As I sat across the table from the State House Government staff, it was clear this meeting had more layers than expected simply by the tone of their voices.
We arrived to discuss how three Local Amendments did not run in the appropriate newspapers during the previous legislative session, the fallout because of that failure, and what could be done moving forward.
Going in, we knew if we did not find a solution, it would be more ammo for legislators who would like to change the public notice statutes, potentially removing them from newspaper media.
But failure to run three important notices was not the lone issue.
Rather, there were years of problems and frustrations, and most of it came down to one simple issue: poor customer service.
When the House staff tried to place the public notices, they had hard problems with:
- getting in touch with someone,
- delays in responses,
- delays in confirmations and affidavits,
- and rudeness.
Please note, they were not saying that about all papers. Many do their jobs and do it well. However, one of my favorite sayings is you’re only as strong as your weakest links, and this clearly showed some weak links. It also was clear this is a festering issue.
As you know, we believe public notices belong in newspapers for a host of reasons. But bad actors in customer service will hurt us all.
First and foremost, we have to run public notices correctly. They are called “legals” for a reason.
The two best ways we can protect public notices in newspapers is:
- One, we must provide great customer service, regardless of potential reasons. We need to have back-up plans if someone is sick, or the position is in transition.
- Two, we must develop and enhance relationships with legislators. In my short time in the Pelican State, it’s clear to me that relationships are king. It's also clear many newspapers lack relationships with their state elected officials.
This upcoming session could be a trying one for us. We have already played whack-a-mole with two potential public notice issues before the session, but that doesn’t mean they won’t pop up again or that new issues will not arise.
Developing and enhancing relationships are key. Your legislators should not be hearing from you for the first time during the session. If you don’t have one yet, make it a priority in the next 45 days to talk to them.
Invite them to your paper or get on a call. Hear their plans for the upcoming session. Do a story. If you have one, have them meet with your editorial board.
Share this document with them how public notices are a good investment, as well share this link on how often public notices are read and the percentage of people who believe they belong in newspapers.
Get their personal cell phone numbers! We need to have that kind of access to them during the session.
The good news?
We developed a plan with the House staff that not only addressed their issues but made their process easier for placing Local Amendments.
The better news? If we’re able to foster and better develop relationships with legislators, we have a better chance of protecting newspaper media interests this session. And into the future.
Be public on public notices
In a separate meeting with a plethora of town and county officials in one state parish, we fielded a variety of questions, including the ability to post notices online on government websites.
We explained we already have the digital solution in place for public notices thanks to louisianapublicnotice.com. It already provides a clearinghouse for notices across the state, including the ability for people to receive text and email notifications from the site on notice types of their choosing.
The problem: only one of the 20-plus local officials in the room knew of the site.
Make no mistake, louisianapublicnotice.com is a significant tool to help protect public notices. We need to promote it. Here is a link to some house ads promoting the public notice website: https://www.lapress.com/article_4b03e182-6c9d-11ec-baf6-1b173341a4f0.html. And here is a link to house ads and promotional material about public notices in general based on the 2021 Market Study. https://www.lapress.com/news/article_bdc8ce6c-044c-11ec-bf86-93e1e58183f6.html
Although promotion will help, please ensure notices are being uploaded on a timely basis.
A better user experience
Another tool you can use on your website is the public notice search widget. This allows a reader to search your notices though the public notice portal. Some of our members already post notices to their site on their site. Some members have a link to the public notice site instead.
You can see an example of this tool on the rail of this page!
For the latter, this tool is really helpful from the reader’s perspective. Imagine, if you will, you’re a reader who wants to search the local paper’s public notices. You click on the public notice link on the local paper's website, and you get sent to louisianapublicnotice.com. Well, then you have to create a bunch of search parameters to find the notices you were looking for.
The public notice search widget would allow them to search your site specifically … starting from your site! A much better user experience in my opinion.
Even if you’re already posting your notices to your site, you might consider this tool, especially on your front page as state statute requires a button or link to the public notice website.
To see how to add this to your site, watch the following video.