Local matters: why local messaging is essential

As much as we love to get our clients' message out in The New York Times or on a national broadcast show, the reality is that these aren't the most effective means of reaching people.

As much as we all love to get our clients' message out in The New York Times or coverage on a national broadcast show, the reality is that these aren't the most effective means of reaching people. It's easy to get star struck by the splash of major national coverage, but does it really move you closer to achieving your goal? The reality is probably not.

According to a 2012 Pew Research Center Study, 72% of adult Americans follow the local news closely. The study goes on to point out that these local news consumers are more likely to have positive views about their communities, use local reviews for buying and entertainment decisions, and participate in the news-making process.

For those of us in public relations, these results should be of keen interest. We often talk to clients about the importance of national media campaigns at the exclusion of local results. The reality is that local messages are what people consume and use to form their opinions about brands and issues.

While there is no arguing that a global narrative is important, there is no denying that resources are better spent with a specific local action plan. A top-down approach doesn't work. A focused and specific bottom-up program can yield significantly greater returns for clients.

As communicators, we should be looking at ways to expand local coverage for our clients. Most importantly, we need to highlight the strategic value of such exposure. Whether it's a crisis situation, an issues campaign, or a product launch, local expertise is what clients need to succeed.

As we all think about how we approach our clients and geographically hone their messages and approach, there are three keys to remember.

  • Speak authentically: Just because it works in San Francisco doesn't mean it works in Sarasota. Messages need to be authentic and connect directly with the community you are targeting. Understand the particular issues affecting your target audiences, nuance in dialect, and cultural sensitivities. Most importantly, look at where your competitors' messages have failed.
  • Be human: Messengers matter more than the message usually. Successful local communications depend on a messenger who is not only delivering an authentic message, but who doesn't seem like they are swooping in from some distant ivory tower. Be sure your messenger knows the community. Identify local surrogates. And, if they are coming in from some distance, make sure that they acknowledge that and don't try to hide it.
  • Share specificity: Simply changing the location on your message point isn't being specific — in fact, it's insulting. Be sure that when thinking locally, you are finding specific information that demonstrates your knowledge of the community you are trying to reach.

Let's admit it, there is a major appeal to national coverage. However, in the fight to cut through the clutter, we can better serve our clients by focusing on local wins.

Sean Rossall is VP of media relations and crisis communications at Cerrell Associates.

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