Making the Most of the Media

February 11, 1999

It is clear to Jetta Bernier and the Campaign Steering Committee that public policy today is made primarily through the media. Says Bernier in her office on Boston's Beacon Street, "Legislators at the State House across the street open the pages of the Boston Globe each morning and know that what they read there, they will have to attend to."

Bernier and Campaign Steering Committee Member Jeff Schiffman, a media consultant with a long history in broadcasting, persuaded the Globe's corporate public relations office to become a Campaign partner. The partnership features a substantial amount of free public service advertising space.

Schiffman, a former vice president of programs for Westinghouse Television and former director of broadcasting for CBS Television, knows the significance of media coverage in today's social and political climate. "Forging stronger and more proactive linkages with the media must become part of the 21st Century advocate's strategy to promote social change for children," Schiffman says.

In addition to proposed partnerships with statewide cable systems, The Boston Parents Paper, WBOQ radio and TV stations, the Campaign will produce opinion polls, data reports, and other informational tools to generate news stories. "In order for us to get the media's attention," Bernier says, "we have to be the people 'in the know' about kids."

Early in the year, the Campaign issued a special KIDS COUNT data report, "Working and Still Poor Families." The Campaign then issued a data report on child care in conjunction with the 1998 National KIDS COUNT Data Book released in May 1998. Parents United for Child Care and the Heller School at Brandeis University served as principal advisors. The third data report will focus on the child protection system, facilitated by a special grant from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation and the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse. This report is designed to educate citizens about the complexities of the state child welfare systems and how they can get involved in its reform. The fourth data report in 1998 will focus on the links between homelessness, domestic violence and child abuse. It will be prepared in partnership with the Better Homes Fund.

Bernier says these reports will generate media hits and serve the Campaign's public education component. The Campaign is also a partner with the Urban Institute and its Assessing the New Federalism project. The Campaign will serve as a vehicle for the dissemination of reports generated by the Urban Institute on the devolution of responsibility for social programs from the federal to state governments. The project and the reports focus on the well-being of families and children.

The Campaign's next logical step, according to Bernier, is to generate media products for the purpose of raising revenues. Says Bernier, "The Campaign could serve as a regular producer of a variety of TV programs, informational spots, training videos, and more on topics relevant to children and families." The Campaign would then make these services available to other non-profits seeking to promote related messages at a cost significantly below that which for-profit companies would charge. It's part of an effort to promote more effectively the critical messages about children and their needs.

Bernier encourages such entrepreneurial moves as part of the Campaign's willingness to utilize techniques more common in for-profit venues. The proposition is mutually beneficial: "For example," she says, "Because cable operators seek community information, they will air our programs repeatedly with no cost to the Campaign. Everybody wins: the local citizens, cable companies, and most important, the kids." By developing partnerships with groups like cable systems and other for-profit production companies, the Campaign will improve its chances for securing production at low or no-cost. In turn, the Campaign will charge other children's organizations low rates to develop relationships and further the cause at the same time.