The late speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, coined the simple but spot-on line “All politics is local.” I’d add to that a corollary: All news media is local, or at least prefers to have a strong local angle to the stories they cover.
Your hometown television and radio stations and newspapers depend on ratings, the bottom-line measure of their appeal to the communities they serve (and advertisers that provide their income). Because of that, they are especially interested in stories that may be topical nationally, but told through the faces of local people and circumstances.
Keeping this top of mind, Oct. 19-23 this year is National School Bus Safety Week, a time for our industry to showcase what we do and why it’s important.
That date may seem like a long way off, but savvy media planners know that the best way to “sell” a story is to plan carefully and execute strategically. Simply stated, that means giving a lot of thought to what you want to communicate and developing a plan of action to make telling the story appealing to news media in your community.
There are thousands of organizations and issues all vying for media attention. Not all are successful; the ones that tee up the ball best get their stories told.
Reporters in your community may be aware of National School Bus Safety Week from wire service notices and other national attention, and their editors may routinely task them with finding a good school bus story. And that’s where you come in by making it easier for reporters and focusing them in a direction that favorably impacts pupil transportation.
Good public relations is a matter of getting the media to cover the story that you want told. We have many good stories to tell, with automatic local angles since school buses are in every community. But selling a good story still requires the right moves. Reporters want facts and compelling visuals (photos or video), and it’s always best to put a human face on the story you’re telling.
So what should you plan now? Consider these basic steps:
• Decide what story you want to tell and a strong local angle.
• Research the background and facts with sourced references so reporters can verify your information.
• Develop three key message points you want to communicate. Keep them simple and free of industry jargon.
• Identify your spokespeople. Be sure to include parents/school principals/others in the community who can talk articulately about why pupil transportation is important (make sure all have and understand your message points).
• If you have not yet done so, begin cultivating relationships with reporters. Don’t wait to introduce yourself the week before National School Bus Safety Week!
It is important to let reporters, and your school colleagues, know that National School Bus Safety Week is separate from the annual School Bus Safety Week Poster Contest. The 2014 winning poster becomes the theme for the next safety week media campaigns. So in 2015, your local poster contests should be focused on pedestrian safety in the zones around school bus stops.
The theme of National School Bus Safety Week this year is “Be smart. Be seen. I wait in a safe place.” Naomi Tu, an eighth grader at Jackson Middle School in Anoka, Minnesota, created the fabulous artwork that depicts this year’s theme.
Turning Naomi’s poster into an effective local media campaign might involve working with your police department on an enforcement program to catch drivers illegally passing stopped school buses, and reminding parents to instruct their children about safety at school bus stops. A joint school bus operator/school system/PTA/police partnership would be very attractive to local news media!
Finally, submissions for this year’s poster contest must be received at NAPT headquarters no later than Oct. 1. The 2015 poster contest theme is “Bully Free Zone!” This addresses a big concern: preventing bullying not just in neighborhoods, but also school grounds and school buses. The winning poster this year will become the communications theme for next year’s National School Bus Safety Week public awareness activities.
More information on the safety week and the poster contest is available at www.napt.org under the “Resources” tab, or you can call the NAPT staff at (800) 989-NAPT.