Confessions from a former 'media guy'
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 ROI? Well, I’m going to lift the curtain in this “tell all” and show you how to work with our industry’s media and associations—and 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 closely with associations, before I joined the inimitable RedFlash Group seven years ago. I promise 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 media and associations
Sponsorships, advertising and exhibits are the revenue lifeblood of most media and associations.
Yes, there was a day 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, newsletters, etc., that 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’s been beaten up pretty good over the past 10 or so years, including trade media. Yet, they serve a vital purpose, sharing critical news and information, and connecting buyers with sellers.
Trade show and conference revenue still make up a big part of the annual operating budget for most associations. Which, it should come as no surprise, has been disastrous for many associations in 2020 and 2021. As a result, there are opportunities for new kinds of partnerships and sponsorships, from virtual conferences to webinars to position papers.
From a more benevolent perspective, those associations are vital to the success of public safety—911, EMS, law enforcement and the fire service alike. They educate the market, develop standards and drive advancement. They need your support now more than ever. And your organization will benefit from the investment and partnership.
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. We’ll show you next how you can benefit now more than ever, too.
2. Surprise: Media and associations support organizations that support them
By our count, there are about 8,000 organizations—including commercial, non-profit, start-ups and Fortune 500 companies—that serve public safety. I’d say 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.
So, I’m always puzzled when representatives of organizations that don’t support the industry media and associations wonder why they never get any “love” (e.g., PR, asked to be on panels, speak at webinars and conferences, etc.).
Answer: You’re 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 the sponsors, advertisers and exhibitors receive more attention? Which brings me to the next point.
3. Why do you expect your public safety announcement is as important to them as it is to you?
Of course you think your organization’s announcement is important. You’ve worked so hard on that product launch, acquisition, new hire, etc. Guess what? 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’s 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 those organizations you don’t support. Take your place at the table! There’s a seat for you, friend.
4. You don’t have to break the bank to be in the sponsorship game
There I go with mixed metaphors again. So lazy. Anyway, some are reluctant to work with industry media and associations because they think it will cost an arm and a leg (ah, sorry!). The truth is you don’t necessarily need to spend 6 or even 5 figures to reap the benefits of your investment.
Yes, the giant players and sponsors will get the most visibility and have a higher level of presence. But we’ve seen organizations fund discrete opportunities (a session sponsorship, geo-targeted advertising, etc.) that are within everyone’s budget.
And guess what? That opens the door to additional collaboration and visibility with the organization you’re supporting. Because you’re now on their minds, and when they need a panelist from an emerging public safety technology company for a webinar, they remember talking to you last week. It really can be that simple.
5. Ask to meet with public safety editors, board members and bloggers
How often do you hear that it’s all about relationships? How often do you tell your sales team this? (By the way, I think it’s a strong statement that our personal relationships in public safety have withstood this era of not seeing each other in person. We miss seeing you in your company logo shirts and sweaters!).
As you engage with industry media and associations, you have the opportunity 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, state representatives, etc. You’re now inside the Circle of Trust, and 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.
Caveat: make sure your intentions are pure. Don’t try to hard-sell these new contacts. Ask questions, learn from them, ask them 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 options A, B, C or D. There’s no magic in that. The magic happens when you brainstorm with your media/association counterpart, and together your 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; Ebooks 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, literally wrote 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.