GOP, LeBron and 5 tips for implementing a national/international media relations program

Cleveland and Northeast Ohio recently enjoyed a week unlike any other in memory. On a Tuesday, the Republican Party announced it had selected Cleveland from a field of formidable – and some thought far more likely – cities to host the 2016 GOP Convention. Three days later, Akron native LeBron James followed up with the declaration that he was “coming home” to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, with the goal of bringing the franchise a national championship.

As Northeast Ohioans celebrated two victories of national prominence, many exclaimed that with the spotlight on Northeast Ohio, it was time to communicate the region’s comeback story to the national media and the world.

Well, yes, but…the true task of telling Cleveland’s and Northeast Ohio’s story is not about an opportune moment in time. Rather, the effort has been years in the making. Most effective national and international media relations strategies are based on strong relationships with journalists and sound news judgment. The effort to tell Northeast Ohio’s story is no different.

Dix & Eaton has had the pleasure of working with the Regional Marketing Alliance of Northeast Ohio (RMA) for nearly eight years. During that time, we have connected with hundreds of national and international media to tell Northeast Ohio’s story from numerous angles -- manufacturing innovation, health care entrepreneurism, energy diversification, economic revitalization, urban renewal and more.

The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, CNN, the BBC and others have identified with the Midwest renaissance themes emerging from Northeast Ohio and covered the story.

Certainly the GOP and LeBron announcements both provided an opportunity for Northeast Ohio. When Cleveland won the national competition for the convention, it raised a few eyebrows and the curiosity of some in the national media. These reporters wrote of Cleveland’s transformation from a city with a river that caught fire (nearly 50 years ago, by the way) to one with a new convention center and a number of refurbished and new hotels.

But remember 2012, when Ohio was the critical swing state in the presidential election? By then, RMA had been telling Northeast Ohio’s story for about six years. As the election year approached, we determined the national media would be interested in Northeast Ohio’s economy, given that it was one of the biggest factors in determining Ohio’s vote. The close election, we deemed, was an opportunity to provide useful information to national and international journalists seeking insight into how Ohioans would vote. To drive our efforts, we interacted with journalists who were covering the election and considering a trip to the Midwest.

As a result, dozens of journalists from across the country interacted with local officials, business leaders and political scientists in their coverage of Northeast Ohio’s transformation. In the early months of 2012, the national media approached our swing state and referred to its “struggling” economy. By the time the national conventions convened in the summer, journalists were asking who should get credit for the economic turnaround in Northeast Ohio and the rest of the state.

So, was 2012 a time to tell our story?

Well, yes, but….the efforts – and results – were enhanced tenfold by the foundation laid in previous years.

And the work since 2012 has continued to supplement and build upon that foundation.

Concerning the GOP convention, we started to talk to national media even before the Republicans made their final selection. The fact that Cleveland was in the running put the city “in play” for national media interest. The afternoon of the announcement, Rick Batyko, RMA president, decided to meet with Washington-based media. Within days, thanks to our existing relationships and the “news hook” of the selection, we met with journalists in Washington, even as we coordinated with reporters who were in Cleveland at the same time.

Already, the volume on Northeast Ohio’s story is increasing. On July 13, for example, Meet The Press told the story of the region’s transformation in a report it called  “Meeting America: Cleveland Rocks,” with a second headline, “The Comeback City, Cleveland Reborn.” 

In a similar vein, a Bloomberg story ran under the headline, “LeBron James Homecoming Highlights Ohio’s Rust-Belt Renaissance.”

Communicating the region’s story effectively requires both a continuing commitment to a national and international media relations program, as well as the news sense to provide the type of information journalists want within the context and format they need. It’s no different than the approach most organizations should take when devising and implementing a media relations strategy.

Here are five points to consider when implementing an effective media relations program:

Keep your target audiences top of mind.

Work with media must be targeted and effective. There is little benefit in gaining coverage in outlets that do not reach your intended audience, whether they are consumers, influencers or other people who could play a role in your future success.

Be creative.

There are numerous angles to stories that would benefit your organization. News stories exist in all aspects of an organization, or in the case of RMA, a region. The key is to be innovative enough to identify a number of those angles, connect them to your main narrative and make them relevant to journalists.

Make sure you can measure and analyze results.

Communicating your story to the media can lead to immense benefits for your organization. But how do you know whether you are having the desired impact? Before launching a media relations program, it is best to determine whether a third party will analyze coverage or whether your media experts will. Either way, a useful media analysis also should identify opportunities for additional media outreach.

Leverage your coverage.

If you are creating a win-win situation for your organization and journalists, the coverage is something you should post to your website and distribute via your social media channels. If you have champions outside your organization skilled in using social media, ask them to participate as well. And don’t just post a link once. Post it several times, with a variety of introductions and context.

Be strategic as well as opportunistic.

You must work the strategy, measure its effectiveness and adjust as needed. But do not pitch an event or single announcement and expect great results. Build the momentum and when there is breaking news connected with your organization, be ready to elevate the interactions with the media.

So will the GOP convention be a good opportunity to communicate Northeast Ohio’s turnaround?

Well, yes, but…. the groundwork we lay now will benefit the region in the coming years as our comeback story continues.

Have something to add? Looking for more?

Please share your observations of how to devise and implement a national and international media relations program, or connect with me directly by dropping me an email or calling me at 216.241.2145.

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