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Roundtable: Police PIOs share tips for maximizing media outreach during National Police Week

“If the police are the people, and the people are the police, this is a week for everyone to embrace.”

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By Police1 Staff

National Police Week is an essential time for honoring law enforcement officers, both past and present, and for fostering stronger connections between the police and the communities they serve. For public information officers, effective communication with the media is key to achieving these goals.

Through skillful collaboration with the media, PIOs can raise awareness of the events, memorials and tributes that take place during Police Week. Media coverage helps encourages public participation in Police Week events, allowing communities to remember and honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty while recognizing the exceptional work and achievements of current officers.

In this roundtable, we explore several strategies PIOs can use to maximize media coverage of Police Week events, ultimately leading to increased public awareness, improved community relations, and more opportunities to honor our fallen heroes and celebrate the achievements of active-duty officers.

Cultivate an ongoing relationship

The first step to engaging the media for topics that are important to our profession like National Police Week starts well before the month of May. Engaging our partners in the media should be an ongoing relationship throughout the year. When the media calls, answer the phone or at least respond to the message as quickly as possible. You don’t have to have the answers to their questions to respond. Give them a call and tell them that you have received their inquiry and are working on the answer. This buys you time and lets them know you received their request and are going to help them as best you can. This establishes that relationship that is needed when we have a message, we want to spread.

Once the relationship is in place, I like to reach out to them with a basic interest check. Like a teaser to see who bites. We know through our working relationships who are the allies that will promote this important time of year in a positive way for us. Make use of this knowledge.

Once the teaser is sent out, see who bites, and then engage them individually with ideas for interviews or stories that will highlight the events you have planned to honor our fallen and their families. An important part is to make it worth their while and make it easy for them. Provide the information and access they need to tell your story.

One of the ways to get this message out is by engaging the family of fallen members when possible. Some family members are very involved in spreading the message of remembrance and support for other families. The value of this direct contact with fallen family members increases the impact and emotional connection with the intended message. Keeping an ongoing working relationship with media partners is the most important step in getting your message out in a timely and successful manner.

Darren Wright is the public information officer for the police department in Oro Valley, Arizona. He retired from the Washington State Patrol as a sergeant after serving 31 years. His final assignment was as headquarters public information officer, where he handled major media inquiries and statewide impact incidents and oversaw the district PIO program. Read more from Darren here.

Follow these four steps to success

1. Make it visual

With the exception of radio, every reporter considering your pitch will need photos or videos to get their story published. Planning a wreath-laying ceremony or community memorial event? Give some thought to layout and staging to optimize the visual impact. Inform reporters in advance about any unique visual opportunities. Regardless of anticipated media or public attendance, capture your own photos and b-roll video. Use these to highlight the program on your social media platforms or share raw content with media for an easy post-event piece.

2. Make it personal

Stories are the backbone of compelling reporting. As our agencies celebrate those who serve, look for opportunities to share personal stories about the work. Do you have multiple relatives on the force or generations of one family behind the badge? People who began their career as teen Explorers or Reserve volunteers? An officer who experienced law enforcement as a victim or witness and felt motivated to serve as a result? A family finding ways to honor their fallen officer? Connect them with a trusted reporter for a human interest feature that illustrates Police Week from a personal perspective.

3. Make it meaningful

In 2020, COVID restrictions limited National Police Week events. Despite the inability to host a traditional public ceremony, the Fort Collins Police Honor Guard paid respects to the fallen in a private memorial while an officer’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” rang through an empty atrium. They also gathered early one morning to run the annual Police Memorial 5k in the city’s nearby foothills. These events were meaningful in their own right, but involving the Public Information Officer provided an opportunity to capture and share them with the community.

4. Make it about community

Encourage the community to participate in both celebratory and memorial events. Personally invite those who support your agency throughout the year, such as local businesses, houses of worship, veterans groups and fellow first responder agencies. Publicly thank the thoughtful community members who drop by during Police Week. If the police are the people, and the people are the police, this is a week for everyone to embrace.

Kate Kimble is the public information director for Larimer County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado. She previously served as the public relations manager for Fort Collins Police Services in Fort Collins, Colorado. Read more from Kate here.

It starts with one reporter

As we continue to see law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day and make the ultimate sacrifice to protect their communities, National Police Week is continuing to be not just a tribute to those who protect and serve, but to those who have done so at the greatest cost. Highlighting the work that is done day in and day out is what agencies do every day, but the timeliness of this week-long recognition can give journalists and local media outlets something easy to grasp for coverage.

It starts with one reporter, one person who you feel can tell your department’s story the way you would hope. That trusted reporter gets the first crack at an exclusive with the officers involved, the chief or sheriff, and you provide additional photos and context that help package the story. The more you can give as much as possible upfront, the higher the likelihood that a journalist – who is scrambling to have enough time and resources to do their job day in and day out – will be able to cover this momentous week, even if it’s just for one day.

Secondly, think of ways in which your story hasn’t been told before. We are so tired of the old adage “If it bleeds, it leads.” Everyone needs something good or profound every once in a while. How can you help bring that out for this week? What makes for a good story during such a somber week? We can look at all facets of what is impacting the profession now, but what will drive better coverage is how much access you can give to help make that happen. The profession is full of a humble bunch, but in order to beat back a narrative that continues to persist regarding the negative aspects of a noble profession, we have to start meeting those efforts headline for headline.

Lastly, be ready early to try and garner coverage. Trying to pitch something the day of doesn’t work. The more advance notice you can give a journalist to help tell your story the way you can hope it would be told, the better. The more time you can give a reporter to prepare, and the more time you give yourself to do the same, the better the outcome, always.

Katie Nelson is the social media and public relations coordinator for the Mountain View Police Department in northern California. Read more from Katie here.