or industry earning a spot on a Top Ten Fraud list.

Step 4.   Select the strongest candidates among your “positives” and assemble the supportive information necessary to motivate a public official to adopt it.

When assembling your materials, think in terms of both print and web treatments, so digital versions of maps, charts, graphics and the like may be valuable. Of course, all material must be free of copyright restrictions. And, you have to be modest. You are not likely to get a “by-line” on the work. You are providing valuable information and if it gets adopted, that is your reward.

All information must be impeccably timely and accurate.

Step 5.   If you are trying to avoid being part of a Top Ten bad guys list, then you need to assemble a campaign to displace bad or erroneous impressions of your business.

Start by identifying the officials who typically publish such lists. Then, perform an unvarnished self-analysis to zero in on the aspects of your business that are either misunderstood or disfavored by consumer advocates. Your campaign needs to be built on changing, neutralizing or containing these negatives. (For additional information about designing a custom campaign contact us).

Step 6.   Sell it.

Your outreach to the elected officials you target can include a mass mailing or email, but will always involve direct contact with the officeholders. Positive campaigns—in which you offer ideas for holiday-related messages–can be an excellent vehicle for building relationships with these electeds, even if your offer is not accepted.

With Labor Day a week away, please send us examples that you find of electeds using the holiday to promote their messages.

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