The Power of Publicity

There are people in your town right now who need Toastmasters – but they may not even know your club exists! One of your responsibilities as a member is to promote your club and the organization, but that doesn’t mean you have to stand on the corner thumping on the Competent Communication manual.

In fact, the best way to promote your club and to increase membership is to show how Toastmasters members can change lives for the better, and the best way to demonstrate this to the public is through publicity

Publicity vs. Advertising

We often fall into the trap of thinking that placing an ad in the local paper is the best way to promote a cause – or a club – but traditional advertising is becoming less and less effective. According to statistics, we are now hit with up to 5,000 advertisements every day. Radios come with scan and seek buttons, and TiVo allows consumers to fast-forward through annoying chatter and ads.

Be honest, when you read the paper or listen to the news, do you focus on the advertisements or the stories? Most people focus on the stories. We want and need good stories – but we are tuning out the advertisements. That’s why an article – a story – about you or your club and its life-changing benefits is more effective than an advertisement.

Your Publicity Generator

Most clubs and organizations send press releases to commemorate awards, advancements and competition victories. Those are all good opportunities to get the club name in front of the public, but they are not the most powerful sources of publicity.

The best sources for new releases are the things your members do outside the club. Look especially for regional and national tie-ins. For instance, suppose one of your members travels to the state capitol to lobby for health-care reform. Write it up. “Local Business Owner Testifies for Health Care Reform” is far more compelling than “Toastmaster Wins Award.” You may have a speaker in your organization who can promote Toastmasters by giving a talk at a local school or service organization; that talk could be on public speaking, literacy, success or any other topic of interest to the students and teachers. “Bartender Serves Up Literacy Program to Public Schools” could generate some publicity energy.

You can take this concept one step further. Look around your community and find a need. Maybe your town is suffering from growing pains. Have a couple of members prepare presentations on urban growth, affordable housing or the environment. Contact your local radio talk show and offer to share the information.

Be sure to mention that these speakers polished their presentation skills at Toastmasters, and give detailed information on how to contact local clubs.

Putting Energy into a Press Release

Learn how to write a press release. There are two key elements to a good story – the hook and the slant. The hook is embedded in the first line of a press release and is designed to grab the reader. Some stories create their own hook, such as earthquakes, political scandals and alien abductions. For an ordinary story, though, you may need to play with the hook a bit.

For the story on health-care reform, you might come up with a hook like this – “Local business owner and Toastmaster Joe Smith faced off against the state legislature last week in a heated debate about affordable health care.” This is just an example; every story needs its own, unique hook.

“Even if you have a good slant, a newsworthy story and a well-written press release, without some kind of personal connection it will likely end up in the can.”

In addition to the hook, use quotes and statistics as much as possible. Always put quotes in present tense – “We’ll never give up,” says Joe Smith.

The slant of a story is like the viewpoint. Many times, we write a story from our own viewpoint, such as the traditional “Joe Smith Receives CC Award.” Look for a slant that is of interest to the readers. Always ask the question from the reader’s perspective: “So what?” If you can re-cast an award to be of general interest, do it. Maybe Joe Smith has a comment or two on a current event or topic of broad interest, such as real estate values, the price of fuel or the war in Iraq. All of these topics are relevant and interesting, and the award can be embedded in the story along with a quote.

Even if you have a good slant, a newsworthy story and a well-written press release, without some kind of personal connection that release will likely end up in the can.

Make the Media Work for You

According to publicity expert Joan Stewart, the number one thing anyone can do to help launch an ongoing publicity campaign is to develop personal relationships with the reporters who cover issues related to your press release.

“Reporters are looking for sources,” says Stewart. “Get to know the reporters and then send them leads.”

What you may not know is that many news stories are provided by the company or person that is the subject of the story. That is because good publicity hounds know three things:

Reporters are extremely busy and are looking for good leads, experts to interview and fresh ideas.

An article, radio interview or even just a short quote by representatives from your organization can be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars in advertising.

Publicity generates more publicity. A news article will prompt a radio interview. A radio interview could lead to a guest appearance on a TV show.

You may think that these reporters already have a line-up of tipsters doting on them. Don’t make that assumption. Your local reporters are always hungry for eloquent experts. And, for that matter, so are the national reporters.

Looking Beyond the Traditional Press

Press releases are more important today than ever – but the rules have changed a bit. In the past, we tried to write press releases to please reporters, but now a press release posted to your Web site improves your content, makes your site more valuable and increases your rankings on the search engines.

If your club doesn’t have a Web site yet, get one. Go to www.freetoasthost.com and sign up for a free site. The service is sponsored by Toastmasters International and the template is quick and easy to use. You’ll have a professionally designed Web site up and running in a few hours.

Once your publicity machine is running, you’ll want people to be able to find your club quickly and easily. A professional-looking Web site is a necessity in today’s business world.

How Publicity Gathers Steam

Besides being more effective than advertising, public relations has two bonus features: It’s free (a big bonus) and it generates more publicity.

Once you get to know your local reporters and they realize they can count on you for leads, tips and commentary, more and more opportunities for publicity will appear.

In our club, we have several members who nurture contacts with the media, and it pays off. Recently, a local radio show host in our town invited us to fill a spot in his programming. Three of our members spent an hour on the radio show during the morning drive talking about Toastmasters – what it is, what it does, how it works and how it benefits the members. Try buying an hour of radio advertising during the morning rush and you’ll see how valuable your media relations are.

Your work in the community, networking with reporters and your ability to write and speak in public will eventually generate a feature article in your local paper. The local article will
land you more radio spots. You can hire someone to transcribe the radio interviews and turn them into online articles or podcasts that you can then submit to local, regional and even national Web sites.

For those members of your club that have an aptitude or desire to do more work in the area of public relations, publicity and promotion, make sure they check out Toastmasters International’s Public Relations Manual in the Advanced Communication and Leadership Program as well as Let the World Know, Toastmasters PR and publicity manual which is
available for free downloading at members.toastmasters.org.

Take your club up a notch by developing a strong public relations campaign and you will find that new members gravitate to you. Your club will grow, your members will benefit and you will be doing good things in your community.

Joe Cooke, ATMB, is a business consultant and novelist, and writes articles on business, marketing and real estate. He is a member of High Noon Toastmasters club in Walla Walla, Washington. Reach him at www.joecooke.info.

A Publicity Primer

By Joe Cooke, ATMB

According to publicity hound Joan Stewart, there are more news outlets today than ever before. Here are a few ideas for ways to promote your Toastmasters club through speaking opportunities and publicity efforts:

  1.  Speak at free seminars, especially ones like “Public Speaking 101” (and be sure to send out a press release about it before and after the event.)
  2.  Public speaking engagements – contact your local service organizations, such as Kiwanis, Rotary and the Chamber of Commerce. Organizations are always on the lookout for good speakers.
  3.  Local morning talk shows – find experts in your club, get to know the reporters and be a source for them.
  4.  Also try the following: teleseminars, webinars, podcasts, e-zines, traditional newsletters, writing a column for the local paper, submitting articles to local Web sites and online newsletters, and, of course, the venerable press release.
  5.  Send a press release when someone wins an award, does community service, fills a board position or participates in any worthwhile venture. Always send a picture of the member or members you are highlighting after getting their permission. Readers will skip sections of text, but a picture catches their attention.
  6.  Check out Joan Stewart’s comprehensive on-line tutorial for writing press releases at www.publicityhound.com.
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