Indiana Legal Services is a nonprofit law firm that offers free civil legal assistance to Hoosiers living in poverty. They work on behalf of veterans, immigrants, consumers, students, families and children, and the homeless, among many others. ILS has a big mission, but as a nonprofit they don’t have a big budget. When they invest in a communications strategy, it has to deliver.
Well Done Marketing is no stranger to effective communication. As a full service agency that offers public relations services, we are especially well positioned to offer expertise on successful media and communications strategies.
In 2016, we provided fundraising and communications support for ILS that included quarterly newsletters, donor emails, getting them set up on social media, and early-stage planning for a website refresh. And since legal services can be a difficult thing to get across in the abstract, we decided to feature stories of the real people that ILS has helped. These stories included a veteran struggling to receive benefits, an elderly woman struggling to keep her house, and a tenant wrongly evicted from her apartment.
Similarly, we made client stories a prominent feature of the Indiana Legal Services Annual Report. The report is filled with hard facts and figures about what ILS accomplished in 2015, but what made it hit home were the real stories of the clients they served.
Telling the Stories that Matter
This approach—using client stories to both communicate and humanize the work ILS does in Indiana—is part of the larger strategy crafted by Christy Glesing, Well Done’s director of public relations. The effect is twofold: First, it allows us to give specific examples of how ILS provides legal assistance to Hoosiers in need. And second, it creates a point of entry for understanding issues that can be, at times, contentious.
“Issues around healthcare, housing, and veterans affairs can be controversial,” Glesing says. “When we humanize the story and show their work in a bigger context, it helps us educate the audience ILS wants to reach without immediately politicizing it.”
For example, in a Letter to the Editor that was picked up in dozens of publications statewide during National Reentry Week, ILS executive director Jon Laramore explained why removing barriers for ex-offenders is good for everyone. Stories like these often come out during the monthly meetings between Glesing and ILS staff and leadership to discuss what they’re working on and who they’re helping. These meetings allow her the chance to point them toward the stories that will be most effective in communicating their mission, stories that often tie in with local concerns, as well as national ones.
Connecting the stories of ILS clients to national news also requires paying attention. Glesing’s role means she serves as the eyes and ears of ILS to spot these stories as they arise, and to provide her best recommendations as opportunities and challenges appear.
“One example right now is that ILS is assisting people in northwest Indiana who are being relocated due to ground contamination,” says Glesing. “Because of what happened with Flint’s drinking water, contamination is an issue a lot of people are thinking about. When we can connect with the national conversation, it’s a good way to bring home the importance of what ILS is doing.”
And sometimes national news starts right here in Indiana. When reporters at NPR wrote a story on Vice President Mike Pence and the future of Medicaid, they included a quote from a lawyer with Indiana Legal Services, bringing the organization national attention.
Since they serve Hoosiers from across the state, being in the local conversation is important, too. This story in Side Effects Public Media demonstrates how, through legal action, ILS is helping low-income Hoosiers secure the health insurance coverage they need.
One Strategy, Many Partners
Glesing also helps to foster and encourage relationships with other like-minded entities. Creating a network of common-cause agencies, nonprofits, and governmental organizations can help boost the reach of ILS’s message.
“A lot of their coverage this year came from mentions by the Indiana Attorney General’s office,” Glesing says. “We always look for partnerships—if we can help promote other organizations working in the field, that has the effect of raising everyone’s profile. And it’s always great when someone else says good things about your organization.”
Glesing’s role means she can advise ILS on sticking to an overall strategy even when she doesn’t have a direct hand in the communications.
“We’re actually not their sole media relations provider,” Glesing says. “They have staff to send out certain news releases and a development team to serve in that role. But no matter who takes on a certain piece of communications, Well Done helps ensure it fits the overall strategy. That way, even through multiple channels, the message never gets lost.”