Effective Public Relations


The practice of public relations varies across the United States and throughout the world. Regardless of these differences from one area to another, all Rotary clubs have audiences with whom they should communicate, including the media, local government officials, the business community, civic leaders, and other organizations, as well as qualified prospective members and people directly affected by Rotary service projects. Developing a message for these audiences and finding an appropriate way to deliver it is public relations in action.

Components of Public Relations

To understand what public relations entails, it helps to break it down into its separate components:

This guide will help you develop and use traditional and nontraditional PR materials and methods, work with the media, develop cooperative relationships with non-Rotary organizations, and evaluate and measure the success of your club’s PR efforts.

Understanding News

What Is News?

News has been described as extraordinary things happening to ordinary people and ordinary things happening to extraordinary people. The following elements are considered by many to make up “news”:

  • Immediacy: Timing, or immediacy, is important to getting your story in the media. Using words like today, yesterday, early this morning, and tomorrow are all examples of using immediacy. Reporting something that has just happened or is about to happen is critical for a story to become news.
  • Proximity: If the story you are pitching happened outside your community, city, state, or country, would you be interested in reading about it? By ask- ing this simple question, you can tell if your story is newsworthy. Newspapers and other media sources largely focus on hometown and regional stories. The more localized a story is, the greater the chance it will be used.
  • Prominence: Does your story feature public figures or officials, people of renown, or those who pique curiosity? In general, such people of influence can make the news. To qualify, your club’s visitor or speaker must be able to gain the readers’ attention either by reputation or by the topic being discussed.
  • Singularity: In many places in the world, the unusual and the unexpected often make news. For example, if your club has accomplished a challenging or unusual project in your community or another part of the world, or if one of your members has performed an incredible service, be sure to use this angle to create a news piece.
  • Conflict: Unfortunately, conflict is one element that makes headlines world- wide. Be proactive and share what your club is doing to build goodwill and peace in the world. An op-ed piece in response to a recent story on conflict would be a good start.
  • Emotional appeal: Often called human interest stories, news pieces that elicit the reader’s sympathy or other emotional responses make great feature-type stories. Does your club have a compelling story that will capture the interest of the general public as well as Rotary club members?
  • Consequence: For a story to show consequence, it must be important to a vast number of readers. Does your club’s story affect other people’s lives? Try to focus on the efforts and reactions of one or two people to humanize the story as much as possible. Share your club’s efforts on polio eradication, clean water, environmental stewardship, or other critical issues to demonstrate that if Rotary weren’t active in this area, there would be negative consequences.

PR Writing

The ability to write easily, logically, and succinctly is vital in public relations. The object of most PR writing is to grab the reader’s attention. Most press releases and other written communications for the media use an inverted-pyramid style, with the most important and relevant information at the top, followed by gradually less important information.

Writing a Press Release

The headline and the first sentence are the two most important parts of a press release. Make sure they are compelling enough to draw the editor or reporter in. Use active verbs in headlines, making them brief and to the point.

  • Develop a well-thought-out “news hook,” a persuasive reason for the news media to pursue a story. The news hook provides direction to the rest of the release.
  • Determine who will be the contact person for media inquiries, and place that person’s name, e-mail address, and phone number in the upper-left corner. A reporter or editor will more likely follow up when your contact information is easily available. If your club or district Web site is current, also include the Web address.

Lead paragraph

Include the five W’s in your first paragraph, ideally in the first sentence:

  • Who? The main focus of your story — a person or group of people that is the essential element of the story
  • What? The event or project with which your club is involved
  • Where? The location of the event, including a street address
  • When? The time, day, and date of an event or the time period involved for a person or project
  • Why? The reason this event, person, or project is significant to the general public

Additional paragraphs

In subsequent paragraphs, describe details about the event or project or how the person achieved something extraordinary.

  • Keep your release concise.
  • State opinions in quotes from club leaders, project beneficiaries, or person being featured or honored.
  • Decide what information is necessary and then focus on one or two main points.
  • Limit the release to one page.

If you’re sending a release to a television station, think of its visual needs. Suggest good video footage opportunities, such as unusual events, colorful scenes, smiling children, or celebrity appearances.

Pitching Yourself as “The Expert”

Journalists are always looking for experts on a variety of topics for feature stories. Send a letter to a specific reporter with an idea for a story and offer your help in developing it. Describe why you or someone in your club qualifies as an expert on a particular issue, such as literacy, water, eliminating global poverty, environmental stewardship, or conflict resolution. Include the names of people available for interviews, project information, and related story angles. Tailor the letter to the reporter and the medium as much as possible. Consider these tips:

  • Summarize your pitch in one page.
  • Explain why readers would be interested.
  • Detail the scope and significance of your project.
  • Provide a few interesting details.
  • Offer alternate approaches to the story when possible.
  • Describe possible photo opportunities.

Letter to the Editor

The editorial page is one of the most-read sections of the newspaper, and your letter can reach many people. Keep these tips in mind when sending a letter to the editor:

  • Make one or two points and state them clearly, ideally in the first sentence.
  • Make your letter timely. If you aren’t addressing a specific article, editorial, or letter that ran recently, tie your comment to a recent event.
  • Familiarize yourself with the cover- age and editorial position of the paper. Refute or support specific statements and address relevant facts that had been ignored, but avoid attacking the media in general or the newspaper in particular.
  • Check the letter specifications of the newspaper. Length and format requirements vary from paper to paper (about two short paragraphs are ideal). Remember to include your full name, title (if applicable), mailing address, e-mail address, and daytime phone number.


An op-ed (positioned opposite the editorial page) is an opinion piece written by an individual who is not on the newspaper’s staff. Before writing an op-ed for your paper, learn what topics are of interest to your community. An op-ed should:

  • State a point of view
  • Provoke thought
  • Stimulate discussion

Review the op-ed pieces in your paper before submitting your own. Like a letter to the editor, an op-ed should be brief and clearly stated.

Fact Sheet

A fact sheet provides details about Rotary programs to ensure journalists have accurate background information. You can download Rotary fact sheets from the Public Relations section at www.rotary.org.

Media Kit

On occasion, reporters require more information than appears in a press release, particularly at events.

A media kit is a pocket folder, preferably with a Rotary identifier, that holds general information about Rotary and your club as well as materials tailored to the event.

Your media kit should include:

  • A fact sheet or brochure about your club
  • A fact sheet or news release about the project or event
  • A fact sheet about the Rotary program involved

Media Relations

Just as manufacturers market their products, Rotarians must “sell” stories to the media. Understanding the media will help you market Rotary’s message successfully.

Identifying Media Targets

Before sending stories to a journalist, get to know your audience. Read your local newspaper and watch television programs to identify particular columns or segments where a Rotary story could be placed.

Consider inviting a local journalist to speak to your club about how to work with the media. This will give you an opportunity to get to know the journalist and better understand the news process.

Identify your target media. These might include regional or suburban newspapers, local radio stations, media that cover one specific topic — for instance, education or health — and local television and cable stations.

Developing a Media List

After identifying media targets, put together a contact list for each story that includes the names, phone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail addresses of journalists, editors, or news directors who might take a special interest in Rotary. Larger newspapers or broadcast stations may have departments or reporters specializing in certain topics such as business, features, medical news, event calendars, or education. A business writer may be interested in a club’s career day for students, while an education writer may wish to interview an exchange student or an Ambassadorial Scholar.

Contacting the Media

You can take your story to the media several ways. Whatever approach you choose, be persuasive, persistent, and friendly — but not aggressive. The most effective methods depend on the journalist’s preferences. Here are some suggested approaches:

  • News organization website: Most news outlets utilize their websites to gather news stories; allowing the general public to post stories which are reviewed by reporters at a later time. Make sure you have good pictures to accompany your story. Your chances of being published are 40% better with photos.
  • E-mail: Most reporters use e-mail and appreciate the time it saves identifying worthwhile stories. Like a head- line, your subject line should be well thought out; it can make the difference between your e-mail being read or deleted.
  • Press kit: A press kit can be effective if you have several related stories to tell or a number of related events to pro- mote, such as a month-long series of speakers. In addition to a fact sheet and release, it may contain photos (with captions attached), a calendar of events, and brief biographies of the Rotary club members involved.
  • Calendar items: Magazines, news- papers, and radio and TV stations have calendar editors, who list upcoming events. To inform the media about your club meeting or event, send the calendar editor one paragraph detailing the program, place, and time.

Social Media Tips

  • View websites and social media as part of your public relations and marketing budget. Your online presence should not be an isolated expense or something for the “techie” person of the club to work on alone. It should have the club’s support, with several Rotarians involved.
  • Go online before you start your own social media page, and see what other clubs and organizations are doing. Note what you like and what you think would work well for communicating to the community and reaching your goals.
  • Develop a communications plan. This includes identifying an intended audience (e.g., prospective Rotarians, community leaders), goals (e.g., to let the community know what your club does, to find new members), and a message (e.g., “We’re a club that has a signature project,” “We’re a club that offers fun fellowship and service opportunities”).
  • Update your page regularly (but not too often) with photos, videos, and text. Plan to update your Facebook page at least once a week, but not five times a day. If you update too much, people will become overwhelmed and tune you out. If you don’t update enough, people will think your club isn’t active. Ask several club members (perhaps your committee chairs) to share the responsibility of updating your page.
  • Designate moderators. Check all social media sites for spam or other inappropriate comments nearly every day. Distribute the moderation duties among several people.
  • Look professional. Social media pages are a reflection of your club. Check your spelling, and use the Rotary emblem correctly. See www.rotary.org/graphics.
  • Be genuine, conversational, and fun. Share items that will interest your audience. Encourage club members to “tag” themselves and other members of the club in pictures.
  • Reach out to other community organizations, especially potential project partners. Also connect with the news media and with local business and government leaders on Twitter and Facebook. Social media is about building relationships.
  • Promote your social media pages. Include links to them on your club’s website, in e-mails, and in print publications.
  • Be safe, but don’t be afraid. You won’t break the Internet! But remember that social media sites are public, so don’t include personal information. Also, sites can frequently change their policies, so review privacy settings regularly.

PR Planning Calendar

Effective public relations campaigns don’t happen by chance; they require time, effort, and planning. Rotary public relations chairs should develop a strategy at or before the beginning of each Rotary year and make a timetable. Although it’s impossible to anticipate every public relations opportunity, scheduled events can be planned well in advance. By developing a comprehensive plan early on, you can prevent difficulties later and avoid last-minute preparations.

An effective way to create a plan is to prepare a large blank calendar for the coming year. Use the calendar at the end of this guide as a starting point. Confer with the district governor and other committee chairs about when they’ll be conducting newsworthy activities, and mark them on the calendar. Then review the following checklists and decide in which month your district would like to schedule a particular activity. Place those activities into the planner accordingly. The planner includes annual RI events and internationally recognized days to help your public relations outreach.

Planning Tips

  • Set dates for club or district public relations planning meetings and follow-up meetings.
  • Order promotional materials from the RI Catalog.
  • Begin encouraging clubs to submit local public relations success stories for the RI Public Relations Award.

Overview of Newsworthy Local Events

  • Beginning of new district governor’s term.
  • Arrival or departure of Youth Exchange students.
  • District conference.
  • Chartering of a new Rotary club.
  • Chartering of a new Interact or Rotaract club.
  • Presidential visit or conference in your area.
  • Local or international district-sponsored project.
  • Local club anniversaries or newsworthy programs.
  • PolioPlus projects or Rotarians who are experts in their fields working on special Rotary projects (such as a local Rotary Volunteer working on a medical mission).
  • Celebrity or prominent local figure involved in a Rotary event.

Club activities surrounding RI months or international observances such as Earth Day or International Volunteer Day.