Writing a media plan for public relations can be tougher than creating an advertising or marketing campaign. You don’t typically have an advertising budget, and there are no hard numbers on sales because you’re selling an idea. So how do you write a plan to sell an idea, and how do you know whether it worked or not?
Here's an example from real life: the State Patrol and police in Washington state, wanted to boost the use of seat belts with the passage of a new law making failing to buckle up a primary traffic offense.
This is a classic case. It affects everyone who drives or rides in a car. You don't have much of a budget if anything. And it's a common sort of thing. Public officials are always trying to raise awareness about health and safety issues. Let's create a media plan to get more people to use seat belts, then compare it to some of the things they did.
Consider the Target Audience
The first rule of rhetoric is to know your audience. Who's the audience in this case? When failing to use your seatbelt was a secondary offense — meaning police couldn't pull you over for not doing it and could only cite you for it once they'd gotten you for some other offense like speeding — only 82% of citizens wore seat belts.
So the target is the 18% of drivers who wouldn't buckle up. It might be tough to target only them. On the other hand, it could be tougher to target every driver in a state with seven million people. Try experimenting and using a little science. The State Patrol and local police keep good track of statistics.
They could certainly tell you which counties and highways had the highest rates of accidents where drivers and passengers weren't wearing seatbelts. Maybe it's a regional thing, with rural counties more relaxed about seat belts and city dwellers buckling up before fighting traffic. The numbers will help tell where to focus resources.
If you really wanted to be scientific, test out different messages and campaigns in different counties to see what works and what doesn't. The State Troopers did a little of both. They had billboards and Public Service Announcements (PSA's) on radio and TV, to reach all drivers.
But they also did an awareness campaign, where if they’d pulled somebody for not wearing a seatbelt, the driver and passengers would get a warning and a little education about the new law. Not a ticket. A warning.
That was smart. If you flipped a switch and started handing out big tickets to people who didn't know about the new law, they'd be resentful. By having a bit of a transition period, where the police were friendly about it, and simply informing drivers about the new law without giving out tickets, they boosted awareness and persuaded more drivers to start wearing seat belts.
Craft a Message
You won't convince people to wear seat belts with a fact sheet or statistics. Even if you could, there's no money to send out mailers or print seven million flyers and hand them out. The message must be short, catchy, and simple. It can't be three paragraphs long. The fewer words, the better.
They came up with "Click it or ticket," which was perfect. Short. Catchy. Simple. It rhymed and told people exactly what they needed to do and the consequences of not doing it. They've used a similar message for a drunk-driving campaign with the message, "Drive hammered, get nailed."
Raise Awareness and Build Alliances
With a public service campaign like this, radio stations, TV stations, and newspapers will typically be happy to help by running PSAs.
They did exactly that. When they ran PSAs, it was local police and the state troopers who patrolled that area who showed up on TV and in the radio spots.
That meant the spots weren't as slick and well-done because they were shooting hundreds of them instead of perfecting a few statewide spots. Yet that trade-off was worth it. If something like this seems too slick, people resist it. Having faces and names they recognized, from their backyard, boosted the ethos of the message and helped persuade people.
It's also smart to get allies and stakeholders to help shoulder the burden and spread the word. In this case, local police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and similar groups are natural allies and stakeholders.
We don't know if they looked at different regions of the state and boosted efforts where seat belt use was low. We do know the state patrol and police were smart about tracking the number of warnings and tickets, and that they didn't trust anecdotes and feelings on whether their media and awareness campaign was working or not.
They looked at the numbers, and they tracked actual seat belt use. Not just during the start of the campaign, but every year, continually improving the numbers.
According to the State Patrol, they still cite about 47,000 people a year for not buckling up.
But the rate of people who don't use seatbelts has declined every year, year after year. In 2010, 97.6% of drivers were clicking it. Washington went from one of the worst in the nation for seat belts to among the best. The plan worked.