In today’s media environment, information flows at an unprecedented rate. In May 2023 alone, there were 133,000 news stories published by top international and national news sources, 12.3 million stories in local US publications, and 56,900 tweets by members of Congress.
The aggregate of these numbers presents a unique challenge for government and legislative affairs teams — and as government agencies, corporations, non-profits, and NGOs alike recognize the importance of a 360-degree view of their policy priorities, they need to update their strategies.
How do agencies keep track of the news and media mentions that matter to them? How do they organize those news items and cut through the white noise? And how do they do that today, tomorrow, and the next day without sacrificing valuable time spent on other objectives?
The ability to monitor and understand the media landscape can be a game-changer in shaping successful legislative and government affairs strategies. In this article, we’ll dive into the intricacies of media monitoring and its pivotal role in staying ahead in the ever-changing policy landscape.
The Need for Media Monitoring
While it may not be unreasonable to stay abreast of top national news stories from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times — when your agency or issue is the topic of conversation at state and local levels, you’ll need to keep tabs on hundreds, if not thousands, of additional publications.
Take the USDA as an example. In the past year, USA Today mentioned the USDA a total of 185 times — this number isn’t completely unreasonable for teams to monitor. However, if we expand our search to include industry and local news sources, there were 44,440 and 53,700 additional mentions, respectively.
For a federal agency that is heavily involved with rural communities across the county, awareness of how they are being talked about in those communities is absolutely critical.
This example highlights the need for an advanced media monitoring system that scraps publications to find mentions of important issues.
Key Strategies for Effective Media Monitoring
Now that we’ve highlighted the importance of a media monitoring strategy, let’s explore some best practices to strengthen your existing strategy and seamlessly integrate it into your government affairs planning.
1. Uncover the Local Perspective
While your organization may have a national objective, its operations and public perception will be unique to each state, district, or municipality — understanding how your organization is perceived at those different levels is paramount. Different regions have distinct concerns and priorities. Tailoring your legislative and intergovernmental affairs strategy accordingly can yield more favorable outcomes.
For example, let’s say you work for the Federal Railroad Administration. Recent stories in Illinois tend to focus on decreasing congestion and increasing routes to Chicago suburbs. Meanwhile, stories in San Mateo are focused on minimizing noise levels for local residents. Knowing the topics that matter in each district can help shape your conversations with legislators and regulators.
To uncover how districts are covering your organization, ask these questions:
- What stories are outlets telling about your organization?
- What vocabulary are reporters using to describe your issue in local publications?
- What kind of headlines are editors using for these stories?
Once you understand the district angle of the issue, you can incorporate that angle and language into your communications strategy, as well as your legislative strategy as you seek to engage with local officials or district representatives for support on your programs and initiatives.
For example, positive local news mentions like this story from the Seattle Times could be used in press releases and public communications to demonstrate the impact the Department of Commerce has had in the state of Washington.
From the story, the agency could highlight:
- Sen. Maria Cantwell speaks favorably of the Department of Commerce.
- “Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, called the deal a ‘big win for trade policy and Washington apple growers.’”
- The bottom line: the U.S. Department of Commerce helped bring jobs to Washington farmers.
2. Search Beyond Your Agency’s Name
Media monitoring isn’t just about finding direct mentions of your agency. By searching for related keywords and issues, you can uncover news items that might not include your organization’s name but are still pertinent to your mission.
For example, the above graph from Quorum shows which organizations have published articles that include the terms apple AND India AND tariffs. Organizations like the Department of Commerce could use this information to identify which outlets to pay the most attention to.
Monitoring related keywords can also help to reshape your strategy from reactive to proactive. For example, if an outlet mentions a successful outcome, but doesn’t call out your organization, you could reach out to offer a quote. Alternatively, you could identify outlets that didn’t cover the story and offer them a new angle.
Even beyond direct engagement with news outlets, this approach offers your team an early warning system to ensure that you’re never caught in the tailwind of a developing news story or negative press.
3. Understand the Priorities at All Levels
Tracking the frequency of mentions of your agency’s name and issues can provide valuable insights into your organization’s importance within communities. If your issues are frequently covered in the local news, there’s a good chance that your issue is high on the list of priorities for local officials. Conversely, if your issue isn’t getting much attention, it probably isn’t on the radar of local officials.
Additionally, examining trends in news mentions over time can reveal shifts in public perception and priorities. This information is invaluable for adapting your strategies and messaging accordingly.
4. Identify Key Local Players
Media monitoring should not only focus on “what” is being said but also on “who” is saying it. Effective organizations must be able to quickly identify key players and stakeholders in the communities in which they operate.
Who is going to help promote and gain buy-in from communities and constituents on your behalf? Who are the legislators that you should be talking to on the Hill because your organization does significant work in their state or district?
If we take a state agency like the California Energy Commission, for example, knowing who in the media landscape most frequently covers their issues can be hugely valuable for PR engagement. In this example, the chart from Quorum shows us that AP Reporter Adam Bean covers the commission the most. With this information, the commission knows who should be on the top of their PR engagement list.
By expanding our definition of media to include social media, we can also see who frequently talks about your issues outside of news publications. By closely monitoring how legislators and officials talk about your issues on social media and through the press, you can more adeptly identify and engage with those who can help further your mission. Conversely, by understanding who the major detractors are in a given context, you can better prepare your team to field those objections.
5. Give Legislators a Local Story
When your organization or issues receive positive media coverage, you can leverage your relationships with influential legislators and further advance your message. Whenever possible, share your stories with legislators through personalized outreach — this helps legislators remember your issue and provides them with compelling stories to use in their communications.
For example, returning to the story covering apple farmers in Washington, Rep. Rick Larsen and Rep. Kim Schrier both shared the story with their followers on social media.
Incorporating positive stories in leave-behinds is another great way to get your message in front of lawmakers. Additionally, prepping your team with stories before in-person meetings ensures that your team is well-prepared for legislative engagements.
Media monitoring is not a luxury but a necessity for public sector organizations aiming to thrive in today’s information-rich environment. By adopting these best practices, you can harness the power of media monitoring to stay informed, engage effectively with stakeholders, and shape successful government affairs strategies.
This blog post is based on a webinar hosted by John Schreder.