“Finishing your film is 50 percent of the work. The other 50 percent is getting it out in the world to audiences that need it most.”
– Robert West, Working Films
After a year or more of working on a program, you’ll no doubt be tempted to take a well-deserved break. But, the power of your work to impact others is at its height during the engagement activities conducted just before and after your broadcast or release date. Implementing your engagement strategies takes continued effort and energy, but you’ll know immediately that you’ve had an effect on the world!
Public television stations across the country gathered deeply personal stories from thousands of veterans as part of the local/national engagement around Ken Burns’ series, World War II. Here AETN films at the WWII Memorial in Washington, DC.
Your program will be promoted by the distributor (PBS, NPR, ITVS, APM, APT, et al) to both stations and audiences on a timeline that they think is appropriate for generating the greatest interest. You have an opportunity meanwhile to begin generating buzz among the targets you’ve identified. In close coordination with your distributor, go ahead and launch your website and social media pages and start putting interesting content online. This can be scenes and interviews that are compelling but won’t make into make the final cut, a lengthy program tease, completed chapters of your final program or web-only material. If you have an engagement plan that includes user-generated content (UGC), start soliciting, sharing, and reacting to the content you receive. If you have engagement partners, get content and links on to their sites.
ITVS and PBS released short teases for Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes
on the project website in advance of broadcast.
A time-honored tradition is the leadership summit, or symposium, often scheduled just prior to a broadcast. It’s a time-honored tradition because it works! This is the place and time for you to bring together thought leaders, changemakers, scholars and funders, and to catalyze a productive and newsworthy conversation with your content. A prominent event builds interest in the broadcast itself and can lay the groundwork for sustained engagement afterward. Consider conducting local leadership summits at the same time; stations can connect and interact with your guests using video or web conferencing. It’s a good idea to feature some of the participants in your program at the event; a personal story can be profound and persuasive. Meeting attendees will also be interested in the production process itself, so bring along members of your production crew and photos from your shoots.
Work with local stations.
This is the sweet spot for public media – the intersection of a national story with local individuals and organizations, where impact is created.
Some advice and information:
Most public television stations have dedicated community engagement staff (though they often wear other hats) while radio stations tend to organize their engagement work through editorial, web and development staff. NCME can help you identify appropriate personnel at any station.
Design your work with the realities of local stations in mind. They are hard-wired to serve the community but have many competing priorities, not the least of which are maintaining their editorial integrity and garnering enough financial support to survive.
Your local plans should take advantage of stations’ ability to convene people in person, to contextualize an issue for local audiences, to create original content, to work with place-based social media and to catalyze grassroots efforts through their connections with local thought leaders. Be sensitive, however, to station relationships with governing and editorial boards, funders and loyal users.
Engagement grants, however small, can overcome internal resistance and are likely to result in a level of effort valued far beyond the cost of the grant. NCME can help you to develop grant guidelines, application forms and reporting tools.
Training helps – station engagement specialists will take advantage of professional development that helps them to reach new audiences and community groups, and to use new engagement techniques and technology.
Engage the engagers! Communicate well and frequently with stations; make sure you have one person on your team assigned to this task. Create structured events to communicate with stations (such as NCME webinars, conference sessions, etc.) and also maintain some kind of online workspace to facilitate a free flow of ideas and plans. Review Tips for Communicating with Local Stations under Tools & Resources.
Ken Burns’ National Parks series was the inspiration for a youth media project at Illinois Public Media. The assignment: create a public service announcement for Kickapoo State Park. For many of the young filmmakers, it was their first visit.
Monitor and report on early engagement results.
Your evaluation plan should include clear audience targets and engagement outcomes as well as indicators of success and the tools/instruments for collecting qualitative and quantitative data. As your project progresses, you should be able to report on what are called outputs – the number of stations who’ve received grants, the number of local events and attendees, the number of people engaging online, the number of viewers and listeners, etc. While these figures don’t tell the full story of impact, they can generate excitement and satisfaction among your supporters and can maintain or build momentum for the project. Make sure that stations and partners take photos and videos of local engagement activities to use in your early reporting. You can also arrange to collect “testimonials” from participants, in person or online, who describe the effect that the engagement has had on their lives.
You should have a plan in place to formally report on outcomes once your evaluator has an opportunity to analyze the findings. For more information, go to the Sustain page.
The National Center for Media Engagement supports public media organizations nationwide in engaging their communities. We provide resources that engage and educate citizens, build sustainable community relationships and stimulate civic participation.