Today we continue our discussion on engaging with the media, focusing on working with the media to inform the public during an engagement process. Here are some steps you can take during an engagement process to effectively work with the media and communicate with the public.
- Once you have begun an engagement process, work to recruit and train a variety of “public ambassadors” who are active in the process. These should be people with connections to the diverse audiences that exist in your community. A good ambassador will bring up their involvement with the process as a normal part of conversation with members of the public and be available for media interviews. These ambassadors can also bring back questions they are hearing from the public, and serve as an early alert system for misinformation. Note that it isn’t the role of an ambassador to argue positions. Instead, these ambassadors serve as advocates for the process itself by encouraging participation, explaining the schedule, and promoting dialogue.
- The development of regular channels of communication should also be a primary focus early on in your engagement process. To build channels of communication, you should regularly supply reporters with background information that provides context for emerging issues in addition to updates on the process. Reporters who become experts on particular issues can be very helpful in promoting productive dialogue by highlighting the complexities and intersections among issues. Informed reporters are also less likely to be affected by those who seek to bypass or distort your process with information that is partisan or otherwise skewed.
- Even though both ambassadors and reporters can help inform and involve the public, you should also be prepared to provide regular reports directly to the public. You should be prepared to make regular reports directly the public through your website, e-mail alerts to those who have signed up, and newsletters that are sent out with utility bills or otherwise. In your reports, in addition to providing information on the current stage of the process, you should summarize why you started the process, how you got to where you are now, and where you plan to go in the future. By providing this detailed information you can help community members connect with ongoing actions, even if they haven’t previously been involved.
- Information can also be made available to the community through faith groups, community hubs such as senior centers, barbershops, day care centers, or schools. Providing information on an ongoing basis helps build consciousness and context. This helps the public more effectively interpret and respond to media reports that are sporadic or sensational.