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Your Public Relations Plan:

More fully understanding the Strategic Triangle introduced in the Introduction will help you better see the direct relationship between effective public relations and successful work with the media, on the one hand, and the excellence outcomes you want and must get for abused and neglected children. The first leg of the strategic triangle is public value. This is what the public wants and values.

In child protection, the highest public value is child safety. Children must be kept safe. With effort on your part, your public, your community, can also be helped to value child permanence, child well-being, responsive services, highly qualified staff, adequate facilities, collaboration with other agencies, and other things you think are important. Even so, never lose the perspective that child safety is the public’s bottom line, the primary public value.

The second leg of the strategic triangle is authorization. For example, LCCS has to receive and keep authorization from The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and the Lorain County Board of Commissioners. Then, it has to receive and keep authorization from the voting public in order to maintain its revenue base. Additionally, it has to receive and keep authorization from the court in order to get the authority it needs to intervene into the lives of children and families.

Further, it has to receive and keep authorization from the police and other community agencies and professionals with whom it needs to work to effectively carry out its mission. Beyond that, authorization must come from the schools, community groups, area businesses, and a myriad of other local, regional, state, and national sources to assure the agency’s success. Note that the media is also a key participant in the agency’s authorizing environment, especially given its power to shape and influence the attitudes and opinions of most everyone in the authorizing environment.

The third leg of the strategic triangle is operating capacity. This includes financial resources, qualified staff, quality foster families, adequate facilities, support from community groups and organizations, and all that combines to give the agency the capacity to do its work.

Public relations, then, are those external activities focused on knowing what the public values and assuring that the public continuously knows that the agency is providing what the public values. Further, public relations are those external activities directed to monitoring and enhancing authorization at all levels in the community and beyond. Finally, public relations are those external activities that help the public and the authorizing environment understand and support the operating capacity requirements and resource development of the agency. Effective work with the media is, of course, an integral and absolutely necessary component of the agency’s ongoing public relations initiatives.

Think about your agency in relation to the strategic triangle as you develop the three below.

·       What do you want your public, your community, to value? Child safety is understandably the primary public value related to child protection. In order of importance to you, what are the most significant public values associated with your agency beyond child safety? These will be the public value focus for your public relations activities.

·       Who authorizes your agency? In order of importance, identify the individuals, groups, or organizations whose authorization you must receive and keep in order to successfully operate. These will be the authorization focus for your public relations activities.

·       What are the key elements in your agency’s operating capacity? Of course, financial resources (money) are critical to your agency’s operating capacity. Money is, though, only a means to building operating capacity. You will not get more money because you need more money. Rather, you will get more money because you need to add to or enhance your operating capacity. In order of importance, what are the most important elements in your agency’s operating capacity? For example, an adequate number of foster homes or a computer for each social worker might go on your list. Be sure to start with those capacity elements that you currently have that you cannot operate without. These elements will be the capacity focus for your public relations activities.

Now, using the first list you developed above and focusing on those desired public values, consider these questions:

·       How does your agency assure that it knows what your public, your community, values?

·       How does your agency assure that your public continuously knows that the agency is providing what it values?

Using the second list you developed above and focusing specifically on those authorizers, carefully consider these questions:

·       How does your agency monitor its ongoing authorization at all levels in the community and beyond?

·       What does your agency do to enhance authorization at all levels in the community and beyond?

Next, using the third list you developed above, now consider these questions specifically in terms of the operating capacity elements on your list:

·       How does your agency help the public and members of the authorizing environment better understand the operating capacity requirements and resource development of the agency?

·       What does your agency do to increase the support of your public and members of the authorizing environment for the operating capacity requirements and resource development of the agency?

Now that you have developed the value, authorization, and capacity focuses for your public relations activities, it is time to develop your public relations plan. You do this by following these steps:

·       Start with your value focus list. For each of the values on the list, develop one strategy to let the public know that this “should” be an important priority for them.

For example, LCCS believes that all school-age children served by the agency should be in our community, in school, and out of trouble. The message is, “Keep our kids at home.” Part of the value strategy is to repeat this message verbally and in writing at every opportunity.

For instance, at any meeting dealing with children, we find an opportunity to say, “Remember, we have to keep our kids at home.” We know we are succeeding when we say, “Remember that…” and someone else finishes the sentence for us. (Note that public relations strategies are not necessarily expensive.)

·       Next, shift to your authorization list. For the individuals, groups, or organizations on your list, develop a strategy to maintain and enhance the level of authorization from each.

For example, LCCS must have ongoing authorization from the Lorain County Mental Health Board (MHB) to successfully operate. In support of this ongoing authorization, LCCS supports activities and initiatives of the MHB, whether they are related directly to LCCS activities or not. The MHB is a valued partner and LCCS is committed to doing whatever it takes to help the MHB succeed. Of course, any disagreements are kept private and never discussed publicly. Disagreements, and there occasionally are some, are exclusively a behind-closed-doors activity.

·       Now shift to your operating capacity list. Strategies here are a little more complex. The first step is to determine exactly how the specific capacity element potentially increases child safety. Remember that child safety is the primary public value. In turn, the authorizing environment is most likely to support things that increase child safety. If an operating element is necessary to assure child safety, you are in a strong position to get the needed capacity.

For example, a significant portion of families LCCS serves either speak English as a second language or are not conversant in English. Although translation services are available, LCCS believes that clients should receive services in Spanish, when that is the client’s preferred language. Importantly, services will be more effective and children will be safer if the social worker and the client converse directly with each other, without a translator. Having bi-lingual social workers is necessary to best assure child safety.

Since simply advertising for bi-lingual social workers is not effective in northern Ohio, LCCS needs the capacity to recruit on-site and face-to-face at universities in Florida, New York, and New Mexico, as examples. Given a demonstrated connection between face-to-face recruitment and child safety, the capacity to recruit on-site out of state was forthcoming. An important and related public relations activity is continuously repeating the message, “Our children and their families need and deserve social workers and other staff who can talk with them one-on-one.”

·       Once you have developed a strategy for each item on your public value, authorization, and operating capacity lists, prioritize the strategies. Which ones are absolutely necessary and which ones can have a lower priority? Once you know what you will commit to doing, it is time to work your public relations plan.

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