Sunday, March 8, 2009

Get it in writing!

Your local Toastmaster’s club relies upon publicity to help its numbers to grow. There are many opportunities for a publicity campaign in the pages of your local newspaper.

The first step is to research your contacts, matching each to the desired function. For example, you should not approach a reporter with a community announcement that you want to have published in the paper. That function is handled by someone else in the newsroom -- the community news coordinator, say (title may vary with each publication).

You may want to place a separate call to the editor in charge of assignments to ask about covering your event. Understand, however, that newsrooms work with limited staff resources. Be prepared to write and submit articles about your club.

Get names, e-mail and phone extensions for every one of your contacts and keep the list up-to-date.

You should complete this process for every publication, even in situations when papers are produced under consolidated ownership. Don’t assume that everybody in the newsroom of publication “X” will also have direct involvement with production of publication “Y.”

Be sure to consult submission guidelines, which can include the number of words, the desired format or method of submission and -- most importantly -- submission deadlines. Newsroom employees generally prefer e-mail because it requires minimal involvement in preparing your copy for print.

After you have researched your contacts and the submission guidelines, it’s time to plan your publicity campaign.

Calendar of events

Underlying every other avenue is your calendar listing for the regular meetings of your group. The essential elements include time, date, location and any action you desire from the reader. Are guests welcome to drop in on your weekly Toastmasters meetings? Do you want people to RSVP in advance for your open house?

Do you have a club Web site through the FreeToastHost network? Include your club’s URL with other contact information.

Compose your announcement consistent with the format and deadlines that the newspaper requests; be sure to verify if sending it once will be sufficient for each week's listing, or if you need to resubmit a new listing for subsequent appearances.

Newspaper articles

Newspaper headlines can grab readers’ notice and increase exposure for your club. “Let the World Know” and your club officer’s manual include several ideas about the types of occasions you can publicize.

The two main types of stories are "hard" and "soft" news.

"Hard" news is written in the inverted pyramid style, with the most important information at the top. It is generally time-sensitive so if reporting on an event, you should submit your article promptly after the fact. The longer you wait before submitting your article, the less relevant it becomes.

If writing an article to promote an upcoming event, be mindful of newspaper deadlines. Allow enough time for the paper to get your article into print.

"Soft" news or feature articles can be published as space permits and are not time sensitive. One example could be a profile of one of the members of your club. Interview that person and then write a story about how Toastmasters changed that person's life.

In both cases, stories should be written in third-person. Be sure to stick to the facts. Claims and opinions must be attributed.

Letters to the editor and guest commentary

When you react as a Toastmaster to a current event, you are giving readers another opportunity to become acquainted with the benefits of your club.

The recent election provided skilled Toastmasters with timely opportunities to dissect the candidates' speeches. Read the articles that appeared in Toastmaster magazine and then imagine the possibilities if an evaluator from your club had submitted a letter or opinion piece to your newspaper along with a one-sentence biography that included a reference to your club.

Newspaper editors generally accept letters with no advance inquiries. It may be useful to ask in advance if submitting longer commentary.

Even with the election behind us, there are ongoing possibilities to evaluate high-profile speeches. "Different by Design" by David Brooks, DTM in the March 2009 Toastmaster compared Barack Obama's inaugural speech as U.S. president to his speeches on the campaign trail.

Perhaps your club can plan ahead for the next State of the Union Address or your state governor's State of the State. Arrange for an evaluator to submit his or her commentary within hours after the speech.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Photographs add visual excitement and offers a way for the reader to be present "at the scene" you are writing about in your article. A columnist's "mug shot" allows readers to put a face with the opinions you are expressing in your commentary. Each type of publicity comes with its unique needs.

Depending upon how you hold the camera, photographs are shot in either "portrait" or "landscape" style. A columnist's mug shot should be tightly focused on the subject so that very little background outlines his or her head and shoulders in a picture that is taller than wide.

Candid photos work the best with articles about recognition of accomplishments. Avoid staged shots where the presenter and recipient stare into the camera. Remember that the camera is a stand-in for the reader if he or she were on the scene -- as just another onlooker and not the focus of everyone's attention.

A formal, staged shot is appropriate, however, for introducing club officers.

Take your pictures with a digital camera that is set at high resolution. If using a 35-millimeter camera, please instruct the film developer to burn the images to CD. As with articles, newsroom staffers prefer that pictures be sent via e-mail as high-resolution .jpgs.

Following up

Monitor the paper to see if and when your article appears in print. If you or your club do not already subscribe, you can read parts of the paper online or browse through copies at your library.

Common courtesy goes a long way when submitting club publicity. Thank your newsroom contacts for printing your article and then contact the Circulation Department if you would like to purchase additional copies.

Get it in writing!

By making use of newspapers' resources to get your club’s name in print, you will enjoy many possibilities of attracting potential members. Setting aside the restrictions of space and the amount of competing publicity, the only limits are upon your willingness to compose and submit articles. By following guidelines and making sure that your approach matches the function of your article, you will have a much better chance of seeing your article in print.

Additional Resources for Effective PR

“Let the World Know! Publicity and Promotion Handbook”
Item #1140, available to non-members from Toastmasters International
Print edition is $2.50 apiece; can also be downloaded as a free PDF
“Cut! Making long speeches shorter” by Paula Syptak Price
Published in the July 2008 Toastmaster magazine. Many of its principles of trimming a speaker’s presentation can be applied toward press releases.
“The Power of Publicity” by Joe Cook
The September 2008 Toastmaster magazine has several articles grouped around the theme of effective PR, including advice about hosting an open house and serving as vice president of public relations.

Cynthia Parkhill, CC, is a newspaper editor and columnist in Northern California. She is a member of Toastmasters club No. 8731, the Tenacious Talkers. This essay was submitted in March 2009 to the Toastmaster magazine.

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