How we partnered with United Way of Metro Chicago to discuss challenges faced by and solutions for working Illinoisans who struggle to afford basic necessities.
For several years, United Ways across the country have been conducting studies of the challenges faced by people who are employed but still find themselves unable to afford basic necessities. They call this population “ALICE” — an acronym for Asset Limited, Constrained Income, Employed.
In early 2020, it was time for United Way of Illinois to release the first report about ALICE in Illinois. At Prosper, we were already working with United Way of Metro Chicago on their communications, and became central to releasing the report in the Chicago area as well as shaping messaging and materials for the statewide launch.
For every client, we organize our research into three assessments. In our organization assessment, we took a deep dive into the ALICE report for Illinois, and identified the most newsworthy findings. In the ecosystem assessment, we evaluated the media landscape to identify where these topics were already resonating in Illinois media, what aspects of the conversation were being neglected and which reporters were most likely to take interest. Finally, we conducted a stakeholder assessment, in which we spoke with a number of people who fit the ALICE definition or previously have. These conversations shaped our understanding of the issue and also helped us prepare interviewees to talk with reporters.
In our research, we saw that the scope of financial hardship in Illinois is far wider than traditional poverty line measures indicate. Additionally, trends in employment and cost of living both amplify these challenges.
We developed robust messaging around the problems laid out in the ALICE report, as well as messaging about the solutions United Way wanted to bring to the discussion. Throughout the media project, these key messages would inform the news release, media pitches and talking points for both media interviews and a press conference.
Working closely with United Way of Metro Chicago and United Way of Illinois, we developed a media strategy focused around the early March launch of the report.
The strategy included a first round of pitching around the primary report findings, and a second round focused on how the findings were specifically relevant to business, education and housing. The strategy also laid out a plan for creating talking points, supporting the launch press conference and pursuing guest pieces and op eds as appropriate. It even identified target outlets and reporters, and contained a timeline leading up to launch day, for launch day and through the rest of the month.
In our work with United Way of Metro Chicago on the ALICE report, our project taskforce included the Chief Strategy and Engagement Officer and the Senior Manager of Communications. We also met regularly with United Way of Illinois’ Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, who was deeply involved in the development of the Illinois ALICE report.
Ultimately, even in the early stages of the coronavirus crisis, the ALICE report was covered in 30 media pieces, reaching a potential audience of over 11,000,000. This included a front page story in the Chicago Sun-Times, a story in the Chicago Tribune and a radio spot on WBEZ-Chicago’s local NPR station. These stories about ALICE in Illinois were shared on social media more than 1,600 times.
The ALICE report coverage greatly increased awareness of the crisis in Illinois, and built media connections that led to coverage of United Way of Metro Chicago’s Chicago Community COVID-19 Response Fund. This Fund, created in partnership with Chicago Community Trust, helped local nonprofits continue to operate and meet increased need during the coronavirus crisis, which in turn helped many local ALICE families.
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