June 18, 2002 11:46 AM CDT
Goodwill Hunting - Community Activities are Good PR
There's a famous saying that no good deed ever goes unpunished, but in the case of public relations, it's perhaps more accurate to say that no good deed should ever go unpublicized.
Since many mason contractors are involved in community efforts such as donating their talent to Habitat for Humanity, restoring public monuments, rebuilding historic sites and the like, it makes sense for them to "get the word out."
Companies forget to promote their community-oriented activities for a variety of reasons. Some are too preoccupied with marketing their corporate products to their customers, while others are primarily focused on meeting quarterly financial goals. Another group feels reluctant to talk about their charitable actions publicly, thinking that it might come across as too self-serving.
There is a straightforward approach to getting the word out to the media about your company, however, without appearing to be opportunistic. The media appreciate good, solid information and there are appropriate ways and means to communicate all of your business activities to them, including the ones that fall into the "goodwill" category.
The following are seven major steps to identifying and communicating your charitable activities in a tasteful manner:
Designate One Person in the Company to be Your Community Relations Archivist
It's important (and will create fewer headaches later) if you decide that one person in your company will serve as the compiler and clearinghouse of all information related to your business' community or charitable activities. This person can be from any department but is often found in public relations or human resources. In a family-owned business, the owner or owner's spouse usually shoulders this burden - until "the kids" are old enough.
Poll your Employees
Once designated, your point person should conduct a simple poll of your employees, no matter whether you have two or 200, to find out the non-profit organizations or charities in which they actively participate, either by volunteering their time or serving on the board of directors. Examples might be Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity, or Toys for Tots. Compile this information and determine if there are any common themes.
Get as much information on the charity or recipient as you can
When providing information to the press, keep in mind that the goal is to talk about the recipient(s) of your efforts, not so much about your company. The PR value comes in being attached to a charity through your laudable efforts. If the charity has a website, pull a summary description off it to keep in your files. If they have a public relations manager, contact him or her and ask for a corporate backgrounder. As you're compiling information, you want to be able to provide the reporter with a succinct summary of what the charitable organization is all about. And make sure you let the charity know that you intend to send information to the press. They might be able to expand your media list with a media database of their own.
Find the Stats
Figures and data make for interesting copy. One company, for example, asked its employees to donate to the 2001 Marine's Toys for Tots program. In just three days, more than 500 toys were collected, an admirable number for a company that had only 200 employees. The Toys for Tots program was able to say that this exceeded typical company donations and provided data on how many toys it had received to date. You want to include this kind of data in your information to reporters, because it puts your contribution in context.
Update Your Media Database
If you haven't already, make sure you have a good, qualified list of local and regional media in your database. Don't forget, information about your goodwill activities is interesting not only to local media but to trade media as well - i.e. the magazines that are dedicated to the masonry industry. Of course, that means only one, Masonry!
Send the Information as an Editorial Alert, Not a Press Release
There are many ways of sending information to reporters. Most people automatically think of press releases, but these represent the most formal (and usually most abused) method for disseminating information. Another more appropriate form for communicating your community activities is the so-called media alert or editorial alert. In this approach, you email one or more brief summary paragraphs to appropriate editors to inform them about your activity. It's up to them whether or not they publish it, but you get the point across without grandstanding.
Let's take a look at how you can develop this type "infomercial." The subject line could be: "Editorial Alert: Acme Masonry Collects 500 Toys for Tots in Time for Holiday." The email information in the body of the email would contain factual, non-promotional information, including how and why Acme collected the toys, why the number 500 is significant (i.e. most companies only submit 50 to 60 toys), and background information on the Toys for Tots organization.
Here's an example: "Acme Masonry recently collected more than 500 toys from its 200 employees as part of its annual holiday participation in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program. According to HR Manager Sally Field, the room at Acme set aside for the toys was filled in just 3 days. The U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is the Marine Corps' premier community action program and the only charitable endeavor within the Department of Defense which reaches outside the military establishment to give something back to the communities from which the nation draws the young men and women who wear the uniforms of the armed services of the United States. According to the program's leader, the 500 toys represent a record-breaking number for a company of Acme's size. For more information on the program, visit www.toysfortots.org."
Be selective in what you publicize
If your company is very active through its corporate or individual employee efforts, have your point person analyze the activities and determine trends. You could send out an editorial alert, for example, that promotes all activities in the company associated with the American Cancer Society or American Heart Association, or all activities that have to do with local housing projects, and so on. But be selective. You shouldn't be sending out alerts any more frequently than perhaps three times a year at most.
Don't make the media go hunting for your goodwill. Let them hear about it, and give them the facts they need. It's a win-win situation for you, the reporter, and the charity with which you're working.
Linda VandeVrede is the principal of VandeVrede Public Relations, a Scottsdale, Ariz., company that serves clients nationwide. VandeVrede Public Relations offers expertise in public relations, crisis planning, issues management and analyst relations.