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Croquet Publicity

By Liz Williams

Getting publicity for your croquet club isn't difficult and some clubs around the UK have a good relationship with their local newspapers and get a lot of coverage. The secret is to send them interesting local news on a regular basis. This is a guide to getting the publicity that you'd like and if you follow it, you should be able to point to a lot of press cuttings at the end of the summer season. Good publicity can also help when trying to get grants and support from local councils as well: they are more likely to help a club which they perceive to be well run and thriving. Throughout this article I will use the example of my club, Dyffryn Croquet Club, in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Identify Your Goals / Objectives

Organisations that achieve good press coverage usually have clear goals and this helps them to ensure that their publicity focuses on those goals. Every croquet club will have unique priorities, which will change from year to year. For example, establishing youth section, attract more members, maintaining membership. When you know what the club is trying to do, you can tailor your press releases to suit.

Most of the clubs I know, if they want publicity at all, usually want it because they either want to grow membership or at the very least maintain it (possibly conflicting objectives). Because members leave on a regular basis then replacements need to be found, and these are usually those who have never played the game before, or at least never played it properly.

At Dyffryn, the publicity effort is a double-pronged approach. At the beginning of the season, we want to attract new players to our coaching course, and publicity throughout the season to maintain awareness of the sport so that when the annual publicity effort for the course comes round, there is a general awareness of the sport in the area.

Select the Media for Publicity

Having decided what the objective is, and also identified whom you are likely to attract, you need to decide what media to use.

Look at the media available to you locally. Although many regard exposure on TV as the Holy Grail of PR effort, other avenues are likely to be more effective. In the UK newspaper readership is among the highest in the world. We have a staggering number of newspapers to choose from: national dailies, local dailies and evening papers and local weekly papers. And the most read of these? The local paper - particularly the free sheets. I'm not making this up, its true - which is good news for a club looking for local publicity. What's more, most newspapers these days have a website, and if you make it into the pages of your local newspaper, there's a good chance you'll be on the web as well, so widening the potential readership.

At Dyffryn, we're lucky. We have three TV channels (HTV, BBC Wales, and S4C); three radio stations, a Welsh national heavy (the Western Mail), the local daily evening paper (The South Wales Echo) and four local weeklies (The Vale Post, The Penarth Times, The Barry and District News and The Gem). Look at the area in which the club lies - what are the papers, radio and TV? Do you know the editors? Getting to know editors is a worthwhile policy. I visited all the editors of the above list when I started as PR officer at RAF St Athan in the early 1990s and it reaped, and continues to reap dividends. You will find out the copy of dates of the paper (i.e. the latest time they will take your news), what they want and most importantly, you will forge a personal relationship, which always helps. Many clubs probably do this, and have forged good relationships with their local papers. If not, give it a go - it will repay you well.

Newspapers

So what do newspapers want? Local papers want local news - it's as simple as that. If you are holding a tournament, tell the paper both before and after. If someone from your club wins a trophy, tell the paper. If you are holding a bring and buy or jumble sale, tell the paper. They want to know local news. Regular little stories about the club appearing will do more for the profile of croquet than one once-yearly feature. It will paint a picture of a lively, dynamic club, playing a sport, which although amateur is serious.

It is worth slightly altering press releases for each paper. For The Penarth Times, I try to mention a Penarth club player somewhere in the release. For The Barry and District News I mention Barry-born players (Chris Williams and John Evans). This customising of the release guarantees publication in the relevant area. For the newspapers with wider circulation, such as the South Wales Echo and Western Mail, having local people in the story is not enough: there needs to be a strong news hook. Because the Western Mail covers all of Wales, it will only cover those stories that are of national interest to Wales, so I don't get coverage for regular club events, but because we hold international matches at Dyffryn, we do get those covered.

Newspaper Features

Getting local newspapers to feature croquet is worthwhile trying to obtain, but remember, they won't carry a major in depth article more than once a year, so it is worthwhile looking at your events and deciding which one you want the most coverage for. In our case it is our coaching course. Maximum publicity in the papers in April and May will entice people to come on the course and subsequently join the club. Look at the features your paper carries. Most local papers will give you a double page spread providing you can provide reasonable amounts of copy and pictures (more of that later).

Newspapers also have regular columns - the South Wales Echo ran a column called My Best Friend in which someone local talked about their best friend, which wasn't always a person - it was quite frequently an item, so there would be mileage here for a player to be featured with My Best Friend the Croquet Mallet for example. Look at your papers' regular columns. Is there mileage for a story from the club? You need to read your local papers regularly and watch your local TV programmes so that you know what they cover. If you can 'phone them to say that you have a story that will fit in with one of their regular columns then they will bite your hand off. Get to know your local media and look at your clubs events over the year and plan.

Television

What does TV want? Visuals. By this I mean there must be good pictures - there must be matches to film and people to interview. The story must be strong - everyone wants to get on telly, and you might only get on once a year or every couple of years, so it is worthwhile looking at the club's calendar and thinking about the most important event and putting a concerted effort into pushing that story. For example, we put a lot of effort into getting TV coverage when Wales played Canada for the first time at Dyffryn. The fact that it was an international and it was the first time the two sides had met were strong news hooks. It also helped that it was August, which is the silly season with Wimbledon over, and the rugby and football seasons not started, so our international met with a good reception with the TV companies.

It also has to be said that croquet's image helped here. Our image is both a strength and a weakness. Many people have played croquet, usually with a garden set, or remember it from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and so there is a seed of interest in the journalists' mind already. I am known throughout the journalist fraternity here that I play croquet - they ask me how it is going and there is certain level of interest for what they regard as a quaint sport. Play on that interest and make it work for you. If you get TV to your club, make sure that someone is there to meet them and show them round. Make sure that there is someone pertinent to the story to interview. TV crews are expensive and want to get a story quickly. If they have to hang around because you are not organised they won't forget and it is harder to get them to come back.

Radio

Radio is a growth medium in the UK and local radio is more popular than ever. Radio doesn't need visuals - obviously - but many of the rules for getting TV companies to the club apply: have someone meet them, make sure that there is someone to talk to etc., so they don't have to hang about and waste time.

The BBC also has one of the most popular websites in the UK and while they may not mention your piece of news on TV or Radio, your press release might find its way onto the website, so don't neglect your local BBC station when you don't have something visual or earth shattering - you never know.

Websites

It's worthwhile having a website to promote the club, not only for anyone surfing the net, but journalists also use the web as a key method to find stories for programmes. Dyffryn has been featured on a quite a few radio programmes over the past few years because researchers found us on the web. A year or so ago, a retired rugby player, Phil Steele, had a six-week radio series on BBC Wales in which he tried out a new and different sport each week. The researchers were looking for different sports, looked on the web for croquet and were delighted to find a local club willing and able to help and so croquet was featured on his programme. Websites are also useful for the local press, if they too have a website, because if your story appears on their site, they can put a link from your story to your website.

How to Compose a Press Release

The press release is the standard way to bring a news story to the media's attention and there is a knack to press release writing, but it is straightforward. There are certain conventions that apply, which are outlined below.

Style and Length

Firstly, press releases are typed, in double line spacing, on one side of the page only. The Club's headed paper should be used as this will immediately help to identify the story. You can, if you wish, type News Release or Press Release at the top although this is not essential, as it should be pretty obvious what it is. Some people still put 'For Immediate Release' at the top of a press release, but this is very out of date practice and a contradiction in terms. If you don't want a newspaper to release it, why send it in the first place?

Many textbooks state that a press release should be one page only. I don't actually subscribe to this. Most of mine are three or four pages long. Newspapers, particularly local ones, are looking for good, well written copy. The more you provide the more they are likely to use. If they don't have much space then your release will be edited down, but if they have the space, then they will use it. Most local papers are edited by one man and his dog, with a cub reporter if he's really, really lucky. If you provide a well-written concise press release in style that newspaper uses, then you're on to a winner. The less work the editor needs to do to knock your release into shape then the more likely he is to use it. That said, do not confuse length with the opportunity to say what you like. Waffle and rubbish will be confined to the bin, no matter how desperate they are.

Content - General

Kipling wrote:

I had six honest serving men,
They taught me all I knew,
Their names were What and Where and When and How and Why and Who.

Keep this at your side when you are writing a release and you won't go too far wrong.
The newspaper wants to know:

  • What happened or is going to happen?
  • Where? (location)
  • When? (date and time)
  • How?
  • Why?
  • Who is/was involved?

It may well be that not all of these apply, but most of them will, and they must be answered in the press release.

Content - The Beginning

We all learned at school, college and university that essays are written with a beginning, a middle and an end. Press releases are written the other way round with an end, a middle and a beginning. This is because its the way newspapers lay out their stories. The first paragraph tells you what the story is. For example, look at the following from a local paper:

Angry ex-miners and the widows of former pit men from South Wales are to lobby Parliament next week over delays in the payment of compensation for crippling chest diseases.

Plans for a massive £500m theme park in South Wales have been slammed by local officials.

In one of the few league matches that survived the heavy rain and driving winds, Llanishen & Llandaff notched up a fine away win. (Hockey Section)

And

Cwmbran Town were out-thought, out battled, and outplayed in this fine away win.
Premier Cup Group C derby match. (Football Section)

The first sentence says what is happening and what the story is about. If you should ever want to speed-read a newspaper (I often need to), then read only the first paragraph of each of the stories and it will give you a clear idea of the coverage of the paper. Many of us do that anyway. We read the first paragraph and if we are not interested, go no further and read another story. The essence of telling a story in the press is to say what it is about at the beginning.

It can be looked at another way. If I met you knowing that you had just been to see at match at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships I wouldn't ask about the weather - it would be; 'Which game did you see?' immediately followed by 'Who won?' Croquet reporting is no different. Say what the story is about in the first sentence, which is usually the first paragraph as well, but more on that later.

Content - The Middle

Having pointed out the importance of a first sentence, which will tell both editor and, ultimately the reader, what the story is about. You need to go on to the body of the release. In the case of a tournament report, who won is in the first paragraph: It is not a gripping story with the winner as the surprise at the end.

The next part of the release should carry details to back up the first part. For your local paper I do not advocate a detailed report of the winning game along the lines of:

Bloggs hit in and took yellow round to one back and gave a traditional leave.

The readership of your local paper won't understand it and the editor will use his red pen mercilessly here. If the event is a barbecue or open croquet day, say when and why the event is taking place. Say what the club hopes will happen as a result (i.e. raising funds for a new lawnmower). If the release is covering a past event, then it should contain details of how many people turned up, who won the raffle (only if the prizes are not worth a lot. Sometimes the story of how Bloggs won a telly appearing in the local paper can lead to Bloggs having burglars!), and how much money was raised. If the Mayor or local important person turns up, say so.

It is always good to have a quote in a story if you can. If a local club member won an important trophy, get a quote - this is likely to be predictable, but will make a much better story in the paper. If it is an event, get the organiser's comments. Sometimes you can do this by writing the quotes out as part of the release and getting the person quoted to agree with what you have written.

Content - The End

Finally, if there is a bit of background information you want to give about the club, put this at the end (this is what I meant about an introduction). The easiest way to illustrate all of the above is to show a press release I wrote which was printed in full in the South Wales Echo. Remember, your aim is have your press release printed as close to your original as possible - that way you know you writing well.

Wales Win Against Canada at Croquet

(Simple, straightforward heading)

Wales beat Canada by 22 games to 14 to clinch the Atlantic Plate, a new trophy established for Wales - Canada games. The match finally finished at 7pm on Aug 11 after three days play at Dyffryn Gardens.

(This is the main story - told in the first sentence)

Wales were leading after the first day's play by nine games to one, but Canadians brought the score up to Wales 15, Canada 11 after the second day. The final day (yesterday) saw Wales win convincingly.

(Here we have a brief description of the match, written for South Wales' general public)

The Canadian Team was: Louis Nel (Captain), Leo McBride, Brian Cumming and Gordon Lunn.

The Wales Team were: William Prichard (Captain), Tony Mrozinski, John Grimshaw (Aug 9,11), Adrian Trickey (Aug 10, 11), and John Evans (Aug 9, 10).

(These two paragraphs go into more background detail of who played)

This is the first time that the Canadian Croquet team has visited Great Britain and they play Wales as part of a tour which includes Ireland and Scotland. Wales will defend the Atlantic Plate next year in Canada.

(Even more background detail here - does not belong at the beginning at all, but in an essay you would use this to set a scene)

Ends

(You should put 'Ends', preferably in bold. Some textbooks say use it, some say not - I always do because the journalist knows exactly where the release ends then. The release should have been in double line spacing until this point, where it reverts to single line spacing)

Further information from My Name, 02920 123456, www.dyffryncroquet.org.uk

(Always, always, put in where further information can be gained as they may want more information, or you may have missed out something inadvertently which they will spot - location perhaps. Put the website too)

Note to Editors:
Dyffryn Croquet Club was founded in 1986, and now contributes players of international standard to tournaments throughout the world. The Welsh Croquet Association was founded in the same year and attracts members from across the UK. Croquet is very much an amateur sport and neither club or Welsh Croquet Association receives any official funding.

(The note to editors, in single line spacing, comes right at the end and is not an essential part of the press release. It is used to give journalists a bit of background about the subject. I put this in every press release. Although editors may stop noticing it after a while, a new journalist might not know much about the club, and it is important that your local newspaper does have an awareness of the club.)

Having said that quotes should be used wherever possible, you may have
noticed that I have not used them, here, but you will see them in the next example.

Here's another style of Press Release:

Croquet Training for Beginners

Beginner training in one of sports at which Britain leads the world, is set to start in the Vale of Glamorgan, amidst the tranquil setting of Dyffryn Gardens.

Dyffryn Croquet Club will begin its annual beginner training course in mid-May as the usual opener to the Croquet Season in South Wales.

The beginners course aims to remove some of the mystique surrounding the sport and introduce the game to new players, who will, over five weeks, cover all of the main points of the game.

Starting on May 14, 20XX at 6.30pm at Dyffryn Gardens, the course is open to all, with equipment provided, and costs £15. Said Dave Scott, training organiser: "Croquet is one of the sports which Britain dominates, and our training courses have been very popular over the past few years, introducing many people to the game, with some going on to play at international standard."

The beginners course has traditionally attracted many players to the sport and Dyffryn Croquet Club, founded over 10 years ago, draws members from Abergavenny to Ammanford with Barry-born Chris Williams and John Evans representing Wales in the European Championships last year in Jersey.

Anyone interested in trying this relaxed, but thought-provoking sport, should phone Dave on 02920 123456 for further details.
Ends

Picture Caption: Dave playing croquet.

Further information from
Liz Williams, Dyffryn Croquet Club. (02920 123456)
www.dyffryncroquet.org.uk

Note to Editors:
Dyffryn Croquet Club was founded in 1986, and now contributes players of international standard to tournaments throughout the world. The Welsh Croquet Association was founded in the same year and attracts members from across the UK. Croquet is very much an amateur sport and neither club or Welsh Croquet Association receives any official funding.

Content - Style

In writing press releases one should adopt as journalistic a style as possible (read your local paper's main stories and you'll get an idea of this. There are also standard conventions on writing style for the press (and indeed for many other spheres) and these are:

  • Numbers 0-9 are written in full, i.e. two, nine.
  • Double figures (10 and over) are written as numbers: i.e., 11, 68, 11,222
  • Numbers that start sentences are written in full, i.e., Twenty people attended the course at...
  • Sentences never, ever start with Arabic numerals. If you are going to start a sentence with a very large number such as 111,448, think about rewording the sentence.
  • Dates are written May 14, rather than 14 May.
  • You will note that each paragraph is a sentence. This is deliberate. Try not to write short sentences. They do not read well. It is like trying to read a child's essay. Get the point?
  • 'And' is a good word to link sentences; insert it instead of a full stop now and then and the flow will be better.
  • Look at the words used by the local paper. Instead of saying 'one of the world's leading players came to play at Little Snoring Croquet Club, try 'Top croquet player, Joe Bloggs visited Little Snoring Croquet Club. 'Top' is a good word, I use it a lot and papers like it as it conveys a lot in a little space.

Other things to look out for:

  • Things don't grow: they 'mushroom'
  • Things aren't going to happen, they are 'set to' to happen
  • Instead of 'Estate agents expect the cuts to help the housing market grow': try 'Estate agents expect the cuts to boost the housing market'.
  • Look at the adjectives used by your local paper, see how and what context they are used and use a thesaurus.

You may wince at the thought of writing one-sentence paragraphs or writing a date May 14, but your personal preferences have nothing to do with it. If you want to get your press release in the paper, you should try to write in the style you know a paper wants, even if it is not your own.

Content - Photographs

There are two kinds of photograph that I never, ever send to the papers: One is a line up of people as though they are in front of a firing squad (known in the trade as a 'firing squad shot'). The other is one person giving another a trophy or certificate and shaking hands (known as the 'grip 'n' grin').

Now, many local papers (usually weeklies) use this type of picture because they might not have a staff photographer and have to make do with the pictures they are sent, which are frequently 'grip 'n' grins'. Of course, this is self-perpetuating. You read the paper, look at the style of the pictures and assume that this is what they want. It isn't really, its what they get. They have the skill, if not always the time, to change a press release, but not to re-photograph an event that has passed.

Local daily papers are much more discerning and are far less likely to print a 'grip 'n' grin'. I know mine (Western Mail, South Wales Echo) won't, so I don't even try. On the other hand, they have greater resources and might send a photographer along to your event.

Try to think a little carefully about the pictures you want, or try to take. If you have a trophy winner, why not have a picture of him with the trophy, looking at his reflection. Or have him (or her) lying down near the hoop so that you get face, hoop and trophy in the picture. And before you say - 'that's unrealistic' - so what? Do you want an interesting picture or not?

Try taking photos at different angles. If someone has won, you don't actually need to include the trophy at all: why not have a shot of them in action? Get the person to place two balls in front of hoop (or one), lie down on the ground opposite them and the get them to hit the balls (not hard!). You will be looking up at them. You will be rewarded with a good, interesting picture that says everything about what has happened. A person with a trophy could have won it for basket-weaving or weather watching. Some trophies are easily recognisable, such as the Wimbledon Tennis trophies, but most croquet ones are not.

A picture says a thousand words, which why they are worth thinking about. Pictures of someone receiving a trophy or certificate are only pictures of someone receiving a trophy or certificate, it does not say why or what for. It is much better to have a shot of someone running a hoop. Two hints: Check the background, are there multiple windows or a door or a tree growing out of someone's head? All to often backgrounds are neglected, but they are important - try to get them as unfussy as possible. Always stand closer than you think. Unless you have a super-duper telephoto lens, the likelihood is that your camera will have a wide-angle lens - particularly true of fixed lenses. This can lead to a picture of a large lawn, with two midgets playing on it. Stand as close as you dare (and I mean close); the people, not the lawn are the subject.

I used to be happy if I only got a couple of good shots from a 36-exposure film, but digital cameras have made life a lot, lot easier. You can check on a shot almost immediately, and you can email the photos to the paper, rather than wait to have them printed.

Getting Your Story to the Media

Earlier in this article I mentioned getting to know local editors and while you are doing that you can find out how they would like to have information and press releases. Until recently, the preferred form was fax or post, and until very recently some local editors I knew still preferred this to email, although they'd be happy with emailed photographs. Now they all accept emailed press releases and photos, and it's worthwhile putting the press release as a Word attachment as some formatting, such as quotation marks, which can get lost if the press release is in the text of an email. Always ensure that if you are sending photos that they are mentioned at the bottom of a press release in what's known as a 'Picture Caption'. The picture caption should be simple and say who is in the shot. The emailed picture should also have some kind of identification, otherwise it can get lost amongst other pictures.

Conclusion

If you follow this outline, you'll get press coverage for your club. Getting to know the local journalist or paper is a good way to start, and many clubs with successful coverage will have done this, and developed a relationship over time.

 

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