Make it relevant; find a hook.
What makes your opinion important and newsworthy? Has your community prevention effort improved health, saved money, fostered new coalitions or lifted up local voices? Is it an important new tool to address spiraling state or local healthcare costs, or to bring new business investments to your community? Is there new or important data that's relevant to your work -- such as data on state costs related to unhealthy eating?
Find credible messengers.
Reporters are not surprised when public health leaders speak out about the importance of community prevention. However, when the message is echoed by credible messengers beyond the usual suspects, reporters really begin to pay attention. Consider a co-author. A co-author offers a different point of view, and can enhance your organizations credibility. A business leader, faith leader, or community member can make your piece more publishable and more relatable to a broader audience.
Who are credible messengers?
- Add dimension and authenticity to your work;
- Are unexpected -- a conservative businessperson or conservative mayor;
- Are respected in and by the community-faith leaders, PTA presidents, community leaders; and
- Speak to a new sector-big businesses, doctors, insurance companies.
Use "real" people & stories.
Reporters like to see real people -- your challenge is to find people from the community who also can connect their story back to the broader community prevention message. For example, a mom whose child now walks to school thanks to a new crosswalk; a family seeing decreased asthma rates thanks to smoke-free policies in their apartment building.
Focus on solutions, not just problems.
When speaking with reporters, resist the urge to focus solely on the problem you are trying to address. While describing rates of chronic disease or injury is certainly important, you also want to ensure that the solutions you are championing are just as easily understood.
Explain the reach of your local efforts-when possible, show the impact that multiple strategies have together. Illustrate the number of people involved, and how your community prevention strategies are changing behaviors. Include other benefits-more jobs, more food purchased locally, better traffic flow to local storefronts, involvement and leadership from local sectors.
Cue the environment first.
Paint a picture that describes why healthy communities matter:
When neighborhoods don't have safe parks, places to walk, vibrant retail, or healthy food available, everyone's health suffers.
Cueing the environment first enables you to emphasize how environments shape behaviors.
Marion Standish, Director of The California Endowment's Community Health Program, says:
When communities clean up neighborhood parks or open school playgrounds on weekends, children get more exercise. When we open up farmers' markets in the middle of food deserts, families eat better.
Connect improvements to community environments, projected health outcomes, and projected savings.
It is important to connect improvements in the environments where people live, work, play and learn-from bike lanes to healthy school lunches-directly with positive health outcomes and reduced health care spending. Here's an example from "Public health delivers big return on investment," an op-ed by John Felton that ran in the Billings Gazette:
"How do we become a healthier nation? Investing in public health is part of the answer. Of the more than $8,000 health expenditure for every American, only $250 is spent on public health. This is alarming when we consider how many medical care expenditures can be prevented through primary prevention activities. Primary prevention is public health.
"The services offered through the Prevention and Public Health Fund include newborn health screenings, cancer screenings and HIV screenings, as well as programs to reduce tobacco use and increase healthy eating and physical activity. The fund also makes investments in programs that help ensure that our food is safe to eat and that our communities can respond to disease outbreaks and disasters. These programs save lives and money by preventing illness or detecting it early.
Data to include:
- In describing your outcome, be as specific as you can-i.e., our complete streets policy creates X miles of walking or bicycle paths; Farm to School produced X servings of fruits and vegetables; smoking ordinances prevented X children from being exposed to secondhand smoke.
- Regional health stats and costs, current obesity/smoking/physical activity rates, specific disparities, health care costs in state or county, walkability, distance to grocery stores, number of ‘unhealthy' food outlets, etc.
Keep it local.
A desire for local control and decision-making is being reflected in our national conversation-people worry about someone making decisions for them, or taking their ability to make decisions away. It's critical to emphasize that community prevention is local. Community prevention helps neighborhoods work together with local businesses, community groups and local health departments to figure out the best ways to build health where they live-whether that's putting more fruits and vegetables on students' school lunch plates, or making the local park safer so a mom doesn't have to put her kid in front of the TV. The essence of community prevention is about building health and supporting decision making in the ways that communities think will work best right where they live.
Data to include:
- Partnerships that have been strengthened or created, most particularly non-traditional and community-based partnerships, i.e., local businesses, local churches, parent groups, insurance orgs, gyms, childcare providers, farmers, etc.
- Data that emphasizes ‘local' nature of efforts: decision-making processes, local leadership; community, parents, youth, elderly, high-need population involvement
Avoid the "choice" trap.
We encourage prevention leaders to use ‘options,' not ‘choices,' when they talk about prevention work. Focusing too much on "choices" can inadvertently shift the focus back to individual behaviors and responsibility. Using the term ‘options' helps shift responsibility for accessibility and availability away from the individual, and back to the industries and policies that shape what is available in our communities. Families don't have much control over what's available to them in the places they live, work, and play; families don't "choose" what's stocked on grocery store shelves, whether parks are available nearby, whether their neighborhoods are safe or their neighbor smokes.
Here's an example:
Children and families deserve healthy options. Policies that increase access to healthy foods and decrease access to unhealthy foods protect children and families. The restaurant industry alone spends more than $5 million every day marketing unhealthy foods to children. With numbers like these, the deck is stacked against parents who want to make healthy decisions for their children. Policies help right the balance, giving families more control, more options, and paving the way for better health.
Be able to anticipate an opposing viewpoint, and be prepared to counter it with the kinds of messaging that puts the focus on prevention: cue the environment, connect improvements to community environments, projected health outcomes, and projected savings, keep it local, and avoid the "choice" trap. If needed, acknowledge the opinion, but don't dwell it, as doing this can reinforce messages that run counter to your points. Instead, pivot the conversation back to the importance and success of community prevention approaches.