Pennsylvania Voices and that 4-letter word

July 11, 2019 - 8:24 am
Peer Perspectives share media-savvy ideas and insights from the field. This post is by Christine Kirby, director of development and state support at Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, Inc., and statewide coordinator of Pennsylvania Voices.

You can see Pennsylvania Voices’ 2018-2019 communications and media plan HERE.

I decided to start this article with a four-letter word that oftentimes people do not want to hear or deal with, let alone take time to do. Here it is: plan. If we want to get somewhere, we must have a plan; otherwise we are either going to stay where we are, or we are going to end up in a place where we did not intend. Leaders of Pennsylvania’s civil legal aid programs identified media advocacy as a key goal, so it is only appropriate that we have a plan. French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist, and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said it best, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”  

The word “plan” is very important to my work advancing the mission of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (aptly, also “PLAN”)PLAN is a statewide consortium of fifteen independent legal aid programs that provide civil legal aid to victims of domestic violence and to low-income individuals and families.  My role is to support increased awareness and resources for civil legal aid throughout Pennsylvania. Taking the time to develop a communications plan – to think through the right steps, in the right order – and to implement the plan, has paid off handsomely. So far, it has led to increased visibility for civil legal aid in the media and increased capacity for media advocacy across PLAN programs, and has fostered greater support for civil legal aid in Pennsylvania.  We have succeeded in generating media coverage and will continue our coordinated approach to further increase visibility of our programs and their work.

All of PLAN’s members are working hard to increase funding and resources for client services. Media and communications are powerful tools for this work. The vitality and reach of the PLAN network of civil legal aid programs will benefit greatly from increased awareness and a strategic, coordinated communications effort, driven by a concrete strategy.

The first step in our statewide communications planning process was an audit of our communications efforts using a tool developed by Community Legal Services (CLS) in Philadelphia. At the time of the audit, CLS was the only program to employ a full-time communications director, Caitlin Brown. The audit revealed an inconsistency in our messaging. Now, several PLAN programs have staff devoted to advancing the communications efforts, and we have held multiple trainings focused on effective messaging.

Following the audit, leaders of PLAN, and Pennsylvania’s broader public interest legal community worked with Martha Bergmark and the Voices for Civil Justice team to create a statewide communications plan and launch a Pennsylvania-specific communications hub modeled on Voices for Civil Justice. We identified developing a coordinated statewide approach to media advocacy as a top priority to bring attention to what civil legal aid is, why it matters, and why it deserves support. To accomplish this, we set the following objectives:

Goal: Garner Strong, Sustained Media Coverage

Objective: Generate 25 pieces of media coverage illustrating the value of civil legal aid in state and local outlets, including a diverse mix of reported and opinion pieces from all regions of the state, both urban and rural.

Goal: Build Communications and Media Capacity

Objective: Launch “Pennsylvania Voices” as an initiative of PLAN and its affiliated programs and partners, with its key functions to include recruiting the participation of all PLAN programs and other likely partners, providing training and support (in coordination with Voices for Civil Justice) to advocates and spokespeople, tracking media coverage, and guiding the media placement effort.

To meet the first goal and objective, we are focused on generating media coverage that illustrates the value of civil legal aid in state and local outlets, including a mix of reported and opinion pieces.  To meet the second goal and objective, we launched a fledgling new initiative, “Pennsylvania Voices,” with its key functions to recruit the participation of all PLAN programs, provide training and support (in coordination with Voices for Civil Justice) to advocates and spokespeople for civil legal aid, track media coverage, and guide the media placement efforts.

We are currently planning more communications skills and media advocacy trainings. We have routinely offered communications training seminars as part of our statewide legal aid conference. PLAN will continue to offer communications-focused trainings at our upcoming statewide conference which will be attended by an estimated 250 legal aid advocates scheduled for September 18-20, 2019, in Harrisburg, PA.  In addition, we will host a statewide Twitter chat promoting #AllRiseForCivilJustice during PLAN’s statewide conference, to showcase our advocacy, engage legal aid advocates and increase awareness.

-Christine Kirby, Pennsylvania