When I started in public relations (public affairs), I spent my first week at the statehouse in Augusta, Maine. In this era before internet, the energy in the building was palpable, fueled in large part by an army of statehouse reporters.
Since then, the bottom fell out: In 2014, the last time Pew published research on the topic, the number of statehouse reporters covering local government issues had dropped by 35 percent. If statehouse reporters are proxy for the health of local journalism, the patient isn't well.
Last month, our team at Greenough celebrated our fourth anniversary of publicizing Arbella Insurance's distracted driving program, Distractology 101. Distractology brings a neon-yellow mobile classroom outfitted with high-tech driving simulators to high schools across New England. The simulations give new drivers the chance to experience the perils of distracted driving from the safety of the trailer, training them to avoid these behaviors when they're in their cars.
Though the larger Massachusetts and Rhode Island outlets only run a story on Distractology once every year or so, honing in on smaller town and regional newspapers and local broadcast affiliates has kept our success rate at between 7 and 20 pieces of coverage each month— 4 years running!
More important than the number of hits alone, hyper-local news audiences continue to remain high despite uncertainty in the newspaper industry overall. In a recent study, the University of Missouri's Reynolds Journalism Institute found that more than two-thirds of residents in small U.S. communities read their local newspaper at least once a week.
The Boston Globe also ran a story this month about how local access stations—once parodied on SNL for their low-budget production and anything-goes content—have become truly viable media outlets. The article notes that community stations receive up to 5 percent of the cable companies’ annual local gross revenues; and those funds “have allowed high-definition cameras and digital editing suites with broadcast-quality graphics, turning these once primitive studios into full-blown video production centers.”
Hyper local newspapers and local TV are often passed over in media campaigns since they don’t quite carry the same weight. But for long-running PR initiatives, especially for a program that serves the community in the way Distractology does, hyper-local news outlets can be excellent venues for maintaining media momentum and creating positive sentiment in the small towns where a regional company aims to sell its services.
Secondarily, we’ve heard from a number of our television production contacts that hyper-local outlets, like the Patch sites, are where they turn to find news stories. It’s a great resource for finding the under-the-radar stories that TV stations are hungry to break. It can also lead them to local sources for commentary.
And on the technical side, the more hyper-local coverage online that links back to your client’s website, the more “Google food” you’re providing. When reputable sites, like those of newspapers, link to your website, your SEO gets a boost.
So the next time you’re building out a media list, don’t discredit your town’s paper or community TV station. They will often help you reach your local community better than the glamorous national hit will.
Lucy Muscarella is an Account Executive at Greenough. Follow her on Twitter: @lucymuscarella