Rekindle your public relationship
Media coverage has its benefits. Here's how to get yours.
By Shanna Mooney
Good public relations has the power to boost your image, highlight your Key Club’s achievements and improve communications with teachers, parents, school administrators, government officials and local business owners.
When you tell your club’s story through the media, using newspapers, magazines, trade journals, websites and social media like Facebook, you boost your visibility and credibility. Getting the word out about what you do can define your club in positive terms and position it as an important resource in your community.
“Widespread public recognition will benefit your club in many ways,”says Kristian Little, Kiwanis International public relations specialist. “With members, it can build pride that leads to better attendance, greater participation in fundraising and service projects and stronger retention. In school, it can help draw new members, and in the community, it can definitely make it easier to solicit public support for Key Club projects and fundraisers.”
Here are a few tips to get you started on a PR campaign for your club:
Identify your media outlets.
Compile a list of local newspapers, websites, newsletters, radio stations, cable outlets and television stations that provide news in your community. Find contact information (usually available on the media outlets’ websites) for each one.
“Once you know who to target with your news item, call them,” Little says. Be respectful of the reporter or editor’s time; ask if they are on deadline and would prefer that you call back another time. If they are able to talk, introduce yourself and give a brief background on why you are calling.
Ask the reporter:
• What areas or “beats” they cover regularly
• How they’d like to receive information from you—phone, e-mail, mail or fax
• What they’re interested in right now and which trends they’re following
• What information you can share about your club that would be of interest
“Keep in mind that this first phone call will not likely result in the reporter covering your Key Club,” Little says. “Instead, it will be the beginning of a relationship between you and the reporter and will help you understand what stories might be of interest to them in the future. This will increase your chances of them covering your Key Club.” That’s exactly what the Key Club of Mauston, Wisconsin, High School does.
“We live in a small community of 4,500,” says Leah Lechleiter-Luke, the club’s faculty advisor. The area has two county-wide papers, she says. “The editors and reporters of these papers are easy to talk to and supportive of school activities, and the daughter of one of the reporters was a Key Club member when she was in high school. Whenever we’re doing something ‘big,’ we call or e-mail the reporter. She does an excellent job of covering our events. I think what other schools, big or small, should do is get to know who covers the school beat. Don’t be afraid to call them. Introduce yourself. Establishing a relationship with the reporters is key to getting coverage.”
Prepare your PR tools.
Create a fact sheet about your club and send it to the people on your media list. Include a brief description of Key Club and Kiwanis, unique facts about your club, the number of members you have, which service projects you coordinate, how many service hours you complete and how much money you’ve raised for local and international causes. Be sure to include your name, email address and phone number so the reporter can call you with questions. You can also hand out the fact sheet to reporters who show up at your events.
Identify a spokesperson in your club.
Identify two individuals who can speak about your events or projects with the media. “Speakers should be trusted members of your club, preferably the president or the public relations liaison, who are well informed about the club, its service projects and who can communicate its messages,” Little says.
The Mauston Key Club bases its choice of spokesperson based on message delivery: “Be sure that your most articulate student leader is the one making the media contacts,” Lechleiter-Luke says, “Along with the advisor.”
Train club members about public relations.
Help members become aware that everyone plays a role in public relations. “Everywhere they go, they give the public an impression of what Key Clubbers are like, especially when they’re wearing their pin or Key Club gear. Regardless of the stories in the media, the public’s real opinion of Key Club is formed when they meet a Key Clubber or see Key Clubbers serving the community. So, whenever your club is doing great things, its members need to identify themselves as Key Clubbers by wearing pins, putting up signs and telling bystanders, ‘This is Key Club!’” Little says.
Coach members on how to answer questions, and keep these things in mind yourself: Remember to insert the words “Key Club” in place of “us” or “me.” For example, instead of saying, “I really enjoy visiting the elderly every Tuesday,” say, “Our Key Club really enjoys visiting the elderly every Tuesday.”
“Talking like this will take some practice and might sound awkward at first, but doing it ensures that people will remember Key Club was doing that service project, not just some nice kids,” Little says.
Enjoy news-release success.
A press release is one of the most popular methods for getting news to media outlets. However, not all press releases are successful. Consider the following tips when customizing your release and distributing it to media:
1. Consider your audience. Before you shoot off a press release, ask yourself, “Why does the reader care about our event/product/news?”
“The media will be more interested in your release if they feel it will have an impact on their readers, so, by asking this question and including the answer in your press release, you increase the likelihood of getting media attention,” Little says.
2. Get the word out. Be sure to send the release to each media contact through their preferred delivery method (e-mail, mail, fax, phone call, etc.). Include a note with the news release letting the reporter know that you have Key Club members and advisors available, and to contact you to schedule an interview.
3. Be persistent. Within a day or two of distributing your press release, call or e-mail each media contact to ask of their interest in your release and see if they have any additional questions or would like an interview. “Often, reporters receive so much information that a quick reminder will be appreciated and bring their attention back to your story,” Little says.
Persistence is something Lechleiter-Luke suggests as well. “Call them. E-mail them. If they don’t respond, be persistent,” she says. “Continue to send them information about upcoming events. Give them plenty of advance notice. Send articles to the paper after an event. Send pictures. And always remain positive in your conversations—
even if they have never covered your events. Keep inviting them. Eventually they will want to see what all the hype is about.”
Get out a public service announcement (PSAs).
Each year the broadcast industry donates millions of dollars worth of public service announcements; however, they are under no obligation to grant time to any specific group, and they face a tremendous demand for free public service time. Usually, a public service or public affairs director is responsible for PSA scheduling. Find out who is responsible for PSAs at your local news channel and contact them at least three weeks in advance to see if time is available for your message. Make certain your message is important, interesting and presented in the best possible format.
Write a letter to the editor.
Typically, letters to the editor are generally printed verbatim. “The writer of the letter controls the content more so than an article written by the reporter. This can be a very effective tool,” Lechleiter-Luke says.
Lechleiter-Luke likes writing a thank-you letter to the community for support received for an event. She also does it for recruitment.
“I’ve submitted a letter to the editor right before school starts encouraging parents to keep their kids involved at the high school. I encourage them to consider volunteering with the Key Club and encourage their kids to join.”
Keep it in the Kiwanis family.
“In many smaller communities, school journalism classes or clubs get to publish their work in the community’s newspapers,” Lechleiter-Luke says. “Some years, we’ve had Key Club members in the journalism club. They made Key Club events their regular beat. They wrote the articles for the paper. We like that, of course, because Key Club is about being student-led. At one point we also had a Kiwanis member who wrote for the paper. He always made sure we had coverage. Check with your Kiwanis club(s) to see if there is an ‘in’ there.”
Check out public relations tools at www.keyclub.org/prtools. Here you’ll find sample press releases, recognition certificates and many useful tips. You also can download the Key Club public relations manual at