Kathe Gust, ICG Communications and Public Relations Committee
With thousands of non-profits vying for media attention, members, and volunteers, how can we make the ICG stand out from the rest? We can’t control the message the media will craft on our organization, but generating “endorsement” by the media creates more credibility and can be a positive factor.
Here are tips for doing successful PR for ICG Chapters and SIGs:
Create a public relations plan. The public relations plan is the basis for each of your public relations programs. Public relations plans can either be organization-wide or they may focus on a specific event, product or service. The plan should list what you want to achieve, how long you plan to work on it, who is your audience, what ideas you will try, and how you will know if you did well (final goals). At the end of your plan look back to see how well you met your goals and where you could improve next time. This will keep your group focused and will give you a way to improve over time as you learn what works and what does not.
Create a media kit for the press. The kit should include a brief history with a mission statement, a fact sheet, photographs of past events, information on the board of directors, and contact information. Be sure to have these available both online on your website and in print. Give the name of a contact person for the media.
Develop an “elevator pitch.” Sometimes the press and the public will approach random members at events. Having a “pitch” is less stressful for members to respond with, and ensures a consistent message. Have your leaders say the pitch to members at events. Put it as a “mission” or “about us” on your website. That will help fix it in members’ minds so it will be there when they need it.
Create a crisis plan. This is something that many groups fail to do, and when crisis strikes, they are unprepared on how best to handle it. Think of possible things that could go wrong or criticisms you may receive from the public, and create a plan on how to respond. Consider naming a single crisis contact, or a developing a list of people who have been trained in how to respond. Being unprepared in a crisis often causes problems for many organizations.
Develop relationships with reporters. Know which reporters are more likely to cover stories about your organization, and be friendly with them. Send them a letter introducing yourself and your organization, send them the media kit, send special invitations to events, and always thank them after they cover an event or story about your organization.
Learn to write a Press Release. Look at the items that get published in the media outlets you want to use and copy the style of those. If you turn in something that is ready to use, you are more likely to be selected for publication.
Learn to think like your audience. Whether your audience is the media, or the person on the street, think about what they would want to know about your organization or event and tell them that. Do not assume that they know ANYTHING about you (unless you are aiming at current members). Those who know you will skip to the date and time of your event, those who don’t may be intrigued and be more willing to try you out if you say more about who you are.
Select a key message to focus on. Too often, we have many goals, and try to achieve too many things at once. Focus on the key message. You can always run further campaigns to get out additional messages. If it's a membership campaign, it's on the benefits of joining your group. If it's an event, it's about the fun people will have by attending. If there are multiple messages, it's possible that there are really multiple campaigns.
Hint: If your chapter or SIG can create email aliases, it's a good idea to use them for all contacts, including PR, so people don't have to give out their personal emails, and so the addresses remains the same regardless of who is currently doing the jobs.
As mentioned above, the plan should set your goals, assess the target audience, list what tactics you will use, and set a timeline to successfully carry out your plan. It may seem tedious, but this will ensure that your plan will be carried out effectively instead of just winging it. At the end of your plan look back to see how well you met your goals and where you could improve next time.
Message you want to send – Come play with us? Learn new skills? We can teach? Decide on one or two topics at most and focus on those.
Who are you trying to reach – new members, young costumers, retirees, crafters, quilters, members of a fandom, your current members, etc.
What formats your outreach uses – fliers, posters, brochures, postcards, email messages, newspaper ads, websites, social media, phone calls, mailings, etc. Do you need special photos or graphic arts assistance to make your items? If using social media, will you need a list of items to post or tweet to keep your message fresh?
Action Plan – you will normally need an action plan for each audience. Think about where you could reach those people. Do you have anyone embedded in that community already who might help you? If you don’t have a foothold in the community, how can you get one? Will that cost money? How much? Do you have it? If not, how will you get it? Should you set a deadline for implementing your plan(s) such as the start of a convention or an event?
Implementation – this is where you make the plan that you will follow. Here is a sample of a plan to get new people to attend a specific event:
Request $35.00 from chapter to fund our PR plan by April 12.
Use our artwork to print 500 business cards for our new Wearable Arts Event on July 15, by May1.
Get a list of major area quilting/sewing stores by May 1.
Call to see if they will allow us to put business cards at their checkout desk or other location by May 10.
Take cards to each store that agreed to let us supply them by May 15.
Check back at each store in one week to see if all the cards are gone and supply more until all the cards are gone. Get feedback from the stores on this trip.
Adjusting the plan -
Check to see if your plan is working. In the example above, there are two measures: Are the cards being taken? Are people signing up for the event, particularly new people?
Get feedback from the stores on your second trip. Do the cards work for them? Would something else work even better?
Check during your event, or sooner, with any new people. How did they find out about your event? Is there a better way to reach them? And of course, would they like to join your group? Always ask people if they want to join. Other measures for different campaigns might be asking your members if and where they saw any announcements, news articles, and radio or TV mentions. Track and continue using the best methods as you try out new ones.
Make adjustments if needed.
There are plenty of public relations tools you can use to get your message out. Which are most effective depends on the audience you need to reach.
Media Campaigns – can you get a radio spot Public Service Announcement (PSA) or newspaper press release placement? Great if you can do it, and cultivating your local papers and radio stations may help.
Email Campaigns – send a message to a mailing list, or you can set up a free account with MailChimp for longer term campaigns that use your logos or photos to tie them together.
Internal Campaigns – these campaigns are aimed at your current members. In addition to posters, flyers, premiums and other collateral, you can use newsletter articles, chapter website, blog posts, email campaigns, meeting announcements (if you have meetings).
Collateral (brochures, etc) Campaigns – these can also be single message (one event) or long term (membership promotions)
Twitter Campaigns - these can also be single message (one event) or long term (ongoing promotions) but are more interactive than using print collateral. They allow your members to participate in promoting your group and events. The most simple method is creating and promoting an @name for your group that people can follow (e.g. @charlottecostumers), and promoting #topics for your tweeters to use when posting about specific events (e.g. #bloomersbikeride). These should be included in all PR material.
Other Social Medial Campaigns – these are almost always for long term ongoing promotion. The labor and maintenance needed for a social media site (Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, a Website, Yahoo or Gmail groups) is a big commitment and not always well suited to a single event promotion, but don’t overlook the possibility that you may know established groups that will promote your events on their own websites and social media groups for you if you supply them with information. If you plan a long–term presence Facebook and mailist groups can be very effective ways to reach your membership (when closed) or any interested person (when open).
Post-campaign Thank You - Include thanks to all volunteers and sponsors/contributors in notes, wrap-up articles, and meeting announcements. If you have incentives for participating, here’s where you hand them out.
Scheduling your campaigns is critical with the media. You want to make sure that you follow deadlines in dealing with them. If there are no guidelines on the media outlet’s website, you can try these – the likelihood of your message being used decreases as you go down the list.
Four weeks in advance: label item “For Immediate Release.” This date is especially important for long-range print media (magazines and special sections of newspapers), and television.
Two weeks in advance: label item “For Immediate Release.” Send your follow-up releases to weekly/daily print media and radio/TV at this time.
One week in advance: label item “Media Advisory.” Send general summary information only in hope of generating media interest and reminding them of the project/event. Limit these to one to two paragraphs. Include your highest priority information.
One day in advance: label item “Media Alert.” Fax or email typically works best, so make sure that your media outlets will accept fax or email formats of press notifications.
To get included on community calendars or publications from your local Parks & Rec. or similar organizations, you may need to be ready six months ahead or even longer with your event dates.
Designing flyers and posters can be one of the most creative and fun aspects of promoting your project. With a few basic pointers, the sky’s the limit. Have someone other than the person creating the piece proofread it carefully. Typos are natural even with spell checkers, and it is nearly impossible to catch everything if you are the person who created it. Printing vendors usually provide a proof copy or “blue line” and will ask you to sign off when it is ready to be printed.
Sticking with a single color print is much more economical that using multiple colors. Remember, the background is also a color. Use that to your advantage where it makes sense.
Flyers and posters: Use standard sizes wherever possible for flyers and posters:
5.5 x 8.5
8.5 x 11
18 x 24
Postcards: use USPS standards for postcard sizes to keep your postage costs to a minimum.
Premiums: these are things such as magnetic business cards and calendars, or other small handout items such as key rings or sewing kits.
Work with your vendor to determine the size and format of the artwork you need to provide for these items. The most important item to include is your name and how to contact your group. Be sure to order well in advance to insure you have these items on the day you need them.
In-person visits to local businesses are a great way to get fliers posted in storefronts. Some businesses may even be willing to include a small flier or card when bagging customer purchases. Always ask permission, and thank the business even if they cannot post a flier for you. They may be able to put out postcards or business cards another time. Ask about other options for the future.
Most radiao stations make public service announcements (PSAs) about events on behalf of non-profits and community organizations. These announcements help them fulfill an FCC requirement to demonstrate benefit to the communities they serve.
PSAs come in 30 second and 15 second versions. It is a good idea to submit copy for each length, clearly marked, on the same page.
Sample 30 second public service announcement:
Sample 15 second public service announcement:
This overview of the key components (adapted from PR Newsire) helps you write an effective press release. Check the press releases in the newspaper or newsletters you will use to see which components they normally include.
Every element of your message needs to drive to your objective, e.g. driving traffic to a web site, getting people to register, or inspiring media coverage. Keep this in mind as you develop your message.
Headline: Get readers to click on the link to the story by writing the headline you want to see for your article in a target publication. Keep it short enough and interesting enough to tweet.
Sub-Head: (optional) Entice a reader to consume your content. Sub-heads add more detail.
Dateline: Includes the city of origin, and the date of the release.
Lead Sentence: Set the hook in the reader’s attention. Keep them moving toward the objective – your key message and any call to action. The lead paragraph starts with an interesting statement, not boilerplate about your organization.
Call to Action: Most readers won’t make it to the bottom of a full page. Insert your call to action link for the public after the first or second paragraph. Restrained use of links directs readers to a specific call to action.
Copy Body: Tell the story, add dimension and readability, with quotes, bullet points and paragraph heads in bold text. Give the reader reasons to keep going. Bold font and provocative section heads build more attention.
Boilerplate and media contact: Establish the brand’s credentials and give journalists the about-the-company details they need for the story.
Sample press release:
Social media can be a lot of work. Spreading the load among several people who understand the goals of your group is the best way to go so that no one person gets stuck with it all the time.
If you are planning to use social media, it is a good idea to include it in the entire PR plan from the beginning. For example, if you are holding a bazaar you may want to plan for the Facebook posting and photo at the same time as any email postings. If you are also hoping to use twitter to remind people on the day of the event, decide on a hashtag and include that in the Facebook and email posts. Then be sure to post some tweets on the day, such as “Only 2 hours to Bazaar” “Bazaar is open – come on in” “Bought great trims at the Bazaar” or similar messages to keep momentum on the day.
Here are some more tips:
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