Literacy agencies fulfill an important and demanding role in their communities. Finding enough time and resources for outreach and promotion is difficult. However, increasing program awareness and effective public relations are extremely important and are closely linked to successful learner recruitment.
Public relations is all about your agency projecting a positive image in your community to a wide variety of stakeholders. Here is an overview of four different types of PR that help ensure that your agency is projecting a positive image in your community.
Front Door Public Relations
Front door PR includes those seemingly meaningless day-to-day interactions that take place during the course of doing business. It is often through these casual, incidental and unplanned day-to-day encounters that the value, worth and significance of an organization is perceived. Just like with dating, first impressions count! Here are a few tips to ensure good first impressions:
- Have a cheerful, helpful person answering the phone and greeting those who come into the office.
- Have an easy-to-use phone answering system; for example, make it clear how to leave a message and make sure the caller doesn’t have to push a complicated series of numbers to speak to someone.
- Make the office’s reception area welcoming and professional.
- Have a private meeting spot for assessment and intake.
- Make sure communication tools (brochures, website, posters, etc.) are clear and user-friendly.
Maintenance Public Relations
It is also important to remember the ongoing public relations work that needs to be done. PR, advertising and recruiting are not one-shot deals; they are part of an ongoing cycle. There are always newcomers to communities, new staff at other agencies and people who are looking for literacy services now who were not interested before. This type of PR is about the information we put forward to those who are already involved in our agency: learners, volunteers, staff, sponsors, donors, community partners, local service agencies and funders. Maintenance PR is vital in maintaining a positive reputation in your community. It includes things such as:
- Communicating promptly, respectfully and professionally to all stakeholders
- Responding to emails and telephone calls as soon as possible
- Honouring any commitments made by your agency
- Actively sharing agency information (newsletters, etc.) with all stakeholders
Outreach Public Relations
Outreach PR means going beyond your current stakeholders to reach new people and develop new relationships. It includes things like submitting press releases, distributing promotional information, taking part in community events and making presentations. It is also about trying to think more creatively: where might you promote your agency that you have not considered before?
A wonderful example of outreach PR is an annual authors festival offered by an agency in eastern Ontario. This fundraising event is held on four weeknights throughout July and various authors come to a local restaurant and do readings in support of literacy. Community members come out and enjoy the readings, have coffee and dessert and a lovely evening out. This event, while primarily a fundraiser, has also proven to be an effective PR activity. Typically, between 50 and 150 people come out for each of the four evenings in July. The event gets local media coverage and the event definitely raises their profile.
Joining Forces: Collaborative Public Relations
Collaborative PR involves partnerships with other organizations to further mutual promotional goals. A group of organizations working together to organize a community fair, awareness campaign or a joint volunteer recruitment initiative are examples of this kind of PR.
Involving Adult Students in Outreach
Involving adult students in promoting your literacy program is an extremely effective promotional tool. Their from-the-heart testimonials on the impact of literacy on their lives is one of the best ways to reach other adults with low literacy skills, their friends and family, volunteers and your community in general. Whether through community presentations, through quotes in various promotional materials or through newspaper articles or radio PSAs be sure to include the voices of adult students. These voices have great power to move and inspire others, especially those with low literacy skills.
Get the stories and testimonials of adult students in writing! It is such a valuable promotional tool to ask students to share their own experience before and after accessing the program. Once written down, this information could shared be via your newsletter, on your website, in brochures and during community presentations.
You will find some excellent examples of student testimonials in CLO’s June 2016, Marketing Your Literacy Agency newsletter.
Promoting your literacy agency in your community is a very important way to increase program awareness. Community literacy agencies conduct presentations, participate in local fairs and special events, and hold a variety of promotional events such as open houses, scrabble tournaments, etc. This type of community networking increases access to potential students and increases awareness of literacy needs among other local organizations. It can also increase new referrals, build or strengthen organizational relationships, and identify gaps or duplication in service.
Partnerships with other organizations are also another great way to increase community outreach. Effective partnerships can increase community visibility, increase referrals and increase access to resources.
Partners can be involved in a variety of ways. They can provide money, in-kind services, the physical location, promotional assistance and resources, just to name a few. The degree of partnership that you are involved in will be different for every agency. Some organizational partnerships are large and complex, and setting up a partnership then becomes formal and requires written agreements. Other organizations with a less complex partnership will have more informal, handshake-type arrangements. In either a formal or informal partnership it is critical that the roles and responsibilities of all partners be agreed to in writing. Ontario’s community literacy agencies have a great deal of experience in partnership building with the agencies historically engaging in partnerships with local community agencies.
Service coordination is a top priority for Literacy and Basic Skills agencies and is another form of outreach. Based on the needs of individual learners and the makeup of your communities, service coordination can be very different from learner to learner, and from community to community.
One of Community Literacy of Ontario’s research initiatives in 2016-2017 was to identify Service
Coordination challenges and successes of LBS agencies. To explore this important topic, CLO
conducted key informant interviews, hosted a provincial online focus group/roundtable and
developed and circulated a detailed survey.
We wrapped up this important research with an interactive Service Coordination webinar that was delivered twice in March 2017 and a Service Coordination newsletter that shares the highlights of our research and features existing best practices, success and challenges related to LBS service coordination. The recorded version of the Service Coordination in LBS – Trials and Tribulations webinar and the Service Coordination in LBS – Let’s Talk Newsletter are freely available on CLO’s website.
The Minnesota Literacy Council works in partnership with volunteer literacy programs to recruit and refer learners and volunteers to adult literacy programs. They have produced an excellent resource, Volunteer and Learner Recruitment Ideas, which shares a wide variety of outreach ideas.
Questions and Activities for Reflection
- Is your literacy agency well-known in your community? Why or why not? What steps could you take to improve?
- What strategies have you used to promote your literacy agency in your community? What worked and what didn’t work and why?
- How could you more effectively involve adult students in community outreach?
- How could you expand or create more opportunities for your literacy agency to engage in joint outreach with other community agencies?
- What steps could you take to build on existing relationship or link with additional stakeholders in your community in order to increase referrals and/or build new partnerships?