Sunday, November 30, 2008

How to start your own community choir 5 — Getting the word out

You’ve done your Forward planning, figured out how to go about Finding the money, decided on the Right place and the right time to start your community choir. Now you need to get the word out so people will know that your choir exists!

This is all about promotion — getting the word out in any way you can. These are the basic steps:

  1. know who your target group is
  2. research appropriate publicity outlets
  3. put your information together
  4. get the word out
  5. other methods
  6. keep promoting!

1. know who your target group is

You need to reach the right audience, so make sure you have a clear idea who your target group is. You’ve already considered what kind of choir you’re going to create. What kind of people will be interested? Do you have a particular group in mind (e.g. young boys, retired people, women)? Can anyone join? In many ways it’s easier to promote your choir if it has a particular angle or group of people in mind.

You will also have considered this when choosing when your choir meets. For example, daytime sessions will not appeal to those who have day jobs. Night sessions won’t be suitable for younger children. If your venue has no disabled access, then this will also restrict your target group, and you will need to make it clear.

2. research appropriate publicity outlets

You’ll need find publicity outlets that appeal to your target group. It won’t make sense to leaflet trendy bars if you’re trying to reach older people. Putting posters up at the private gym may well exclude the unemployed. Walk around town and see that other events are being publicised and note those places which seem to appeal to the same type of people who might want to join your choir. For example, yoga classes, choral concerts, talks on music.

Can you piggy back someone else’s publicity for free? Will your venue do it for you? What free outlets are there: local adult education magazine, library notice board, free newspaper, etc.?

mailing lists

One of the best ways of reaching people with information is a targeted mailing list. This is a list of people who you know are interested in your product. Start this as soon as you can. Every time you run a workshop or go to a gathering where there is singing, have a sheet where people can put their name and contact details. Maintain a database in any form that you’re familiar with (a Word table is quite simple), and regularly mail people on the list with what’s happening. This list will grow over time and you can use it to promote workshops, your website, concerts, and to get new choir members. Getting an email address is vital as this is the cheapest way of communicating with people.

3. put your information together

Before you send out a press release or make a poster, you need to get all the necessary information together.

You’ll need a name for your choir, and a brief description that sums up what you’re going to do. Names are notoriously difficult. You might go for a name that describes what you do (WorldSong, Global Harmony, Shared Voices, Bath Community Singers, Frome Community Choir, Singing for the Terrified). Or you might go with something a little more poetic (Purple Cats, Hullabaloo, Chutzpah, The Larks, Kadenza, The Morning Glories, The Caster-Sugars, Rough Truffles). It might make is slightly easier to publicise if your name reflects what you do, but remember you have to live with it! The Anytown Women’s Natural Voice Civic Community Singing Group may be descriptive, but it’s a bit of a mouthful (and will inevitably get abbreviated – not necessarily in ways that you want!). In my opinion, a name needs to be short and punchy, but doesn’t need to describe what you do. It will eventually become associated with the choir. Think of big brands like Orange, Apple, Next, Ford, Zavvi, O2, Tate, etc. — none of these actually say what it is they do or sell.

You’ll need to state clearly when and where the group meets, how much it costs, and what the commitment will be. Do people have to sign up for a whole term, or is it a drop-in choir? Will people be required to perform or is it optional? If you have fixed times of year for taking on new members, make this clear.

How much will it cost choir members each session and when will people have to pay? Weekly or in blocks in advance? Will you allow new members to try the first few weeks for free? Will you give a discount for advance payment? Have you got an account in your choir’s name, or will you be asking people to write personal cheques? In my view, writing a personal cheque can make your enterprise seem a little amateur, also you can get the choir income mixed up with your personal money when it comes to do your tax return!

You might want to create an identity for your choir at this stage (even though it doesn’t really exist yet!). A logo, strap line (short, punchy sentence which identifies what you do e.g. “harmony through song”, “release your voice”, “singing for peace”), letterhead, business card. Will you want a website? If so, what’s it for? It’s not enough to just have presence on the web, your website needs to have a clear purpose. It can be selling the choir to future members or it can be a resource once people have joined your choir. It can act as publicity for future concerts or it can just be a shop window for photos and recordings of the choir.

4. get the word out

The two main ways to publicise your choir both involve writing: press releases and publicity flyers.

print outlets

There are many, many resources out there which can help you to write an effective press release. On the internet, just Google “How to write a press release” and you’ll get nearly a million hits!

The best tips I can give are:

  • keep it short, simple (use straightforward language) and effective
  • put the most important information in the first paragraph, then in order of priority down the page. Apparently many editors cut pieces from the bottom paragraph up
  • make sure you include the most important information: what is it? where does it happen? when does it happen? and who to contact?

Once you’ve written your press release, you’ll need to do a bit of research to find all the local press outlets in your catchment area. Many free newspapers will readily print a short item if it has local interest. Some dailies will only print a small paragraph. Don’t pay for advertising unless you absolutely must — most newspapers are desperate to fill their pages with free content!

Also check out other local publications: what’s on magazines, glossy county magazines that come out every few months, local newsletters, etc.

Find out when things are published (weekly? what day? monthly? quarterly?) and if there are particular deadlines. Then tailor when you send your press release out. Too much in advance and people will forget the information; too near the date and people will have already found something else to do. Bear in mind that items need to be in several days before the actual publication date.

Most local newspapers have an online presence these days. You can find out from their website which email addresses are most appropriate for sending your information too. Sometimes it’s the editor, other times there’s just a catch-all email address. If you send it to the “what’s on” person, you’re most likely to just get a one-line mention in a packed diary. Better is to try and get some editorial space.

Many newspaper websites have online forms that you can use to submit items for their website (and maybe their print version). I try and send it to them in as many ways as possible, hoping to get into print and on the website.

I have been advised in the past not to send unsolicited attachments to emails. However, most newspapers like a photo to accompany a piece. Find out their policy by contacting the newspaper. Even better, cultivate a personal relationship with a particular journalist. Newspapers usually like to use their own photographer, even if it means ending up with a traditional, tacky, jazz hands shot! Get a few friends together, and arrange a convenient location that gives their photographer some scope. Come with a few of your own ideas, in case the photographer needs some help (I have a pet peeve about photographing choirs, see Picture this).

In my experience, no matter how carefully you word your press release, how clever your headline is, the newspaper will either get the date or phone number wrong, or change your witty headline into something lame and misleading! This is just part of life and you’ll have to grin and bear it.

You might get a chance to get an entry in your local council’s free adult education magazine, or in your local arts centre’s brochure. In these cases, you’ll need to adapt your press release and cut it down to its basics. This should be saved as the basic ‘blurb’ for your choir which you can endlessly recycle and adapt.

There are many websites that will also take information. Many of them are biased towards one-off events, but some are able to take listings of local ongoing clubs and societies. Sometimes these have a strict word limit for your entry, so you might like to work up a short description of your basic blurb for these purposes. Again, use a search engine like Google and try things like “what’s on Anytown”, or “singing classes Anytown” to see what possible local Anytown websites are out there.

posters and flyers

It’s not so easy to get simple hints on designing effective posters and flyers as there are so many variables. One of your main limitations will probably be cost. In which case you will probably want to limit the number of colours in your design, quality of paper that they’re printed on, and actual number that you will produce.

Again, you need to keep it short, simple and effective.

  • pick out the most important elements (i.e. where, when, what) and make them the most prominent in your design.
  • keep the number of different fonts you use to a maximum of two (one is perhaps best – you can use bold, italic, size, colour, etc. for variation), and
  • use fonts that are easily readable (i.e. not ones that look like handwriting or have to many embellishments like Gothic).
  • keep the number of colours to a maximum of two, and make sure they complement each other.
  • if you’re really trying to keep costs down, consider a black and white design which can be printed onto coloured paper.

It’s most likely at this stage that you will either print a few colour posters on your home computer, or — if you need lots of A5 flyers — get them photocopied on cheap coloured paper. Either way, the print quality is not going to be fantastic, so don’t rely on any subtle grey shades, or complex images and photographs as they won’t come out clearly. Stick to black and white graphics and simple images.

When researching your publicity outlets, you will have come across several places that might take stacks of A5 flyers. Make sure that these are the right places to put them! It’s no good printing 500 flyers to just have them sit, ignored in some café somewhere. You’re also competing with the big boys who have much larger budgets and can pay people and services to display their flyers in all the best places. You need to make your limited resources count. It’s perhaps best to use your limited budget to make a smaller number of A4 and A5 flyers which can be displayed to the best effect, e.g. shop windows, local arts centre, your car, in the venue you’re using for the choir.

keeping tabs on the results

Over time you will gradually discover the most effective places to publicise your choir. I thought I had made a coup when I managed to get my new choir mentioned in the local adult education brochure which went free to every single household in Coventry. But I didn’t get a single new member through this!! The most effective method for me, in Coventry, is to get regular mentions in the local free newspapers. Each time I send stuff in I try a new angle and try to make it chatty and relevant to their readers.

I also started out putting hundreds of A5 flyers in various places around town, only to go back a few weeks later to find them all still sitting there! But that’s just Coventry. In your town you will find a different story. Keep trying new things, and keep evaluating what works best.

5. other methods

Here’s a quick list of other possible ways of getting the word out. I’m sure there are many others!

  • Run some one-off taster workshops to give people a taste of what’s to come. Take down the names and contact details of people who might be interested in joining your choir and contact them later when you know when the choir is starting.
  • Contact your local BBC or independent radio station. They are desperate to fill up air time with free content. Pitch your idea to them and make it sound really interesting and they may well invite you in for an interview. Take some publicity with you and a few notes written in big letters. Whilst you’re being interviewed you should constantly refer to these as your crib sheet to make sure you’re getting your message out. A good interviewer will help you with this by asking the right questions (“so when is your choir starting up?”, “remind me again where the choir will be rehearsing?”, “who should people contact if they’re interested in joining?”). But many interviewers have their own agenda and (usually wrong!) understanding of what you’re planning to do. In these cases it’s really important to keep getting them back on track. BEWARE: if your philosophy is that everyone can sing, you may well get the radio presenter asking you to teach their producer to sing right there and then on air!
  • If you already have a group of friends or local contacts who sing together, you can always put on a free performance. You can do this outdoors, in a shopping centre, in the local park, anywhere with lots of people. Maybe make a billboard with your choir’s name on. Make sure you have flyers to give out. Maybe even teach the audience (if you get one!) a song, thus proving that everyone can sing. This is one of the best ways of attracting new members as they can see and hear immediately what you do. A free, living advertisement!
  • Do you have any recordings of you singing or a group of people singing the kind of stuff you plan to do with the choir? If so, you can run off a short sampler and either hand it out to people, use it as a business card, leave some copies at your local arts centre, get the local radio station to play some tracks, approach a local record store, etc. Again, nothing beats actually hearing what your choir will sound like.
  • Hit people when they least expect it. Go somewhere where your target group already gather (e.g. coffee shop, evening class, drop in centre) and run a spontaneous workshop, again proving that anyone can sing. They will see you in action and immediately get a taste of what you offer. Make sure you have flyers, business cards, etc. You can either do this as a guerrilla tactic and just turn up, or contact them beforehand offering a free workshop.

6. keep promoting!

Until you’re in the luxurious position of having to start a waiting list because your choir has got too big (yes, this day will arrive!), you have to keep on promoting the choir on a regular basis. Keep the name out there in any way that you can. Find new ways of publicising the choir, re-write your blurb and press releases regularly, keep your website up to date (even if nothing important is happening, put the latest news up there), look out for other opportunities to promote the choir.

next week

Once more, a long, long post! It amazes me how much there is to consider, but please don’t let it put you off. I’m sure I’ve left out loads and loads of things, so please do leave a comment if you can think of anything to add. Next week in Part 6 — yes, the moment has finally arrived! — The first session.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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