“My business is information,” says David Sommers, Director of Public Affairs, Chief Executive Office, County of Los Angeles.
“I have to keep in my head at all times a picture of what’s happening across all corners of this vast organization. I never know what a journalist will ask or when they will ask it. I can turn my phone and blackberry off at night because I know Vocus is always on.”
Los Angeles County is the largest municipal government in the nation, with 101,000 employees serving 10.5 million residents. Communicating with residents about services their government provides is critical, especially after local press operations were drastically cut. For David, this challenge is present every day.
“When a crisis or media storm hits, it’s our job in Public Affairs to help mitigate it,” David says. “Vocus has become instrumental in both targeting our story to the right audience and to keep an ear to the tracks, monitoring what’s being said about us and our leaders in real time.”
“Vocus allowed us to become a 24-hour, round the clock communications operation, without having to add a single staff person.”
LA County has incredible things happening in its departments, from medical miracles to amazing voter technology, and David’s team works hard to get these stories to the media and the public. At the same time, when bad news and misinformation emerges, the team has to work rapidly to mitigate any potential damage.
Adapting to the 24-hour news cycle
Prior to Vocus, the team’s fundamental challenge was adapting to the new 24-hour news cycle.
“Our acknowledgement of a big news story used to happen mid-morning as we were scanning the paper edition of a newspaper,” says David. “By that point the news cycle is already 12-16 hours old. If it’s bad news, it’s game over for trying to mitigate it or respond proactively. The story begins the night before when the Times posts it on their website around 7 or 8 pm. That’s when we need to be planning our response and strategy, not 12 hours later. Now we are.”
Introducing the Vocus PR Suite
The LA County CEO’s office originally came to Vocus to replace their old system of hand-cutting articles from newspapers every morning. Four team members had been spending hours a day scanning stories, cutting out clippings and compiling PDFs of coverage.
“I started getting press calls from reporters that I had never emailed.”
Now, the public affairs and communications team is able to monitor 160 search terms continuously with Vocus. “We launched a “First Look” morning email of major overnight news about the County that we email to our executives every morning. The entire thing is generated with Vocus. It’s awesome. We’re able to give our leaders a snapshot of the essential news and things they need to know before they start their day, optimized for smartphones and easy to open.”
Next, LA County made the switch to targeted distribution of press releases via Vocus instead of their old method of emailing them out to every reporter in LA.
“I started getting press calls from reporters that I had never emailed or called,” says David. “They learned about County stories via things we pushed out on Vocus. That was a big deal.”
This May, California Governor Jerry Brown was going to release his revised budget proposal– rumored to be full of bad news – and Sommers expected a media reaction.
“We ran a search in Vocus of any reporter, blogger, etc. who had written recently about the California budget deficit. We sent our targeted statement to these contacts via Vocus and waited to see what happened. 30 minutes later, Associated Press in Sacramento and Reuters in San Francisco contacted me. Both were on the Vocus list. Then, less than two hours after we sent out our statement, I got an alert that our CEO was quoted in a WSJ article. The article was #2 on the WSJ homepage. The reporter at the Journal was on our Vocus list, and had used our statement without ever needing to email or call us.”
“Vocus has revolutionized how we execute media relations,” says David. “It’s an incredibly powerful platform.”