Chapter Seven


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"No man is an island, entire of itself;
he is part of the mainland.
If a clod be washed away, Europe is the less.
Any man's death diminishes me.
Never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee." - John Donne, Devotions.

The following ideas are oriented toward telling the public what your group is about, and what it is doing. Why is publicity important? Now that is a silly question. If no one knows about your upcoming speaker, how is anyone ever going to show up for the talk? The more positive publicity your group gets, the better. These are effective methods for the college right-to-life group, but this text is not intended to be comprehensive for non-collegiate situations.

Who Should Be In Charge?

Each college right-to-life group should have one person who is responsible for publicity. This person would ideally not be a regular officer, but rather a committee chairperson, appointed by the president, and capable of devoting a hefty amount of time to the work. He or she should be able to plan a publicity campaign for each project your group plans, and to get a committee of people to help with the work. Some types of communications, such as newsletters to members and notices aimed only at the group's membership, should not be in the domain of the publicity chairperson, but rather the responsibility of the group's secretary. The publicity committee should concern itself with informing people outside the group, whether on or off campus, of upcoming events.

With each publicity effort, the publicity committee should decide upon a style of advertising. That is, do you want to emphasize that an event is a pro-life event, sponsored by a right-to-life group? Or do you want to, for instance, emphasize the topic and play down the fact that your speaker is a pro-lifer? The former is a good style to adopt when your right-to-life group is sponsoring a charitable fund raiser, for instance, and you want to build up a positive image for pro-lifers. The latter may help you draw in more folks to hear a lecture your group has sponsored. I've seen this method employed for showings of "A Matter of Choice" where the posters put the name of the film in large block letters while the sponsoring group's initials were relegated to the lower left-hand corner of the poster and printed in almost-invisible type. And it works!

On-Campus Publicity

Posters. On our campus posters are the single most effective publicity device. We normally have several hundred eight-and-one-half by eleven-inch posters printed for an event and hang them up all over campus. It is important to hang them up at the appropriate time, usually a week to ten days before the event. Unfortunately, our posters get ripped down within a few hours, but at least the persons ripping them down have to read them! You also have to follow campus regulations about where posters can be hung. Good poster design is important: make them neat, with simple art-work, but be sure that the basic information stands out. Get your group's art major to help out here.

Dividing up the task of posting posters is always recommended. Individuals can take a stack of posters to put up in dorms, classrooms, stores, bus stops, and offices; groups of students can work together to "plaster" your campus. A listing of places to hang posters will help you figure out how many to print, and how to divide up the work of posting them. Look into the publicity possibilities in academic buildings, dormitories, locker rooms, cafeterias, everywhere!

Some folks can be given posters to put up as they walk to and from class if they are too busy to help with a mass poster-hanging session, but remember that having students work together promotes solidarity and esprit de corps. Posters are a favorite publicity tactic because they can be put up with little time or pre-planning and almost everyone sees what is on the bulletin boards.

A poster blitz - putting up hundreds of posters in a few days - is not only a way to publicize an event in the last minute, but it is also a way to demonstrate that there is a large popular following for the issues espoused in the poster. Just send out a score or so of your members one evening to blanket the campus bulletin boards with your posters.

Banners and Signs. Banners or other large signs can be cheaply made with poster paints on brown wrapping paper. This paper is usually sold by the yard in art supply stores. Banners two, three, or four yards long can be hung on bulletin boards, in hallways, out windows, or on the side of buildings. They are highly visible and make for good advertising on campus. Pieces of scrap cardboard can be used in a similar manner. (Keep an eye on the dumpsters behind your college's school of Fine Arts - they usually are great places to scavenge cardboard, wood sticks, used posterboard and the like.)

More permanent banners, such as those you might want to carry on a march, can be made from cloth or even heavy plastic. Old sheets are a possibility. Jeannie Wallace of the University of Pittsburgh made banners from a sturdy plastic wallpaper - they have survived three trips to the national March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Table Tents. Table tents are small, free-standing advertising devices that you set out on tables in the cafeteria, lounges, or the library. They are simply pieces of paper, folded over once into a "tent" with a small poster on each side. Our group also makes a "prism"-shaped table tent. It is basically the same idea except the paper is folded into a three-sided prism, taped together, and stood on end. Each side has a small poster on it. Both of these versions can be made from half of an eight-and-one-half by eleven-inch piece of paper, but the former usually requires a heavier weight paper than the latter to keep it from slumping. The prisms can also be used to make a sort of three-dimensional poster by tacking them to a bulletin board.

Mobiles. It is also possible to make "mobiles" for use in advertising. We have taken cardboard boxes and painted signs on their sides. With string attached to each corner, the resulting mobile can be hung from a tree limb or over the entrance to a building. Mobiles have the added benefit of wearing down our "opposition," since they must find fire ladders, form human pyramids, or hire trained monkeys to wreck your efforts.

Campus Newspapers. The campus newspaper is the natural place to put a notice of your meetings. Carnegie-Mellon University's newspaper, The Tartan, offers free announcements to campus organizations. Check to see if your college paper does this. If not, you will have to spend the money on classified ads. Usually, the money will be well spent. For big events, you should splurge and take out some box ads, or even a quarter-page or more. Your publicity chairperson should keep track of ad deadlines and costs.

It is always important to keep your campus press informed of major events in your group. Your publicity chairperson or your president should write a letter to the editor of the campus paper before each event inviting him to send a reporter and a photographer to cover it. A proper press release is essential here (see the following sub-section on off-campus publicity). It should contain the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the event as well as the name, address, and phone number of your contact person. Sometimes a personal visit to the news editor gets the best results. Because the leaders of the Carnegie-Mellon group did this before going to the National March for Life in both 1983 and 1984, we were accompanied by a reporter from the school's paper, The Tartan, on both occasions, and we got favorable coverage (front-page!) each year even though the editors had pro-abortion sentiments.

Other Campus Media. Other campus media can also be useful. Many schools have regularly published calendars of events that take announcements from student groups. Campus radio stations will sometimes do brief public service announcements. Write a brief three or four sentence blurb giving the crucial facts for your event on a three by five-inch file card and send it to the station, care of their public service desk. Also, brochures can be left with your campus information desk.

Members of the right-to-life group at Gannon University, in Erie, Pennsylvania, are developing a pro-life talk show for their campus radio station, WERG. For a half hour each week they plan to broadcast discussion on pro-life issues.

Commuters and Faculty. Commuters can be reached by putting notices under the window wipers of their cars during class hours. This is legal, by way, as long as the cars are not parked on private property. Commuters may have their own paper or information bulletin, too, and you should be able to place a notice in it. This pertains to night students and the faculty and staff of your college, too. Often they have their own newspapers, and you should try to get them to run your group's notices. It never hurts to have professors involved in your group. The University of Pittsburgh, for instance, has at least three separate newspapers: one for regular students, The Pitt News, one for night students, The Night Times, and one for faculty, The University Times.

Campus Mail. Sometimes you can take advantage of free campus mailing privileges, and send a letter describing your upcoming events to all campus mailboxes. This can be a lot of work and many of the notices will be discarded with only a brief glance. You may be able to save effort by stuffing the mail boxes yourself, in which case you won't need names and addresses - just put one in each box. Otherwise, you have to hand address the notices, and this can be a lot of work. We once, just once, addressed 1,300 letters by hand; it took almost forever. And only 25 people showed up at the event. We later found that we could have gotten pre-printed address labels from the Office of Student Affairs or from the Registrar.

Telephone Calling Trees. Phone trees work best only to notify your group's membership. They are especially useful in short-notice or emergency situations, such as sudden votes in Congress or your state legislature. Regular newsletters are also primarily useful only to keep your group informed.

Window Signs and Decals. Ask your members to put posters in their windows. This is most effective if they live on the lower floors of the dormitories. Decals, bumper stickers, and other types of signs can be placed in windows, too. These work best just to remind people to think about right-to-life issues. On the porch roof of our house at school, I have had a one by two-foot sign that simply says, "Respect Life!" It generates a small amount of controversy at times, and thus serves its purpose.

Bumper stickers and window signs are good for cars, of course, especially if they are parked on campus during the day. (We actually painted a pro-life sign on "The Bomb," my '67 VW. microbus, but not everyone drives such a junker.)

Regalia and Marginalia. Some groups have pens or pencils with their name printed on the side. They either give them out as a way to build name recognition for their group or they sell them as a fund raiser. This same approach can also work with coffee mugs, t-shirts, paper weights, and other gift items.

Campus Ministers. Your campus ministers can be extremely helpful. Send them information about each event, and ask them to put it in their weekly bulletins and to announce the event to their congregations. Keep all the campus ministers informed, regardless of denomination. Assume that a campus minister is basically pro-life, unless you know otherwise. Even a religious denomination that has an official pro-abortion policy can have a supportive campus minister. For instance, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has an official pro-abortion policy (it belongs to the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, too), yet at the University of Pittsburgh - thanks to the efforts of Bob Dunlap who was a member of both a Presbyterian fellowship and the campus right-to-life group - the Presbyterian campus ministry sent twenty students on the 1983 National March for Life.

Taking the Message to the Streets. Handing out literature personally can be effective, but your members will probably take a lot of abuse. Ask for volunteers. If you really have someone with guts, you could have him or her wear a sandwich-board sign and walk around campus on the day of the event. A free standing sandwich-board is another possibility. Set it up outside of the entrance of the building where your speaker is talking.

Distributing Pamphlets. Other ways you can distribute literature include handing pamphlets out door to door in your dormitories or the local neighborhood, setting up an information table in your student union during the lunch hours, or leaving stacks of leaflets in pamphlet racks at local banks, supermarkets, libraries, or even your student health center. For door to door distribution you might try designing your literature in the style of "door hangers," (like those "Do Not Disturb" signs used in hotels). Or you can invite a local pro-life group, such as Birthright or your local Crisis Pregnancy Center, to set up an information table in your student union or dormitories.

As to what type of literature to distribute it is important to consider who you want to read the literature. Pamphlets that are blatantly pro-life probably won't be read by those with even the slightest pro-abortion sympathies. If you are going to leave pamphlets in the student health center, your school's Women's Studies Center, or even an abortion clinic, you will want to choose those that are as subtle as possible, unless, of course, your aim is to stir up controversy; then you will want ones that are very obviously pro-life. Think about whom you want the pamphlet to reach.

Off-Campus Publicity

Any event of importance will generate interest beyond the boundaries of your campus. Both before and after an event send out press releases to all the major newspapers in your area. Send out press releases to radio and television stations, too. Do not forget the religious papers and the public radio and cable television stations. They also have large audiences. For good measure, I also include the "alternative" newspapers - such as the neighborhood marketing papers, the local socialist/communist paper, and the little Christian newspapers - even though a couple of them have a rather radical bent, and wouldn't print a pro-life article if the moon turned into bleu cheese and had the words "Choose Life!" written across its face.

The Press Release. Writing a professional press release is an art that you can learn. The essentials include the who, what, where, when, why, and how of your event and the name, address, and phone number of your contact person. These are some brief guidelines as to what should be in a press release:

  1. Exact time and date of the press release of the notice "For release on..." News must be timely if it is to be news, and press releases must be sent out as soon after an event as possible.
  2. The name and day-time phone number of the person issuing the release, known as the "contact." This should be the spokesperson for your group, and it should be someone who knows what has happened or is about to happen, as this is the person a reporter will call for information. Always have only one official spokesperson.
  3. A headline. Use a brief statement with interesting words that will capture a reader's interest. Always capitalize the headline.
  4. Good quality black-and-white photos are always a plus. If your group can afford the film and printing costs, you should have your group's photographer take pictures at all your major events. And save the photos and negatives in a photo file. This is a valuable resource for future publicity efforts.
  5. Leading paragraph. Just as you learned in high school. State the who, what, where, when, how, and why of the event. Write it out in a newspaper style, because many newspapers will print your press release with little or no editing if the release is well written. Be specific, do not leave out important details, and be brief. Have a journalism major in your group do this if you can.
  6. Be concise in the rest of the press release, too. Do not use fancy words, be factual, and leave out your opinions. (Opinions are for editorials and letters to the editor.) Try to keep the release to one side of a page if possible, do not go on for more than two pages. When going on to the second page, indicate it with: (more). Editors will not read longer materials, and if they want more information, they will call you.
  7. Don't use initials or acronyms without first writing names out in full. Explain your group's purpose briefly in all press releases.
  8. End the press release with the symbols # # #.

Delivery of the press release is very important. Be aware of the deadlines involved and don't be late. Phone ahead to find out who to send the release to. Always hand deliver "fast-breaking news." For other types of releases you can use the mail (try to send them out at least three weeks in advance) although hand-delivery is always best. If you do mail the release, always follow up with phone call four or five days before the event is scheduled to occur. The phone call helps insure that your release is considered among the dozens of releases a paper may get in a day. Be courteous on the phone, even if the other fellow isn't. Hope for the best, but don't be too discouraged if you don't get any press coverage - gear up for a stronger publicity push next time.

Other Colleges. Don't forget the other colleges in your area. Their college newspapers should get a press release, too. And you should always send the officers of their right-to-life group notices of every event your group plans or receives notice of. (This also applies to non-college pro-life groups, too.) You might also include their campus ministers in your mailings.

Other Area Media. Just because you are a college student, don't think that you cannot get on to the radio or television. Strangely enough, older folks pay attention to what college students say, and you can get on the radio or television if you have something to say. Write a professional letter to talk show hosts, for instance, explaining why you or a member of your group should be on his or her show. Follow up with a telephone call. Talk shows and the like are a tremendous source of free publicity, and a great way to draw attention to your group and to pro-life college students.

Some public television stations (especially cable) are required by law to provide free access to studio facilities and air-time to community organizations, so your group might explore this possibility. The youth group of Pennsylvanians for Human Life in Pittsburgh used these free access privileges to film their production of The Waiting Room - a science fiction story about euthanasia in the not-to-distant future. They did such a fine job that they won a state-wide award for the best amateur video production and the film has been aired a number of times.

There is a lot more to be said about good publicity and good relations with the media, a lot more than I can hope to include here. To date, most college right-to-life groups have little contact with the off-campus media. We are publicity pygmies. This situation can be changed. College groups should seek increased recognition in the non-collegiate media. We have something to say! There is help available in accomplishing this goal. One source of media advice is John and Roberta Wolcott's "Balancing The News" available From Features Northwest, 5132-126th Place N.E., Marysville, Washington 98270.

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© Copyright Andrew A. Siicree, 1985, 1997.

Permission is granted to any pro-life group or pro-life individual to copy this handbook provided that proper attribution is given.