Lessons for Science from NPR/PBS' Outreach Campaign

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has launched an ambitious new public outreach campaign that echoes many of the strategies I think science organizations and institutions can use to strengthen their public ties. The campaign recognizes that while public broadcasting has a mission to inform, the institution's perceived image and value often turns on social connections. Moreover, any national campaign needs an equally strong local component.

As the online mag Current reports, the various print, broadcast and online components of the new campaign will revolve around a flexible concept, My Source, designed to unify and showcase the many different forms and formats for public broadcasting. For example, in one print ad, a smiling woman sharing her iPod with a smiling man illustrates how public radio podcasting was her "source for connecting with my neighbors on my block and beyond."

The campaign is also developing social networking elements and viral newsletters, among other Web 2.0 features. The efforts are designed to be customizable into each stations' local promotional efforts. Drawing on the opinion leader concept, the campaign will seek "ambassadors" in communities, as well as celebrities with public broadcasting connections or appeal. An example includes singer Norah Jones, who contributed music to Ken Burns' The War. Each of the new campaign initiatives is under going extensive evaluation, including focus groups and audience surveys.

The campaign is led by Patricia Harrison, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's President. Harrison is a long time public relations professional and executive, and arrived at the CPB after serving as the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. She is also a former co-chair of the Republican National Committee.

You might disagree with her politics, but Harrison knows communication. Current features this quote from a recent speech that captures her outlook for the new campaign:

As you are connecting on a local level, we must tell this story on a national level, in a way that resonates with decision-makers and purse-string holders, influencers and average Americans. We're already connecting in communities--now we have to brag about it. If you're really doing it, it's not bragging.