While local news has struggled for years to find a profitable business model in the digital age, some PR and marketing shops are finding solid footing with local-centric content and wider distribution options.
Journalism’s financial struggles have not translated into less interest in community news, as seen in the rise of “hyperlocal” markets. But it does require PR and marketing folks to shift gears. Rather than pitching a story to a city desk reporter who no longer has time to meet, they are pitching directly to Patch or doing their own posting to NextDoor, a regional Facebook group, or some other community news platform. They’re still getting the story out—with a focus on keywords, algorithms and platforms—and increasing distribution channels in the process.
All news is local
As always, some stories sell better in local markets than others. Residents still care about education or crime trends in their neighborhoods, the vibrancy of local businesses, and the state of local healthcare. They may be excited to learn that they live in a “smart city” of internet-connected traffic lights, trash trucks, and utilities. Those stories are picked up, whether they run in the local newspaper, TV news, or digital platforms.
One of the best topics for lasting impact, and which demands local coverage, is the environment. Although environmental issues break down along partisan lines nationally, people everywhere want to know about rising waters, contamination, and infestations in their local communities.
Yes& knows this, firsthand, through its support of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Like other recipients of federal grant money—in this case, from the Environmental Protection Agency—NFWF is required to publicize its publicly-funded work in the communities that benefit from it. To help NFWF reach these communities, Yes& writes some three dozen NFWF case studies per year about the nonprofit’s environmental restoration in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. We then pitch the case studies to local media, sometimes in the form of a press release, but more often as an article—and always with photos.
“Hyperlocal media placement is a critical part of our earned media strategy,” says Rob Blumenthal, NFWF’s senior director of communications. “Yes& provides the Foundation with key support for live press events, as well as regional and local media outreach to help us generate positive coverage of our grant announcements for our public and private partners and for the on-the-ground conservation projects we fund.”
NFWF’s work covers a wide range of local markets, making for easier pitching, according to Mike Smith, senior vice president of public relations for Yes&. “This includes the Shenandoah Mountains to the west, which reach the Bay tributaries, and the Norfolk Tidewater region to the south. The Bay region and the communities that value conservation outcomes and clean water care deeply about these NFWF grants, and the best way to reach these communities is through hometown media.”
NFWF grants have local impact, whether they support urban, suburban, or rural communities. Some NFWF grants support improvements to stormwater management to reduce flooding in inner cities. Others are public information campaigns to teach suburbanites about reducing water contamination by properly disposing of animal waste and using less fertilizer. In rural areas, the grants support farmers in using less pesticides and fertilizer and restricting livestock from certain waterways. Local reporters are usually more than happy to receive the pitch.
“Many of our regional and hyperlocal media still have an environmental reporter or an agricultural reporter who cares deeply about these Chesapeake Bay grants,” said Yes& content specialist Cheryl Vosburg. “Our ability to take the time to deep-dive into the grant project, adding the perspective of the local farmer or landowner, helps bring the importance of conservation work to life.”
The Moorefield Examiner in Hardy County, W.Va., recently published a Yes& article about how the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, using EPA grants, is restoring native brook trout to local streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.