Article Date : November 01, 1998
Duncan Reeve's answer to my last email very clearly demonstrates the problem in setting goals - not every one will agree, and growth is not necessarily an objective with which everyone agrees anyway, as I pointed out in my last email. For some clubs growth is impossible - they are full.
I cited growth as an objective or goal because it appears to be the general way of current thinking. As the secretary of a small club, Dyffryn, with two and half lawns and 50-odd members, I can tell you that we are always concerned with growth. Not that we can afford to grow too much, as the lawns can only take so many, but that we always have a few members who leave each year, and need to be replaced. By keeping croquet in the public eye, through papers and this year, three TV channels, it is easier to attract members when we run our annual coaching courses. Now of course you might say that the goal is stability then, rather than growth, but the two things are very very similar.
Besides, growth seems to be very real at present. I have in front of me the latest missive from the CA to go on our noticeboard, which says that 11 new clubs affiliated to the CA this year.
Assuming for my model that we do take the goal of growth, then how do we plan our publicity to produce this, or at least keep membership of a club the same.
Firstly, identify your publics. This is not a typing error - in PR we talk about Key Publics - that is, those groups which an organization wants to understand or know about its activitives. And there are three basic type of public:
passive or latent: those who know nothing about the subject or organization, in this case croquet.
aware: those who know about the subject or organization.
active: those who know about the the subject or organization and, in this case, take part in the game, or at the very least support it (excellent teas are provided at some clubs by non-players)
We aim to attract both passive and aware publics to become active publics, or at least have the passive public become aware. It is quite possible for the passive to jump straight to the active without the intervening stage. How many people do we know who have taken up the game, knowing very little, and have become great enthusiasts? Every club will have some.
So, we are trying to get at those who know something about croquet to try the game. The problem is how do we get to those people we don't really know about. If they don't know us, there is a good chance we don't know them or how to get to them.
In which case, it is worth carrying out a bit of research into who plays croquet and why?
Is it mostly retired people? Yes in Budleigh Salterton, because it is a retirement town, No at Dyffryn: we have very few retired members, and we could actually do with some to make use of the lawns during the day.
Is it couples? I don't know the answer to this - membership lists of clubs will give a good indication. Dyffryn has a fair few.
Is it people who are aged 20 plus?
Is it people who have a car? Yes in the case of Dyffryn because the nearest bus stop is 3 miles away.
Do young people play? Yes, in the case of some clubs, No in the case of others - Budleigh for example, for reasons already discussed. At Dyffryn we don't have many young people or students because of difficulties in getting to our idyllic grounds.
Occupation: Is there a particular occupation which plays croquet more than any other? For example, we seem to have a lot of teachers play the game at Dyffryn, although as a group they do not dominate. We also have me (PR), a software engineer, a VAT man, an arts consultant, owner of an up-market mail order company, an accountant, a charity worker, and so on - very diverse really. The sharper ones among you will say ah, but you're all middle class (I hate class distinctions as they are crude and generally inaccurate) - well maybe, but we are all employed and educated.
Having broken down (through examining membership lists) who plays croquet, we need to find out why. This is straightforward - ask them, and at the same time ask how they came to play croquet - this can be very revealing. We have found that notices in local libraries were very effective at getting people to try out our beginners croquet course.
For my part, I saw an article in the local paper and as I was about the leave the RAF thought this would be a good thing to get into. Chris Williams was teaching the course and I ended up marrying him and developing a keen interest in the game. How many others have been introduced by spouses, parents, friends? Is this common? If it is then our club players are the best source of publicity perhaps.
It is important to have some idea of the groups that you are trying to attract, as this gives a good pointer to the type of media to use for your publicity.
More this at another time. ...
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Further to my previous emails, the next step, having decided what the objective is, and also identified who you are likely to attract, is to decide what media to use.
I am looking at this purely at club level - national level will come later.
Most clubs I know, if they want publicity at all, and this is by no means an assumption that should be made, usually want it because they either want to grow membership or at the very least maintain it. Because members leave on a regular basis (at Dyffryn we lose a few each year for varying reasons) then replacements need to be found, and these are usually those who have never played the game before, or at least never played it properly.
At Dyffryn the publicity effort is a double-pronged approach. At the beginning of the season, we want to attract new players to our coaching course, and publicity throughout the season to maintain awareness of the sport so that when the annual publicity effort for the course comes round, there is a general awareness of the sport in the area.
If you want local publicity, look at the media available to you. Although many regard exposure on TV as the holy grail of PR effort, other avenues are likely to be more effective.
In the UK (and I can't speak for other countries here) newspaper readership is among the highest in the world, and certainly in Europe. We have a staggering number of newspapers to choose from both national dailies, local dailies and evening papers and local weekly papers. And the most read of these?
The local paper - particuarly the free sheets. I'm not making this up, its true - which is good news for a club looking for local publicity.
At Dyffryn our membership comes from the area of Cardiff and Vale of Glamorgan. Apart from a few keen members from Port Talbot, Ammanford and Abergavenny, most people won't travel far, so I aim at the local press.
In the case of Dyffryn, I'm lucky. I have three TV channels (HTV, BBC Wales, and S4C), two radio stations, a Welsh national heavy (the Western Mail), the local daily evening paper (The South Wales Echo) and four local weeklies (The Vale Post, The Penarth Times, The Barry and District News and The Gem)
Look at the area in which the club lies - what are the papers, radio and TV - Do you know the editors?
Getting to know editors is a worthwhile policy. I visited all the editors of the above list when I started as PR officer at RAF St Athan and it reaped, and continues to reap dividends. You will find out the copy of dates of the paper (ie the latest time they will take your news), what they want and most importantly, you will forge a personal relationship which always helps. Many clubs probably do this, and have forged good relationships with their local papers. If not, give it a go - it will pay you well.
So what do papers want?
Local papers want local news - its as simple as that. If you are holding a tournament, tell the paper both before and after. If someone from your club wins a trophy, tell the paper. If you are holding a bring and buy or jumble sale, tell the paper. They want to know local news. Regular little stories about the club appearing will do more for the profile of croquet than one once-yearly feature. It will paint a picture of a lively, dynamic club, playing a sport which although amateur, is serious.
It is worth altering press releases for each paper. For The Penarth Times, I try to mention a Penarth club player somewhere in the release. For the The Barry and District News I mention Barry-born players (Chris Williams and John Evans). This customising of the release guarantees publication in the relevant area.
For the newspapers with wider circulations, such as the South Wales Echo and Western Mail, having local people in the story is not enough - there needs to be a news hook. Because the Western Mail covers all of Wales, it will only cover those stories that are of national interest to Wales, so I don't get coverage for regular club events, but because we hold international matches at Dyffryn, we do get that covered. Equivalent papers in other areas would be The Evening Standard, the Birmingham Post, the Daily Post (Liverpool) The Herald (Glasgow and Scotland) and the Scotsman (Edinburgh and Scotland).
What does TV want?
Visuals. By this I mean there must be good pictures - there must be matches to film and people to interview. The story must be strong - everyone wants to get on telly, and you might only get on once a year, so it is worthwhile looking at the club's calendar and thinking about the most important event and putting a concerted effort into pushing that story.
For example, Wales played Canada for the first time this year at Dyffryn. The fact that it was an international, it was the first time the two sides had met were strong news hooks and that it was August helped. For those that do not know, August is the silly season in the UK, Wimbledon was over and the rugby and football seasons had not started, so our international met with a good reception with the TV companies.
It also has to said, Croquet's image helped here. Our image is both a strength and a weakness. Many people have played croquet, usually a garden set, or remember it from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and so there is a seed of interest in the journalists mind already. I am known throughout the journalist fraternity here that I play croquet - they ask me how it is going and there is certain level of interest for what they regard as a quaint sport - Play on that interest and make it work for you.
If you get TV to your club, make sure that someone is there to meet them and show them round. Make sure that there is someone pertinent to the story to interview. TV crews are expensive and want to get a story quickly. If they have to hang around because you are not organised they won't forget and it is harder to get them to come back.
Getting local newspapers to feature croquet is worthwhile trying to obtain, but remember, they won't carry a major in depth article more than once a year, so it is worthwhile looking at your events and deciding which one you want the most coverage for. In our case it is our coaching course. Maximum publicity in the papers in April and May will entice people to come on the course and subsequently join the club.
Look at the features your paper carries. Most local papers will give you a double page spread providing you can provide reasonable amounts of copy and pictures (more of that later). Some local papers have weekly supplements. For example, the South Wales Echo had a weekly Saturday Supplement called Celebrations for many years, and still does, although under a different name. In this supplement they cover any celebration - it is not hard to find a celebration in a club and they also have columns, such as 'My Best Friend' in which people talk about their best friend and these vary - 'My Best Friend the Croquet Mallet' for example.
Look at your papers regular columns - Is there mileage for a story from the club?
You need to read your local papers regularly and watch your local TV programmes so that you know what they cover and what they are interested in. If you can 'phone them to say that you have a story that will fit in with one of their regulars then they will bite your hand off.
Get to know your local media and look at your clubs events over the year and plan.
-- Liz Williams
Liz Williams (