How a comms plan can fulfill key objectives

Published on February 23rd, 2015

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
I had been asked to give a presentation at a renowned yacht club, where a committee had gathered to review a list of long range objectives. The topic of my presentation: event communication.

The club’s calendar had low key events and national championships, club challenges and signature regattas. While highly capable in running events, they were not too focused on publicizing the events. An event communication plan didn’t exist. For the most part, they just didn’t share the news.

I began my presentation by noting the events that week in the US. One design continental championships on both sides of the country. A historic distance race on the Great Lakes. A notable disabled event in the northeast. Each event was reaching out to the media for exposure. The comms shined the light on the class of boats, the people, the facility, the sailing area. Each grew more prominent by sharing its news.

I had made a list of the club’s events with an angle, a hook. I spoke to the group about how each event offered an opportunity for exposure, and how a comms plan could help fulfill the club’s objectives…

* Increasing event participation
* Attracting and fulfilling sponsorship
* Reputation of the club within the sport
* Heightening community awareness
* Creating interest in sailing

I then shared a couple examples. The most extreme was the Rolex Sydney Hobart, a 628 nm race in Australia, which had well over 100 event reports distributed to the media by the race organizer before and during the race. Another example was the Newport to Bermuda Race, the 635 nm “Thrash to the Onion Patch” which sent out over 60 event reports.

None of the events I had selected from this club were in the same ballpark as these two iconic races. However, for all of them I knew there would be a bulk of boats, on the water, in front of the local community that would be wondering what they were doing. And that wondering, combined with a reasonable hook, is all that’s needed when pitching a media story.

Media in general are hungry for content, but are limited by the demographics of their audience, and the media’s awareness of your activity. PR and Marketing Consultant Peta Stuart-Hunt of PR Works shares some of the basics she has been employing over some 30 years of working with clients in the marine leisure market.

“To deliver an acceptable level of PR you certainly need thought, planning and organization. Whilst being a host to bright ideas, effective PR demands, as vigilant and exacting a program of planning, preparation, timing and execution as any other job you might be undertaking.”

Peta’s list includes:
* PR is only ever as good as the product i.e. the news or the event.
* The message is crucial – what is your angle?
* Who are you trying to reach? Clearly this depends on the message you are trying to put across.
* How can you get your message across? This is where good PR comes into its own, understanding which medium to aim for.

But above a good plan, Peta reminds that attracting media attention has as much to do with content as it does connections.

“Developing a rapport with members of the local and regional news/sports or business media or specialist yachting media is the first step in establishing an effective PR program. The time spent gaining mutual trust and respect is your investment in future favorable publicity. If you get to know your media, you will know who is most likely to be interested in your story.”

I am frequently on the receiving end of pitches that don’t know our interests. There are those instances when I am contacted after an event of which I have little knowledge, explaining to people how their local event with no recognizable angle is not a good match for my larger audience. At the same time, there are also many individuals with whom I have an ongoing relationship, and that understand how I operate and what would be a good fit.

Another elephant in the room is how many communication channels there are these days. How many you use to obtain your information, or are even familiar with, speaks of your personality. How you receive your information varies as much now as there are types of people. And that’s the good news. The options amid traditional and social media are immense.

But the bad news is that when you are providing information, there are a lot of channels that you need to consider. And a lot of them fall under the social media umbrella. Sarah Hawkins was the social media maven at the 2013 America’s Cup, customizing content for multiple Facebook and Twitter pages, plus YouTube, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and Foursquare. “There were a total of 16 channels to contend with, but they lead to the growth of 1.3 million organic fans for the event.”


Along the lines of this conversation is the audience type. Two primary variables are geographic (local, regional, national, and international) and age (young to old). If you are providing news, you need to consider the channels that each audience type is using.

The question now, for most events, is who will do the heavy lifting? In a sport reliant on volunteers, event communication becomes a new task that requires new skills. If you are not an event with sufficient sponsorship to hire professionals, than look to see who benefits most from a comms plan.

If an event is held annually, than the benefits are mostly for the club, its members, and the community. But if the club was recruited to host a championship, than that class or organization has as much or more to gain, and should be looked upon to help fulfill the task.

The bottom line is there are now high expectations as to the information people expect to receive, but there are also benefits to a comms plan from which clubs can appreciate. Take a look at your 2015 calendar, and see what opportunities exist among this year’s calendar of events.

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