In a digital world, local media still gold

There is no arguing that Tweets and "likes" have dramatically re-shaped the manner and speed in which consumers and voters receive and share information.

There is no arguing that Tweets and “likes” have dramatically re-shaped the manner and speed in which consumers and voters receive and share information. The growth of social media has been exponential in recent years and shows no sign of slowing. At this point, a company or group without an aggressive digital engagement strategy is dead in the water.

But, at the same time, there remains real value for agencies, issue advocates, and political campaigns to craft targeted messages to regional media outlets. It is a tried and true tactic that is not to be ignored, despite the growth of social media, with the potential for strong return on investment if executed correctly.

The key reason is trust. Various studies from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project and Harris Interactive have shown that Americans still trust their local news outlets more than national or digital alternatives. The gap is certainly shrinking, as more users become accustomed to online reporting and research, but it still exists. And that trust quotient can mean the difference between an audience fully embracing a message, or a product, or a brand, or quickly dismissing it.

Using regional media doesn't work for everyone. You need to have a story that provides you the opportunity to localize and that resonates in your targeted markets. You need to answer the question every local reporter asks: “What does this matter to my readers?” If you can frame your story through that lens, your placements will improve dramatically. The impact and return on those hits will be more substantive, with deeper message penetration, due to the inherent trust that comes with local media.

This tactic works best when there is a national or macro trend story that you are able to distill into bite-sized, salient pieces. At 30,000 feet, some narratives can seem nebulous, too abstract, and difficult to grasp. But when localized, and put into a more granular context, the issue becomes more real for the audience. It gives readers and viewers a chance to relate, making the impact even greater.

A textbook example of how to successfully execute this strategy happened last Sunday. As part of its effort to communicate the impacts the federal budget sequestration would have on communities, the White House released state-by-state fact sheets detailing the regional services that would be reduced or delayed. It localized a major national news story, making it more palpable to reporters, editors, and most importantly, their target audience: voters. The reward was Monday headlines that drove the message of how damaging the sequester would be to local communities. Here are some examples:

  • The Bergen Record: “NJ could lose billions in Sandy recovery aid under budget sequester”
  • Louisville Courier-Journal: “Kentucky and Indiana would feel federal spending cuts from defense to parks”
  • Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Federal cuts will affect Northeast Ohio if budget stalemate continues”

Granted, no one has the bully pulpit of the White House. But the same strategy of taking a larger narrative, boiling it down, and making it more concrete and palpable to the average reader can be applied to product rollouts, brand marketing, advocacy efforts, or political campaigns of all levels.

State and national political campaigns have longed embraced this approach, in both earned and paid communications efforts. It is a first cousin of Tip O'Neill's mantra that all politics is local. Both the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns spent countless hours every day figuring out how to get their message to penetrate at the local level. The guiding principle behind that effort was that a swing voter in Columbus, OH, or Denver, CO, is more likely to first turn to the Columbus Dispatch or Denver Post than The Wall Street Journal to get his news. The same equation can be applied to consumers - and the reason again is trust.

Given the well-warranted hype around social media, localizing your story – whether you are a Fortune 500 company, a billion dollar presidential campaign, or a start-up looking to expand your reach – is still a powerful tactic that should not be overlooked. In the right circumstances, it offers the potential for a strong return on investment when well executed.

Trust me.

Tom Reynolds served as the director of regional communications on the 2012 Obama for America campaign.

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