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A Targeted Public Relations Initiative:

This illustration highlights a public relations initiative undertaken specifically for the purpose of increasing LCCS operating capacity in the area of foster homes for adolescents. In the current context, though, your focus should be on the public relations process. The steps included in the initiative are instructive regardless of the specific target group or the specific desired outcome. With that in mind, primarily focus on the public relations process as you consider the illustration.

LCCS, as do most public child protection agencies, has a significant need for foster families specifically willing to take care of teens. This critical need presented the agency with an ideal opportunity to strategically communicate with a targeted market. The first priority was determining who the target market should be.

Ohio Families for Kids, a Kellogg Foundation funded initiative, used State and Northeast Ohio statistics to develop demographic profiles of foster and adoptive families. Using this research, LCCS looked locally for population groups that had similar demographics to regional foster families who take care of teens. Demographically speaking, Labor Union households in Lorain County have a profile most similar to the one identified through the research.

Lorain County has strong Labor affiliations and the general public places a high value on unionized labor. That, in turn, gives Labor a strong voice politically and socially in the larger Lorain County community. Organizationally, the Labor community has its own infrastructure, leadership, values, and priorities. In order to expand LCCS’ operating capacity to include “union” foster families, LCCS needed to develop and cultivate ongoing relationships with Labor’s leadership. The goal here was to receive and sustain the leadership authorization needed to proceed with marketing and recruitment activities with union families.

As a result of other public relations activities, the LCCS Public Information Officer knew the business manager for one of the local labor unions. When asked, the business manager quite willingly arranged for introductions and a seat at the next meeting of the Local. Unions, just as most other groups, like to have informational speakers at their meetings and are very open to people asking for that opportunity. Being able to call the business manager, whom she already knew, gave the PIO and thus the agency an important edge. Also, the business manager was comfortable enough with the already established relationship to let union members know up-front that his plan was to begin an on-going relationship with the agency.

Over the next several months, the agency followed through from the initial meeting with additional meetings and networking opportunities with an expanding group of Union leaders. This led to increasing opportunities to directly talk about the goals of the joint initiative and to ask for input on how to best continue the recruiting process.

Being consistent, truthful about the children who need homes, and repeatedly stating the initiative’s goals increased general awareness of the need. Further, the process itself led to more opportunities to attend additional meetings. It was an expanding, open partnership that created a “public value” within the union community: teenagers need families.

Building on this public value, the process asked for more and more union input focusing on a simple question. How will you and the agency work together to find families for teens?

Through this ongoing dialog, needed union authorization to continue was gradually forthcoming. In terms of the strategic triangle, the agency and the unions focused first on value creation and union authorization before focusing specifically on increasing operating capacity: more licensed foster families for adolescents.

As the agency became better and better at talking with the target market, the need for specific literature was identified. Prior to this point, there was little reason to develop unique literature. Custom literature only works after the shared values are created and the target market is explicitly interested in having informational literature.

Developing the market-specific literature was also a shared process. Successful marketing campaigns include targeted pieces that use language and visuals to convey the identified need in a clear and familiar way to the intended audience. The usual foster care recruitment slogans such as Open Your Heart and Home were neither specific enough nor adequately tailored to the target market.

During a discussion about fostering, the need for permanence and the importance of developing needed skills for independent living, the union leaders developed the ideal one-sentence mission statement for the initiative. Part of the discussion included making a permanent connection with a teen in a relatively short time, i.e., a couple of years. Foster parenting would necessarily be intense, all the while preparing the young adult for independence and adulthood.

“Sort of like an apprenticeship,” one of the union leaders quipped. Thus, the initiative’s central message was created, “Apprenticeships needed for the biggest job of all: Life.”

Strategically, developing the literature as part of the process also added credibility. Unless you are developing literature simply for the sake of having literature, it should never be an agency-only process.

In an unanticipated but important outcome within the process, the agency formed a special partnership with the steelworkers. Their Local has an internal training facility for members’ professional and personal development. LCCS was invited to offer foster parent orientation/information workshops at gatherings throughout the year, open only to union members. Several union families have gone on to receive foster care licenses through this process.

Due in part to the visibility and success of the special partnership with the Steelworkers, Locals of other labor unions have an even higher interest in continuing the process. Equally importantly, they also have a high expectation that their individual partnerships with the agency will result in a specific initiative that utilizes their unique structure and resources.

An additional hidden conclusion here needs to be highlighted and must always be kept in mind when developing targeted public relations initiatives. There is no room for one-size-fits-all approaches for agencies that are serious about fully exploiting the potential of the strategic triangle.

Now that you have considered the illustration, focusing on the public relations process, consider the following questions:

·       Keeping in mind that the public relations street is always two-way, what do you think the motivations were for the union leaders in the illustration? What was the pay-off for them?

·       From your perspective, what were the key steps in the initiative?

·       From your perspective, are there missing steps that should have been taken or steps that should have been omitted?

·       For your agency, what groups in your community might productively be targeted for public relations initiatives?

·       For each group, what are the specific outcomes you could consider in a public relations initiative with the group?

For example, you might target school principals with the goal of increasing the ease with which your investigators are able to talk privately with children at school when abuse or neglect has been reported either by school personnel or others in the community.

Now, pick one of the groups from your target list. Focus on the outcome you have identified for that group. Using the steps you identified from the illustration, develop a targeted public relations initiative plan to work with that group. Be sure to add the steps you think were missing in the illustration and omit any steps that you think were inappropriate. Your plan will look like a list or series of specific action steps. Of course, you will undoubtedly need to modify the plan as you go through the implementation process. Nonetheless, effective public relations initiatives start with a carefully developed plan. (Also, be sure to consider the potential motivations of the group. Why would they consider working with you to achieve the outcomes you have developed?)

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