Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

How to Turn a Historic Preservation Problem into a Public Relations Opportunity

Turn a Problem into a PR Opportunity | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

Bad news usually gets more attention than good news. For historic preservation advocates, bad news might arrive due to a well-publicized building demolition, a contentious public meeting, a publicly stated misunderstanding, or even a natural disaster.

The manner in which your group publicly responds to problems will shape your group's image in your community. Your best response is to turn that problem into a public relations opportunity.

Plan for Bad News

In most cases of a public preservation problem, the press will call your preservation group as they put together an account of the situation. Your group needs to be prepared to answer preservation-related questions and respond to bad news immediately.

Prepare for this situation by outlining your group's response to public relations crises in your advocacy plan. Appoint a committee to deal with press relations and public relations. If you have a board of directors, your board chair should be on this committee. When bad news strikes, this committee should meet immediately, in person or via conference call, to evaluate the problem. The committee should quickly establish a short-term message and plan of action based on your group's advocacy plan.

At the very least, your short-term plan should include a public response, such as a press release or a letter to the editor. Your response should ensure that the general public thoroughly understands the facts and what your group is doing to solve the problem. Your group may conclude that the issue also needs to be addressed programmatically — that is, by developing programs to educate the community.

Make certain that you record all your interactions with the press in your growing press list.

Evaluate Your Situation

If your group does not have an advocacy plan when bad news strikes, use this list of questions to quickly evaluate your situation:

  • How is the issue a problem for historic preservation?
  • How urgent is the problem?
  • What is your timeline to respond?
  • How broad is this problem (neighborhood-wide, town-wide, statewide, or national)?
  • Could a publicly stated misunderstanding of the problem do harm to historic preservation's image in your community?
  • Has your group dealt with this problem (or a similar one) before?
  • What other groups are concerned about this issue?

State Your Position Publicly

When a preservation issue becomes big news in your community, state your position publicly. Prepare and rehearse a sound-bite response, which distills the issue into a short and concise statement (one sentence or less). Use this response consistently to communicate your position via television, radio, or other broadcast media.

Post a detailed explanation of the issue on your website or Facebook page. The explanation should include:

  • Background information on the issue
  • Counterarguments
  • Proposed remedies

To make certain that interested parties find your opinion-specific web content, include appropriate meta tags in the code of your web pages (or keywords/tags in your blog template). If you include appropriate meta tags or keywords with your web content, your group's position and counterpoints will be found by anyone who does an internet search on the issue. This includes members of the press.

Continue to update your web presence with more information about the issue to help you develop relationships with the press, your membership, and your community.

Learn More

Find more how-to articles about historic preservation advocacy.