Promoting the Branch – The Do’s and Don’ts
This short article addresses the details of exactly what we did to promote the club here in Blackpool. It isn’t rocket science, it is more about planning what you are going to do, having an open mind and watching for opportunity. Whether it is a business or an organisation such as ours, the secret is keeping your name out there so that your target customers/members know that you exist. If they don’t know that you exist, you don’t exist.
In the early stages I decided to go for three main prongs of attack. These were mailing, local media (radio and newspaper) and regional television.
First of all I put together a database of all military, workingmen’s, social, works and political clubs in the area. I also included Marine/Marine Cadet organisations and other military organisations, examples of which in this area are: the Preston Ex-Service Council and the Fylde Liaison Group. There are many others: try asking in the local Royal British Legion and scanning the Yellow Pages. You may query the Marine cadet insertion but these units have instructors and many ex-Royal Marines keep in touch through their children or indeed serve within them.
I then wrote to them all enclosing an A4 poster for their notice board (it is unlikely that they will put anything larger than A4 up as it is too obtrusive). The poster can be simple text or more ornate and eye-catching such as say ‘Lord Kitchener’ pointing out saying ‘Your Branch Needs You’. Remember to dispel any blocks that people may have by spelling out who is eligible to join (rule book). You don’t strictly have to have been a Marine; you can have served with the Marines or be family. The poster should also ask anyone reading it to pass the word on to any ex Marines that they may know. There is a fine balance here when designing your poster, as too much information can be off-putting while too little weakens your chances of getting people to call you. It is also possible to canvass other Branch’s members via their secretary to see if they have any ex-squaddies living within your catchment area that they could refer to you.
Finally, having sent it out I trawled the clubs I had written to in order to introduce myself to the secretary and to make sure that the poster had been put up. There is a lot of apathy out there and all too often the poster had not been put up. Getting to know the secretaries of other clubs is a useful exercise anyway as it is amazing what being part of a network can deliver in terms of information and favours.
This is not as daunting as it may first seem. Remember, reporters and news editors are constantly looking for stories to fill their column inches and air waves. There is, however, no doubt that television is the hardest nut to crack and needs something a bit special in the way of an event or story to get any kind of attention at all. On the other hand you may be lucky and simply catch them on a quiet day so it’s always worth a try.
There is simply no better way of doing this than picking up the ‘phone and talking to the News Editor or to a reporter. Once you have made that contact you must hang on to it and cultivate it, get them down to a meeting as a ‘Guest of Honour’. If, as in your case you are trying to re-launch the Branch tell them so and simply ask them how they can assist you; and if they do be sure to write and thank them (via their boss) praising their ‘Community Spirit’. There are some large egos in the media world.
Some local papers and even local Council websites carry a free page advertising local clubs and ‘Things to Do’. Enquire about it.
You need to be constantly looking for angles or even creating angles, e.g. ‘Standard Bearer Visits School’, a St George’s Day project we organised and which was well reported complete with good photograph. This did a good job in terms of getting some exposure, however the paper forgot to put in our contact details! You must always try to get your contact details in the article so that even if the reader isn’t an ex Marine but knows one, they will pass the message on. It goes without saying that the cardinal sin is having done the hard work by creating an opportunity you do not then get the all-important telephone contact number in there.
Contact details are all important. Make it easy for the reader who sees the picture and realises there is a local RMA, to pick up the ‘phone and contact you.
Now We Have Them Let’s Keep Them
Having got the new members onboard we need to give them a reason to come back every month. Keep the meetings interesting; for example I source all the Corps memorable dates in a given month and read them out at the meeting. Then I usually pick on one item, say a VC winner, such as Major John Francis William Harvey VC, or maybe a particular action and do a more in-depth piece on that. The members like it and after all that’s what we are there for isn’t it? To help you, I have listed a few key websites that are very good for researching this type of thing. They are:
[Additionally the 400 strong Royal Marines Historical Society (www.rmhs.info/) is contactable via the Royal Marines Museum, Eastney, SOUTHSEA Hampshire PO4 9PX (tel: 02392-819385), and please note in particular that they have several lecturers who are usually willing to visit branches to give presentations or informal talks on a vast range of RM history subjects, from the The Forton Reds, Cockleshell Heroes, Walcheren, Palestine, Korea etc to the modern day Royal Marines Band Service.]
Agree a format that all the members are involved by getting their input as to what they want. Remember the old adage: Tell me and I’ll forget; Show me and I’ll remember; Involve me and I’ll understand! Create involvement by creating Jobs/Committee for people (such as the Social Events Committee), and try and arrange low-cost days out for members and their partners.
It doesn’t have to be expensive; we are organising a full day out to Eden Camp which, including the coach fare and admission, is £15 and that’s allowing a bit for branch funds too. Getting people together in a social scenario creates bonds and adds value to your organisation.
Finally, but most importantly, all of this will only happen if someone takes ownership for it, someone really has to take hold of the reins and drive it otherwise it is doomed to failure from the outset. Another old adage (sadly I’m fond of them) “If you fail to plan you plan to fail”.
That said, it is not a one-man band and as I said before, involve people: it is amazing what will come from the least likely source. After all nobody has a monopoly on good ideas.
Interestingly, we now have some 60 members on the roll, and our average turnout at a meeting is always around 30 drawn from a nucleus of probably 40 regular attendees. Consequently, I am always pondering why that is and how we can improve, because within the 20 plus non-attendees each month we have the makings for organic growth, without the need for finding new members. After all it isn’t about how many names you have on the roll; it’s about how many come along and join the fun. The point I am making is that I have a bank of members who we need to attract back to meetings. Of course, you have to allow for holidays, sickness, work commitments etc within the equation.
I sincerely hope that these brief notes may help in some way and if you would like to discuss them in more depth, or if I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to call me.
I wish you all every success in your endeavours.
Ron Bell JP
One further thought. Most Royal Marines units appoint a PR Officer (PRO) as part of the Corps’ overall drive to keep the Royal Marines in the public eye and to recruit (news items, charity work, local boy stories etc). Every RMA branch should do the same using the guidance outlined above as their starting point.