HOW YOU CAN PUBLICIZE VOLUNTEERISM
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The difference between promotion and publicity
Publicizing National Volunteer Week and local promotional events
Planning for success
Finding the angle
Telling the story
Taking stock of your media resources
Approaching the media
Getting into print
Getting on air
Samples of Publicity Materials for National Volunteer Week
a) News releases
b) Public service announcements for the radio
c) Fact sheets for media kits
The tradition of voluntarily helping individuals, communities and causes represents the very best in the Canadian legacy a tradition that remains alive and well today. Nevertheless, to ensure that the spirit of volunteerism continues to thrive in communities across the country, it must be continually nourished through increased recognition and public awareness of the vital role played by volunteers.
The Voluntary Action Directorate supports the growth and diversity of the voluntary sector in Canada through promotion of the concept of volunteerism. This guide to media publicity through the media has been developed to help smaller volunteer centres and other voluntary organizations publicize activities promoting volunteerism at the community level during National Volunteer Week and throughout the year.
To help small organizations approach their local media, we have included samples news releases, media advisories, and public service announcements, as well as fact sheets on National Volunteer Week and on volunteerism in Canada. These materials can be adapted to highlight the special needs and issues of your community.
This guide to publicity is a companion to Promoting Volunteerism (published by the Voluntary Action Directorate in the summer of 1991) which takes a broader look at strategies and approaches to promoting volunteerism. For detailed reference tools on public relations, publicity, media relations, community relations and public education, we refer you to the list of manuals and guides in Promoting Volunteerism. This annotated list also contains information on where to buy or borrow these materials.
We welcome readers' comments on this resource book, and encourage suggestions on other types of resources that would be useful for promoting volunteerism at the community level. Please contact us at:
Voluntary Action Directorate
Multiculturalism and Citizenship Canada
Fax: (819) 953-4131
Canadians have a long tradition of helping individuals, communities and causes. Yet this sense of responsibility for the well-being of our fellow citizens and the quality of life in our communities must be continually nourished.
We cannot afford to assume that there will always be enough volunteers. Nor can we assume that volunteering is a self-perpetuating activity. Recent studies have suggested that most people do not necessarily consider volunteer work as a retirement or leisure option.
We need to strive continually to reinforce the volunteer spirit in Canada by nurturing current volunteers, whether new or seasoned, and by encouraging others to become involved. It is also crucial to instill the concept of volunteering and community service as a way of life for all citizens, particularly for our children and youth who will form the volunteer corps of the future.
The first step in achieving these goals is to publicly recognize the work accomplished by volunteers, not only during National Volunteer Week but also through year-round promotion. Public recognition of volunteer work will make Canadians more aware of the vital role volunteers play in our society and of the critical need to ensure the constant availability of qualified and dedicated volunteers.
Historically, female homemakers were the mainstay of the volunteer force, particularly in the human services. However, since women are entering the labour market in increasing numbers, the availability of the traditional volunteer has decreased markedly. In the 1990s, it is both essential and desirable for voluntary organizations to reach out to a much broader pool of potential volunteers. For example, strategies which target members of ethnocultural groups will eventually result in the creation of a volunteers base that more accurately reflects the multicultural and multiracial reality of Canada.
Recent years have also seen shrinking government support for human services in response to severe fiscal constraints. This situation has had a great impact on the demand for volunteer services. The need for volunteers to address urgent needs and pressing social issues is growing at an alarming rate, and this is putting enormous pressure on volunteer centres and other voluntary organizations across the country.
Today, more than ever, we need to ensure that the volunteer force across
Canada continues to grow and that its members are properly placed, trained,
managed and recognized. Volunteers are a precious commodity too precious
to be taken for granted.
The difference between promotion and publicity
Promotion is communication designed to capture public interest and to gain recognition, understanding and support for an organization, a service, or a cause. It can involve printing a poster, mailing out brochures, handing out flyers, posting notices throughout your community, setting up an exhibit in a shopping mall, hanging a banner across your main street, displaying a window card in a store, or giving a speech. Promotion includes both advertising and publicity.
The component of promotion that deals with free exposure through the media is known as publicity. While unlike advertising, you do not have to pay for time and space, you do have to earn coverage by supplying appealing and newsworthy information of public interest.
The designation of a special time during the year, such as National Volunteer Week, provides a ready-made publicity vehicle. Publicity is all the information about the Week and about the work of volunteers in your community that you can get before the public though newspapers, radio and television. This includes such activities as news announcements about your special event, stories about the recipients of a volunteer award, feature articles about issues and trends in volunteerism, a letter to the editor or an editorial on the critical need for volunteers, an appearance on a radio interview program, and a video-taped story on a television news show.
The purpose of National Volunteer Week is twofold: to recognize and thank volunteers and, equally important, to promote volunteering by making it more visible to the general public. When you attract public attention to celebrations during the Week and the accomplishments of volunteers in your community, you are also increasing public understanding of the contribution that volunteers make to your community and to Canadian society.
Publicizing National Volunteer Week and local promotional events
You are planning a special event to promote National Volunteer Week, and it is taking a lot of work. However, if everything goes well and if your story is told in print and on the airwaves, all that hard work will pay handsome dividends in promoting volunteerism in your community.
The best way to increase attendance at your event and to ensure coverage in the media is to launch a publicity campaign. Advance planning and attention to detail are essential ingredients in a successful publicity campaign. However, before you develop your news release and other promotional material, you must know whom to contact, what approach to take, and what your deadlines are. Good planning will always pay off.
One of your prime tasks in promoting volunteerism involves personalizing the issue that is, interpreting the vital importance of volunteer work to the public by connecting it with the lives of the people in your community. Since a publicity campaign usually needs a central theme to make it effective, it is advisable to try to find a more focused topic than volunteerism in general. Remember that human interest stories are usually the most appealing. And, the language and point of view you use in both written and face-to-face communications must be chosen to suit the priorities and interests of the media people you are addressing.
Planning for success
Publicity should be a very deliberate process, with every move carefully thought out well in advance. A well planned publicity strategy can save you many headaches and, most importantly, will help you come out ahead in the competition for scarce newspaper space and air time. Timing is crucial in the distribution of materials for the media since their deadlines are fixed.
The main steps in developing your plan are as follows:
Finding the angle
National Volunteer Week and events to recognize volunteers and promote volunteerism will probably not be considered fast-breaking, hard news that would run on the front page of a newspaper or be a focus of news broadcasts on radio or television. Most likely, your publicity will involve feature and human interest stories. Yet, even this so-called soft news has to be newsworthy to warrant special attention. This means that the story must contain facts that really inform, must be objective, and must have a hook.
The hook is the most important thing in a news release and is, in fact, what justifies its release. The hook is what the rest of the story hangs on: it is the focus, the main point, the unusual idea, or the explanation of how the story will have an impact on the audience.
The commonplace is not news. If you come up with a unique or unusual angle, you will greatly increase your chances for media coverage for your special event. For example, although a traditional pancake breakfast may not be particularly interesting to the media, a pancake breakfast served by local dignitaries and celebrities to community volunteers might be.
Similarly, feature stories call for imagination because they do not draw their interest purely from the fact that something has happened or is going to happen. For instance, if you have a human interest story that you believe is worth telling, you could add a new slant to the statistics by calculating the cost to the community if no one was willing to volunteer. (You can calculate this figure for the number of people in your community by using the average volunteer participation rate for the country as a whole or for your province based on the findings of the National Survey of Volunteer Activity in Canada and the average wage in the service sector).
As a general rule, the local appeal will help ensure media coverage local statistics, local volunteer heroes, local dignitaries. Since National Volunteer Week is community based, this is a natural approach.
Try to put yourself in the place of a news editor or program director. The more you help media people do their job, the better your chance of success in your own job. It is the business of the media to capture and hold the attention of their audience (whether readers, listeners or viewers), and they are constantly seeking to uncover and write about the unusual. Unusual service, unusual performance, unusual tasks: these are some of the things that will make good copy. You can make it as easy as possible for them by suggesting viable hooks for stories.
Here are some possible stories and story angles that might be appropriate and interesting ways to promote volunteerism:
If your local television station has just done a mini documentary on youth in trouble with the law, you might suggest to the producer a special feature on outstanding volunteers in your community who are actively involved with the criminal justice system. If family violence is a topic that has been receiving a lot of attention in your local paper recently, you might want to send a letter to the editor to singling out the volunteers who work with the local women's shelter and abused children to thank them and explain the impact of their work. (The anonymity of the volunteers, however, should always be maintained.)
Research on the substance and reflection on the value behind story ideas will allow you to put together enough background information to make the story attractive to the largest number of media outlets. Remember to use a human interest angle wherever possible and to obtain permission from individuals (whether the volunteers or those they help) before you use their names in any publicity material.
Telling the story
Copy is the backbone of publicity. Copy is the text of a news or feature article, a captioned photograph, a letter for publication, the script for a broadcast. Whatever form it takes, the story must be told in the most direct and simple language possible.
A news release is the cornerstone of a publicity campaign and one of the most important sources of information available to the media. It is generally used to offer a factual or straightforward news story, such as an announcement of a special event or the release of an important new study. While major papers may not rely heavily on news releases, a significant portion of the local news that appears in community newspapers has been gleaned by editors from the news releases they receive. However, much of the success of a news release, even a very well written one on a truly newsworthy topic, depends on whether it was received by the right person at the right time.
A media advisory is a shorter version of the news release intended to flag the possibility of news rather than to tell a story. It could be used, for example, to alert all media within your community to the fact that National Volunteer Week is approaching.
A feature release offers the media, particularly a newspaper, a pre-written story that can be used with minimum effort. It offers the news hook that will give the story a human interest twist. Although not hard news, a feature release still needs the element of timeliness, new significance, or relevance to a current topic.
A public service announcement (PSA) is a message of interest to the community or the general public for which the media donate air time or space. This is one of the most common forms of publicity for voluntary organizations because PSAs are run at no cost to the group. However, you have no control over when and where your PSA will appear. While it might be an audiotaped or videotaped production similar to a commercial broadcast, it is also possible to get a lot of air time by distributing PSA scripts, known in the field as live copy, for announcers to read. Almost all radio stations and some television stations use this format.
A community calendar listing is a mention in the media along with other events taking place around the same time. It is shorter than a PSA and gives fewer details.
A backgrounder provides explanatory and additional information in a brief, concise and easily readable fashion.
A fact sheet serves much the same purpose as a backgrounder. It might be a brief overview of your organization and its role in promoting volunteerism, a statement on the purpose of National Volunteer Week with a summary of its history, a statement of the purpose and history of a special volunteer award, or key facts on volunteerism.
A media kit serves to provide all the background that reporters and producers may need to develop a story, including background and biographical information. A media kit for National Volunteer Week might contain:
Don't forget to add your name, title (if appropriate) and telephone number.
Taking stock of your media resources
Your first step in organizing a publicity campaign is to take an inventory of all of the possible channels of communication to the public that are available to you. Begin by compiling a complete media list for your community, including neighbourhood newspapers or bulletins, regional weeklies or monthlies, shopper giveaways, campus radio stations and cable television stations. If the telephone book does not give a complete list, ask for assistance at the reference desk of your local library. For example, The Matthews List, published in Toronto by Canadian Corporate News, gives a complete list of the main media across the country and is updated regularly.
Your next step is to study all of the media outlets on your master list to learn their interests and emphasis and to judge the potential interest of each in your publicity. Become an avid media watcher and study what types of items each of your potential markets prefer. For newspapers, take note of stories that relate to your organization's sphere of interest and monitor the editorial pages, letters to the editors and the columns. Learn what types of stories are used in the various sections. Become familiar with the content, style and format of news interviews, talk shows, etc. on your local radio and television stations.
Once you have identified those which are most likely to cover your story, create a more detailed list of selected media contacts that you wish to target in your campaign. The more limited your time, the greater the need to focus your energies.
Finally, you will need to create a method for collecting and organizing basic information on the key media resources you have decided to target. Find out to whom at the paper or station you should be addressing each type of publicity tool you are planning, when to send the information or make the personal contact, and how to present your story.
You will need to obtain and regularly update basic information on each of the following:
for print media: the name, address, fax and telephone numbers of the feature editor, editorial page editor, city editor, assignments editor, columnists, special writers, calendar editor, editor of Sunday edition, producers of talk shows, producer of public affairs and community-related programming; and
for radio and TV: the broadcast schedule, deadlines, lead time required, format preferences for receiving information, length restrictions; audience analysis, areas of specialty or interest.
Approaching the Media
To keep the approach and the message consistent, contact with the media is best handled by as few people as possible ideally by one person.
Always bear in mind that media people rely on publicists like yourself to help them cover the bases. You are offering them genuine news ideas, and they will appreciate a solid story that is outlined clearly and factually.
Once you have carefully produced your material and identified the key contacts in the media, do you just send the material by mail? Do you call first? Send it and then call? Although there is no accepted protocol on this, the usual advice is to send the material with a brief covering letter that indicates that you will be calling soon.
The most common way to approach media people is to mail them your news release, invitation to a special event or public service announcement. Although this method often gets results, personal contact will usually increase your chances of coverage. In a smaller community, a news release may not even be necessary if more informal, personal lines of communication are available.
Here are some basic guidelines for contacting media people by telephone:
A pitch letter, whether used as the first point of contact or to follow up a phone conversation, should be brief and succinct. Open with a strong lead to pique the reader's interest ideally, a striking fact, startling statistic or controversial question. Then, move straight into the feature story idea, offering several different angles and indicating why the story would be of interest to the audience in question.
Each letter should be tailored to the particular contact person to whom it is directed. If you have already spoken with her/him, add an introductory line referring to your conversation. Be sure to send your letter to a particular named person or, failing that, to the appropriate position (by title). To avoid unnecessary confusion and so to maintain good relations with the media, it is a good principle to clearly indicate to all involved if you are sending the same material to more than one representative of the same paper or station.
Whether telephoning or presenting your material in person, you need to be persuasive, persistent and friendly, but never overly aggressive. Once personal contact has been made, the usual advice is to wait and see.
Editors and program directors always appreciate getting advance notice of stories or events that may interest them, although material submitted too far in advance stands a good chance of getting lost. It is generally advisable to send an advance notice, followed by a second notice as a reminder closer to the actual date.
To increase your chances of obtaining valuable feedback, include a self-addressed, stamped reply card with your publicity materials, especially if your only contact is by mail. Ask people to check boxes to let you know:
If reporters are covering a special event, they will welcome handouts that give details of the program, including the names and phone numbers of those responsible and the text of important speeches.
Call a news conference only if you have something of regional, national, or international significance to announce.
And, finally, it is always a good practice to express your appreciation of good coverage by sending a thank-you note to the reporter or broadcaster with a copy to his or her superior. If possible, try to include information about community reaction to your item that you received.
Getting into print
For publicity at the local level, newspapers are likely your best bet. There is scarcely a city, town or neighbourhood that is not covered by at least one newspaper, and almost everybody reads them. While more and more people look to radio and television as their major source of hard news and current events, they continue to rely on newspapers for local news and human interest stories about people and events in their community.
The demand for interesting information and good local news stories needed to fill a newspaper is almost insatiable, particularly in a weekly or monthly dedicated to community news. Names of local people and local organizations are magic words in your hometown or neighbourhood press (for example, a local citizen who is being honoured for volunteer work or a major event sponsored by a community organization).
Newspapers also offer the opportunity for in-depth treatment of a subject. With the larger papers, you will have to be aware of which particular section of the paper might be most responsive to and effective for your story. For example, the business section might be appropriate to highlight a corporate volunteer program or an outstanding member of a volunteer board. The family section may be a good place to profile volunteers who work with children or advocate for children's rights. The lifestyle or living sections often deal with social issues and usually contain longer feature articles. The sports section might carry an article on volunteers who coach little league teams or a well-known sports figure who does a great deal of community service.
One of the most widely read sections of a newspaper is the letters to the editor column. These letters usually raise new points about issues in the news, direct attention to a problem, or respond to a column or editorial. Since most papers publish letters from their readers, a letter to the editor of your local paper is one effective way of getting an issue-related message before the public.
While a small paper may print a letter that simply announces National Volunteer Week and thanks community volunteers, you have a good chance of having your letter printed in any paper if you can tie your purpose to a an issue current attracting interest in your community. A letter to the editor should be brief, clearly written and focused.
You might also consider a newspaper op-ed (i.e., an article in a special section opposite the editorial page) which can also be used to give public applause for outstanding achievement. While gaining editorial support may be a challenging feat, this is an excellent way to gain public attention and support. Try writing to ask for a meeting with a member of the paper's editorial board.
Ask editors about the advisability of submitting photographs of your events or about the possibility of them sending a photographer.
Remember that the range of local print media in a community extends beyond daily, weekly and neighbourhood newspapers. Many communities have a variety of additional papers that are regularly read by significant sectors of
the community and should thus be reviewed carefully. These include:
Getting on air
The potential of radio and television coverage in a given locality varies according to the population served and the practices of the station. The electronic media usually have more smaller but more definable target audiences than newspapers. Since radio programming is cheaper to produce and requires less preparation, it is generally easier to get on radio than on television with PSAs, interviews, talk shows and the like. The best stations or programs to target are those that pride themselves on!a high profile within the community.
In considering radio or television as a medium for your message, it is important to keep your material immediate. A good test of immediacy is whether you can work the words today, yesterday or tomorrow into your material.
The following avenues offer an opportunity for on-air coverage during National Volunteer Week:
Because resources and priorities differ greatly among stations, it is a good idea to make direct contact with the program director (or the public service director in a larger station) to learn firsthand what kinds of community service activities the station supports and what other types of programming might be appropriate outlets for promoting volunteerism.
If you are interested specifically in news coverage, the news director is your best contact at the station. Most radio and television news programs have assignment editors who decide what stories will be covered. The credits at the end of the show will indicate their names.
Some local radio and television stations are willing to take up a particular cause as part of their public service commitment. This might involve sponsoring a special event or devoting a larger than usual amount of airtime to a cause during a specific period. Some radio station will offer services free of charge or at reduced rates to a voluntary group to produce a public service message.
A very effective, and often achievable, opportunity for radio and television coverage lies with the established personalities on public affair programs, talk shows and news programs who have built-in audiences.
Another form of corporate support is for the station to lend the name and prestige of station personalities to community events as honourary chairperson, keynote speaker, and so on. However, a possible disadvantage of aligning your activities too closely with one station is that the rest of the media may chose to downplay or ignore your promotional efforts.
In addition to commercial stations, campus radio stations are an important media resource to consider. As these stations are nonprofit, community service undertakings and tend to function largely with the assistance of volunteers, they may be very sympathetic to the goals of National Volunteer Week. Also, cable television and local non-commercial radio are part of the growing community-access phenomenon in the broadcast field and should be investigated.
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|Last updated : 1998/10/26|