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by Paul Kiser
USA PDT  [Twitter: ] [Facebook] [LinkedIn] [Skype:kiserrotary or 775.624.5679]

Looking In From Outside: Understanding Our Public Image

Paul Kiser - Rotary District 5190 Public Relations Chair - RC of Reno Sunrise, NV

When Congress was considering giving survival loans to American car manufacturers it was interesting to see the reaction of the American public. There were calls by many to let the car manufacturers fail even if it meant forcing hundreds of thousands of Americans out of a job. This is a great study in Public Relations, or the lack of it. The American auto industry spends millions of dollars to advertise.  From a standpoint of ‘publicity’ they have one of the largest shares of advertising power of all the industries in America.

But while the auto industry may be giants in ‘publicity’, they suck at Public Relations.  How bad do you have to be at Public Relations to have your customers and potential customers wanting to see you fail?  A key component to Public Relations is understanding your ‘public image’ and that involves looking at your organization as an ‘outsider.’ The auto industry either was blissfully ignorant of their public image, or just didn’t care.  It’s an easy mistake to make, but it’s almost always a fatal error.

A Rotarian sees our organization from an inside view.  She or he typically understands and accepts the purpose of Rotary and values the organization as fulfilling a significant role in her or his life, as well as in the local and world communities.  Whether it is by design or by accident, the leadership of the Rotary Club creates an internal public relations message that is communicated both actively and passively to the membership. From that internal message the member forms an attitude and opinion of what Rotary means to them.

However, when discussing the positive and negative aspects the Club’s public image we must ignore everything that we have learned from the internal message and put ourselves in the place of the person who knows nothing about Rotary.  This is a critical step if we are to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our external public relations message.

In fact, the issue goes farther than assuming a person knows nothing about Rotary because in many cases people have heard of Rotary and they have a skewed and/or false impression of the organization. The person who is not a member of Rotary either:

  1. Doesn’t know about Rotary
  2. Knows, but doesn’t understand the purpose of Rotary
  3. Has a false and/or misleading impression of Rotary and therefore doesn’t believe that the organization to be worthwhile
  4. Knows and understands the purpose of Rotary, but doesn’t want to participate in the organization for some reason

Of these four reasons, the first three require additional information for the person to make an informed decision about participating in, and/or supporting Rotary club’s programs and projects.

Making Clubs More Accessible

The challenge is to somehow make more information available to the public about Rotary, the Rotary club, and our purpose as a service organization.  We can do this through one-on-one contact, which is a valuable tool; however, even with a one-on-one contact the person is seeing Rotary through the eyes of one Rotarian and that member may not have all the information needed for the person to make an informed decision about the purpose and value of Rotary.  Even attending a club meeting will not provide enough information for a person to understand why Rotary might be an organization that could meet her or his personal needs.

In addition to one-on-one contact, we can also purchase advertising and send out public service announcements to inform the general public of the scope and purpose of Rotary; however, people may be exposed to the message for only a few seconds, which may create more questions than answers.

The problem is that we need to make information about a Rotary Club more accessible.  This would be hard under normal circumstances, but at the same time we are looking to ramp up Public Relations to make Clubs more accessible, the world of communication and information technology is undergoing a metamorphosis.

Communication 2010:  Not Your Father’s, but, Your Children’s Internet.

By 1995, it was clear that the Internet, and websites in particular, were going to become a valuable business tool, but to find a company’s website you typically had to know the web address.  By early in the new century, Google had created a search engine that was so effective, it began to replace phone books and print advertising as tools to market and provide information about an organization.

In addition to websites, the explosion of new social networks like Facebook and Twitter have changed the landscape of Marketing and Public Relations. Traditional methods of communicating information are being replaced with an Internet media that is so rapid that even oppressive governments find it difficult to keep pace and silence their citizens.

The changes in information communication have happened so fast that a ten year-old child in 2000 has seen the birth and rise of Google; the Blackberry; text messaging; MySpace; Facebook, Twitter, and all the other Social Media.  That ten year-old child of 2000 is now a twenty year-old adult in 2010 and they have seen newspapers and magazines first falter, then collapse as the new media displaces slow and expensive with fast and inexpensive.

Accessibility is the Alpha and Omega of Public Relations in 2010

A Rotary Club exists for one and one half hours once a week.  The Club is inaccessible to most of the public the remaining 166.5 hours of the week. To become more accessible we must bypass yesterday’s traditional methods for communication and information sharing that are no longer viable options as effective Public Relations tools.  Clubs must learn to use communication methods that will allow accessibility to the public using today’s technology and we must be prepared to change our methods in order to adapt to new technologies.

While a Club website is hardly a new idea, many clubs fail to have even this basic Public Relations tool.  The Club website creates a 24/7/365 presence that allows it to be accessible to anyone in the world.  The Club website is the ultimate membership recruitment tool as it can offer a full explanation of the club, and its projects and programs.  In addition, the website can give an interested person direct access to someone who can help them take the next step to becoming a member.  An updated and dynamic Club website can no longer be considered an option for any Club that seeks to remain relevant in the community.  It is absolutely essential for successful external Public Relations.

A great example of a Rotary Club website is the Rotary Club of Reno New Generations.  It has a great look, and it has several functions that use Social Media tools.

(See their website at www.renonewgenrotary.org)

It is easy to overlook how critical Public Relations can be to a Club’s survival, but for every Club that is scratching their heads over why recruiting new members is so difficult, take a hard look at your Club website…or lack of one.

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