7 Truths About Working with Public Safety Media and Associations

Do you want to harness the power of public safety associations and media to help your organization? Understand how to garner free press and powerful sponsorships with strong return on investment? 

Read on and learn how to work with our industry’s media and associations—and also what not to do. How am I qualified to provide such guidance? I spent 20+ years working in public safety media (I’ve got the scars to prove it!) and working closely with associations before I joined RedFlash Group almost nine years ago. I promise that if you follow these seven guidelines, you’ll stand out from the pack and get the most from your marketing spend.

1. Understand the financial reality of public safety media and associations.

Sponsorships, advertising and exhibits are the revenue lifeblood of most media and associations.

While there was a time when subscriptions and individual memberships were a primary income source, those days are over for most. With rare exceptions, the public safety media publications, websites and newsletters you pay attention to are supported exclusively by sponsorships and advertising. That’s what pays for writers, editors, designers, developers, video production and more.

The media has been beaten up pretty good over the past 10 or so years, and that includes trade media. Yet they still serve a vital purpose, sharing critical news and information and connecting buyers with sellers.

Trade show and conference revenue make up a big part of the annual operating budget for most associations, though the pandemic has been, as you might guess, disastrous for many. While most are rebounding now, the pandemic also created opportunities for new kinds of partnerships and sponsorships—from virtual conferences towebinars to position papers.

Make no mistake: These associations are vital to the success of public safety—911, EMS,law enforcement and thefire service alike. They educate the market, develop standards and drive advancement. And while they need your support now more than ever, your organization will benefit from the investment and partnership as well.

A vibrant and robust set of public safety associations and media is good for our industry. If ever there was a time when your partnership or sponsorship could make a difference, it’s now.

2. Support media and associations and you’ll find them a lot likelier to support you.

By our count, there are about 8,000 organizations—including commercial, non-profit, start-up and Fortune 500 companies—that serve public safety. I’d estimate that about 15% of those are actively supporting industry media and associations. That gives those 15% some great positioning and marketing opportunities others don’t take advantage of.

I’m always puzzled when representatives of organizations that don’t support the industry media and associations wonder why they never get any “love,”  meaning PR coverage or requests to be on panels or speak at webinars and conferences.

The answer: You’re simply not on their radar. Those associations and trade media are busy, just like you are. They’ve only got so much time, energy and focus to give. Are you really surprised that their sponsors, advertisers and exhibitors receive more attention? Which brings me to the next point.

3. Be realistic about where your public safety announcement falls in the list of priorities.

It’s natural to think your organization’s announcement is important. You’ve worked really hard on that product launch, acquisition or new hire, after all.  But all those companies that support the industry media and associations also have announcements. Yet those organizations have invested in relationships, referrals and generally helping the media and associations.

You could be crass and call it “pay to play.” There is some truth to that. But if you’re honest, I bet you give most of your time and attention to your biggest, most loyal customers, too (at least I hope you do). So stop complaining about never getting positive PR and opportunities from organizations you don’t support. Take your place at the table! There’s a seat for you, friend.

4. Spend a little in the sponsorship game.

Some are reluctant to work with industry media and associations because they think it will cost a bundle. The truth is that you don’t need to spend six or even five figures to reap benefits from your investment.

Yes, the giant players and sponsors will get the most visibility and have a larger presence. But think about a single session sponsorship or a geo-targeted advertising campaign; these are within everyone’s budget.

And guess what? Even a modest level of participation opens the door to additional collaboration and visibility with the organization you’re supporting. Now you’re on their minds and when they need a panelist from an emerging public safety technology company for a webinar, they’ll remember the conversation they had with you last week. It really can be that simple.

5. Ask to meet with public safety editors, board members and bloggers.

How often have you heard that it’s all about relationships? How often do you say the same thing to your sales team? The more you engage with industry media and associations, the more opportunities you have to build lasting relationships. We’ve all had those business (and personal) relationships save us just when we needed it most. So in addition to forging a relationship with the association/media sales representative, ask for introductions to other key people.

At an association, that could be the executive director, board members, committee members and state representatives. Once you’re inside the Circle of Trust, you’ll be surprised just how willing contacts will be to help you network within their associations.

Same for industry media. It’s great that you’re now tight with the advertising person you work with. Now ask for an introduction to the editor, editorial board members or columnists/bloggers who cover your area. Most are happy to facilitate such networking.

One caveat, though: Make sure your intentions are pure. Don’t try to hard-sell these new contacts. Ask questions, learn from them and ask how you can help them.

6. Go beyond the rate card and sponsor prospectus.

The cold truth is that too many associations and media companies live by their rate card and sponsor prospectus: Choose option A, B, C or D. There’s no magic in that. The magic happens when you brainstorm with your media/association counterpart and together you dream up utterly unique and customized programs.

Unfortunately, in the past, only a few associations and media were progressive enough to think this way. But in a recent conversation I had with a client, we both realized that one potential lasting benefit of the COVID era is the willingness to try new things.

Associations and media that once held fast to their traditional banner ads and 10×10 booths have come out and embraced the fact we knew all along: The best outreach we do is when we collaborate and find a unique solution to a unique problem.

Some examples we’ve seen include sponsor-driven educational podcasts and interactive webinars; focused virtual meetings with committees and editorial boards; andEbooks and white papers created in collaboration.

One other area in sponsorships we think will continue to gain traction: building performance incentives into your sponsorships. This may have been unheard of in the old days. But I think we’ll continue to see a trend toward building into sponsorships clear metrics and benchmarks and making at least part of the sponsorship cost variable.

A colleague of mine, Ken Unger, president of Charge, a sponsorship marketing agency in Indianapolis, literallywrote the book on how to get the most out of your sponsorships. Performance incentives are where he sees sponsorships going, and I tend to agree, because it always should be a win-win for both parties.

7. Be a real partner to public safety media and associations—especially now.

I think most of us have taken for granted the important role associations and media play in public safety. Or, we acknowledge their importance but we haven’t really made the effort to find ways to support and partner with them.

If you’re one of those folks, this would be a great time to reach out and start a relationship. And remember, that relationship includes supporting them financially in some way.

You’ll make new friends and relationships that can help you and your organization in ways you never considered. In addition to helping your own organization, you’ll also help ensure associations and media continue to play a critical role in driving public safety forward.

If you could use help in developing the best strategy to reach public safety,we’d love to start a conversation.

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