Defining Successful Media Partnerships

Developing a blueprint to help foundations find, navigate, and maintain media partnerships that further the conversation about health.

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By Stephanie Zeller
UT Austin Public Relations & Studio Art Alumna

Daniel Oppenheimer
Editor, Texas Health Journal

 
 

When the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation approached Dr. Keryn Pasch and Dr. Erin Donovan about funding a study of partnerships between charitable foundations and media organizations, the goal was to bring clarity to the process where too often there were limited formal objectives.

Dr. Keryn Pasch, Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Health Education

Dr. Keryn Pasch, Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Health Education

“You have to ask the right questions,” said Pasch, Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Health Education at The University of Texas at Austin. “Are we working with the right media organizations, are we partnering with them well, are we putting our money in the right places? How do we know if a partnership has been effective?”

Pasch and Donovan, along with an interdisciplinary team of researchers at UT Austin, have begun to answer some of these questions thanks to the grant. Their recently released report, “Defining Successful Media Partnerships,” focuses on the intricacies of foundation-media partnerships and how, as a philanthropic organization, you can get the most out these relationships.

Dr. Erin Donovan, Associate Professor of Communication Studies

Dr. Erin Donovan, Associate Professor of Communication Studies

“These are urgent questions for foundations like Robert Wood Johnson,” said Donovan, Associate Professor of Communication Studies at UT Austin. “They rely on their media partners to get their messages out, to help the public learn about things like childhood obesity, vaccinations, health disparities and inequities.”

Donovan, Pasch and their colleagues developed a seven-component model to define successful media partnerships. Each component details a plan of thought and action for working through a media partnership. If these steps are followed thoroughly and openly, said Pasch, the partnership will be much more likely to be successful in reaching its goals.


Each of the seven component in the report details a plan of thought and action for working through a media partnership.

Each of the seven component in the report details a plan of thought and action for working through a media partnership.

In addition to being strategic, said Donovan, it is essential to be persistent. The media landscape evolves too quickly to assume that what worked once, in reaching a given audience, will work a year later.

“We emphasized the importance of living, breathing relationships between philanthropic and media organizations, where you have to nurture them and check in on them and maintain them and have a willingness to allow them to evolve,” said Donovan.

“There’s no perfect relationship, so there’s going to be some trade-offs. Ideally, the model should help you think about what you want, target some potential partners that could help you achieve those goals, and then work with them throughout the duration of the partnership to reflect on what you’re accomplishing.”

The model is primarily intended to be used in advance of initiating a new partnership between a philanthropic foundation and a media organization. Its creators, however, believe it can be useful at any particular stage of the media-foundation relationship.

“This model can be used in the beginning stages of finding the right partner, but it can also be used to help an organization or foundation take a look at its current media partners and analyze them with a new perspective,” said Pasch. “And then, you can take a look at your current media partners and say, okay, how can we best diversify our portfolio of media organizations? I think this model can help foundations do that.”

Ultimately, the goal of this project is to support the mission of building a culture of health. If foundations can maximize their relationships with media agencies, they can better communicate with the public, and therefore establish a more authentic and lasting conversation about health with their audiences.

“That’s what makes it a really meaningful project,” said Donovan. “If we can help these organizations, who are doing such good work, really get their message out there, hopefully that’s going to make people healthier, happier, and live longer.”

Pasch agreed, saying, “We all care about healthier citizens and healthier communities. We hope this model helps foundations to reflect on their current media partnerships and to develop partnerships with media outlets who can really promote stories about these important health issues, so that everyone has access to messages about health.”


More information about Defining Successful Media Partnerships can be found here.