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Publicity - A Key To Your Chapter's Success

By Alan Shackleton

Leading a chapter is very similar to managing a small business. To make a small business successful, you need to get your product or service sold. Often times this requires some salesmanship and advertising. If you are wondering what it is you, as an EAA Chapter have to sell. The products and services are many.

If you host a pancake breakfast, it's obvious what you have to sell. You have purchased equipment and supplies, now you would like to cook it, sell it and throw the profit into the treasury. If you host a Young Eagle rally, you've recruited pilots and now you need to sell young people on the joys of flying. If you host a builder's workshop weekend you would like to have it well attended and sell the participants on the satisfaction of building an airplane. If you host a monthly meeting, you would probably like to have a good turnout and sell some aviation enthusiasts on the benefits of becoming a member of the EAA and your Chapter. All of these are measurements of success that apply to the Chapters.

The most successful Chapters continually grow in new membership, host many well attended events and become popular among the local aviators and to the public at large. How do they do this? What's the magic formula? It's Publicity. The "P" word. Publicity, in the right places saying the right things at the right time will do more for your Chapter's events, treasury and reputation than any other thing you do. Your Young Eagle rallies will be well attended, you'll sell more pancakes than ever before and you'll recruit more new members (and volunteers) than you ever thought possible. What's the hit on your treasury? Postage and printing.

The purpose of this handbook is to show you how easy it is to publicize your Chapter and your activities. You need not have a degree in public relations, journalism or political science to get the right words out, to the right places at the right times. 

The Right Places - Targeting Your Market
Getting the word out, but getting it to the wrong places isn't going to benefit you at all. If you are hosting a local Young Eagle Flight Rally, a mention in a national magazine will have much less impact than an article in the local newspapers. 

If you intend to host a fly-in event in which you would like to attract pilots from a larger geographic area, a simple notice in the state aviation newsletter would be better than the front page of the local auto shopper classifieds.

For most Chapter meetings, you'll be looking at the local newspapers. The larger and more important your event, the more you'll want to expand the coverage. If your event is really special, like an airshow or a B-17 tour stop, you'll want to add radio and television coverage.

Many aviation magazines include a calendar of events column. Of course, you'll want to use this avenue for your major events. Fly-Ins, Open Houses, etc.

Pick your target, determine what audience you're looking to attract, and tailor your publicity in that direction.

The Right Time - Timing is Everything
Remember this little fact. An article published or a broadcast spot presented the day after your event, is news. The day before, it is publicity. You're looking for publicity, not news. Timing is everything

Getting the right word out to the right people, but too late is worse than doing nothing at all. You will have spent your time and funds for nothing.

Set aside a calendar that lists all your events and meetings and then mark it back with your publicity deadlines. Refer to this calendar often. Encourage your publicity chairman to include this information in his/her daily calendar.

Remember this tip.... Earlier is Better.

Most Calendar of Event columns published in national magazines are very brief. They'll usually list only the date, time, place and nature of your event. Most will publish your event in the couple of months prior to your event. A calendar column in your local newspaper may elaborate more on the content, but it will usually only be published once and within days of the event or meeting.

Many magazines will carry a notice for a couple of months, the longer you're in there, the better off you'll be. For calendar of events columns in magazines, it's a good idea to get your event submitted six months in advance of the event date. Anything less than four months and you're probably wasting your time. If you're three months out and very lucky, it may be published in the issue of the month your event has been scheduled.

A calendar of events page in your local newspaper usually requires three weeks as your lead-time. Check with the ten largest and closest newspapers for their requirements.

A regular newspaper article will require at least two weeks lead and most newspapers prefer three. There have been instances where a release was faxed to a weekly newspaper on its final copy deadline date and it was printed two days later. This is more common with small rural newspapers that are begging for copy than for large metropolitan newspapers.

Television stations will use a standard press release and it should be sent as early as possible. Two to three weeks will usually suffice. Your hope is that the station will take an interest in your event and give you coverage. It takes a few days for them to get everything scheduled.

A radio Public Service Announcement should be sent at least a month in advance. You'll want all the airtime you can get in the weeks prior to your event. Many small rural stations would be willing to promote your monthly meeting, but large stations in large markets will generally only cover your big events. Remember that radio stations live on paid advertisements and provide PSA's as a service. You're not going to get an advertising type spot for free.

Keep your web site calendar of events and your telephone answering machine up to date. You'll be amazed at how effective these are.

The Right Words
Different types of columns in differing media require different approaches. A Press Release tailored to a newspaper may work as a radio Public Service Announcement, but don't count on it. Your chances of being heard on the radio are much better if you write a specific PSA. You'll come across as a pro and you'll make their lives easier.

The General Information Page
One of the duties of a copy editor is to figure out what information might interest their readers, listeners or viewers. Don't worry about whether or not the media will be interested in your story. Instead ask yourself, if their audience will be interested. Understand that you are targeting an audience of people that read newspapers, listen to the radio and watch television. The media is your method to get to that audience. The media wants and needs your information. You just need to make it easy for them to pass it along. If you are going to send releases throughout a large geographic area, it's important to let the editors know that your Chapter serves their area. Do this on your general information page.

When dealing with newspapers and the broadcast media, it's a good idea to have a separate page that describes your Chapter in general terms. If you have established an annual schedule of events, include it. If you have a Chapter brochure, include this also in your press pack. If you are sending a press release about a Young Eagle Flight Rally, don't hesitate to send the EAA's Young Eagle brochure. This additional information will be useful to the copy editors as they build up your story. Sometimes the additional information will pique the editor's interest in your other activities. One Chapter has received nearly a dozen full-page articles in their local paper (circ. 300,000+). 

The Magazine Calendar of Events Release
Putting your event in various aviation magazines will increase your exposure to the enthusiasts and pilots you wish to attract. The release you write for a calendar of events notice to be published in a magazine needs to be very brief, double-spaced and contain only the following information:

Event name
Host organization
Date of event 
Contact person, address and phone number

Don't include your General Information page, brochure or annual calendar with this. Most magazine calendar columns are limited in space and will only include the minimum of information. 

The Newspaper Calendar of Events Release
This release should be a little more elaborate and be in standard release format. You should include your General Information page, brochure and schedule. 

The Standard Press Release
The press release is the most important tool in your quest to publicize your Chapter. It's easy to put together but you'll need to remember these tips:

  • When preparing your copy, type the information one one side of the page only. The page should be 8 1/2 x 11 and the typing should be double-spaced. Use white paper only. At the top of the first page, type the name of your Chapter, the contact person's name, address and daytime telephone number. When referencing a person anywhere in your release, use their first and last names only. Courtesy titles, (Mr., Ms, Mrs. etc.) aren't generally used. Rev. and Dr. are an exception to this rule.
  • Accuracy is all-important. Make sure your spelling is absolutely correct. Don't guess on dates, names or phone numbers. Check every point of your story for accuracy.
  • Be concise. Space is usually in short supply. Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs. Don't send your newsletter. It takes too much time to sift through. 
  • Be objective. Just the facts ma'am. Don't use your releases as a cheerleading effort.
  • Don't send multiple copies of the same release to the same newspaper, radio or TV station. One will suffice. If you aren't sure who to send it to, call first. Tell the receptionist the nature of your organization or event and they can steer you in the right direction. If the receptionist can't help, ask for the editorial office.
  • Expect to be edited. Space constraints will dictate the length of your story. Don't worry, a good editor will cut words without reducing the impact of your story.
  • Your Headline should have a news angle to it. It may not be used, but it will get the editor's attention.

The copy should include The Five W's and H:

  • Who - is the story about? It will most likely be your Chapter or a member. 
  • What - is going to happen. This is the event itself. If the event has a name, use it. Be very descriptive so that those that are unfamiliar with the event will understand what it is.
  • When - will the event take place? This includes time of day, day(s) of week and date. An example: 7:00 am- 3:00 PM, Sunday, June 9, 1997. Don't use military time, as only pilots understand this. And for heaven's sake, don't use Zulu time. Even pilots don't understand this.
  • Where - will this event or meeting happen? Include the name of the meeting place, the full street address and town. If your event is taking place at an airport, detailed directions are definitely in order. Example: EAA Chapter 579 Hangar, first building east of control tower, Aurora Municipal Airport, US Route 30, Sugar Grove, IL.
  • Why - is this happening? Most events have a purpose. If it's a fundraiser, don't be embarrassed. Lets your readers know what cause you're helping. In the case of your annual fly-in pancake breakfast, let your readers know that you are raising funds to continue your aviation outreach programs.
  • How - did it come about? Was the event made possible through donations, fundraisers or a grant? This kind of information is used to add interest.

Include the contact person and a phone number for the readers, listeners or viewers to use for additional information. Put this in the body of your release.

Organizing your release.
Most news stories are organized in a type of inverted pyramid format. The most important information is written first. The five W's and H should be covered in the first two paragraphs. The less important information is saved for last. 

You may wish to include photographs with your release. If space allows, they can add a powerful impact to your story. There are some general guidelines to this. Most newspapers can use color slides, prints or negatives. Most newspapers prefer good crisp black and white photos. Don't use instant photos, as they don't reproduce very well. Television stations prefer color slides but may use prints. For obvious reasons, radio stations don't care about photos.

Most newspapers and television stations prefer to use their own photographers, because they're pros and they do a better job than most snapshot shooters. If you send photos, make sure they are composed and exposed well. If your photo contains people, type their names as they appear left to right on a separate piece of paper and attach it to the back of the photo. Include your name and address on the back of the photo. If you need the photo returned, please include a stamped self-addressed envelope.

Good photos are those that show people doing something. They should be involved with their activity or someone else, don't have them looking into the camera. The photo needs to tell a story or otherwise have some impact. A close-up air-to-air photo of a P-40 will attract attention to your story, especially if you intend to display the Kittyhawk at your event. Make the photos interesting, keep the subjects close and limit the number of subjects in your photo. Panoramas of your breakfast cook tent probably won't be published. Take a look at the photos that do make it into the papers and try to emulate them.

Finding your contacts.
There are number of publications that you can use to get names and addresses of the newspapers, radio and television stations in your target market. Most of these can be found in your public library.

Here's the most common:
Bacon's Newspaper/Magazine Directory
Bacon's Radio/TV/Cable Directory
Gale Directory of Publications & Broadcast Media
Working Press of the Nation
Leadership Directories News Media Yellow Book

Making your life easy.
Press releases can be typed on the most basic typewriter and copied at your local copy center. However, a good computer with a printer will make your life very easy. Try to get software that will mail merge a database with your documents. This will allow you to preprint your mailing labels. When using a computer, you can keep your general information page up to date, with very simple modifications.

Once you have established your database of newspapers, magazine, radio and television stations, you can customize your mailings to hit your target markets. An example of magazine mailing labels is shown on sample IV.

Now for the results.
Remember that the better publicized your Chapter activities are, the more successful they will be. Your membership and volunteer base will grow; you will all have more fun. That's what EAA Chapters are all about. Now get to it.

Suggested Reading List
Yudkin, Marcia, Six Steps to Free Publicity 
Yale, David R., The Publicity Handbook: How to Maximize Publicity for Products, Services and Organization

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