small Media Market

Scoring Big in a Small Media Market – A Municipal PR Case Study

By: Kyle Cronin

While important to local residents, municipal PR stories and community news can be tough to generalize. Telling a relatable story to a broader audience can prove difficult when the topic is focused on a particular community or city initiative, seemingly only relevant to residents.

However, no matter how limited, or rather, how focused your news item may be, there are often hidden opportunities to take your small-town story to the big stage. Read on for our recommendations for scoring big on local municipal and community news.

Start by Planting Seeds in Your Own Backyard

In February 2020, our agency had the opportunity to represent the City of Sterling Heights in their media push around the grand opening of the new Sterling Heights Community Center. This was a special project that was important to the city and was covered at length by hyperlocal community outlets. To amplify the story, Identity was tasked with securing high-impact regional media coverage of the grand opening outside of Macomb County, in addition to managing relationships with local outlets who had already been following the development of the center from the planning stage.

From the beginning, it was important to leave no stone unturned in our media planning. That meant looking into nearly every outlet that could possibly take interest in the news of the new community center. From multicultural publications and prominent local blogs to community influencers, we cast a wide net in order to build a comprehensive list of contacts.

For municipal PR campaigns, it’s important to consider that the size and scale of community outlets can affect their ability to capture photo and video. Some outlets may send a singular reporter, while others may have capacity to send a photographer in addition to a journalist. To make sure all bases are covered, plan on capturing your own photos and videos to be distributed with materials at the conclusion of your event or campaign—this way, you’ve set a consistent baseline for access to visual content.

Sterling Heights Sentry and Macomb Daily were pivotal in telling our story directly to the community and did it with stunning visual content. These publications know the city and its residents better than anyone and deliver news that matters most to them. The opening of the 98,000-square-foot community center was a highly anticipated moment for the community. At the same time, we knew this story could be taken to the next level. So, how do we make this city-wide story a little bigger?

Look for the Hook

It’s critical to build a strategy with consideration to every relevant audience. While community newspapers may be first on your list for a community event, they shouldn’t be the only ones telling your story. Develop a relevant hook for broadcast viewers, radio listeners, online news readers, etc. to widen your scope and increase chances of broader media coverage.

In our case, diving deep into some of the unique qualities of the Sterling Heights Community Center was our hook which led to prominent, highly visual feature stories with the Detroit Free Press, WXYZ and FOX 2.

The City of Sterling Heights has long been a leader in adaptive programming for children and adults, and the community center offered the ability to expand this essential programming. First launched in the 1970s, the program is designed to be inclusive for individuals of all ability levels. Using this uniquely defined area of expertise as a lead, we secured an on-site interview opportunity and a peek inside the newly opened community center.

Rachel Mulawa, Adaptive Recreation Supervisor for the City of Sterling Heights joined FOX 2’s Josh Landon to talk about the city’s philosophy for providing inclusive recreational programs. The interview took place inside the center’s Little Learners Room, a specially designed space for children with developmental challenges and a priority for the client to showcase.

Go Big for Bold Coverage

Whether designing strategies for an ice cream brand, coffee company, automotive supplier or community center, we’re firm believers that big moments translate to big coverage. While it can tough to capture lightning in a bottle, a great campaign idea can do wonders for ensuring a small, community story catches the attention of big media outlets.

To involve the community and add another dimension to the center’s grand opening on February 29, we recommended the city launch a contest on its Facebook page for local children to be crowned “Community Center Mayor for the Day” and earn the honor of cutting the ribbon at the event.

A call was put out to Sterling Heights children 12 and under (or rather, their parents) to explain in 150 words or less why they love Sterling Heights Parks and Recreation. Five-year-old Abigail was selected for her love of the park monkey bars and the Dodge Park splash pad.

As part of her duties, Abigail received a “swag bag” with Sterling Heights goodies and was invited to cut the ribbon to the new Community Center alongside Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor and other city and county officials—a day she will certainly never forget. The moment became a key component of the grand opening and a feel-good story to pique media interest.

Small Market, Big Opportunity

After the dust settles on your media moment, be sure to evaluate and measure success. Surely the community outlets have covered the news and your key target audiences have been spoken to. Ensure goals are achieved, and if they are not, identify how things could have gone differently.

Depending on the event or campaign in question, media goals will vary. When developing a communications program in a smaller market, being nimble is essential. Be willing to think outside the box, pivot to make things work and look for the important details to give your story the fuel it needs to deliver high-impact visibility.