In September 2020, Northallerton Rotary formed their first Publicity Committee. Their goal was to coordinate better and presence in local media and on the club’s website, Facebook and Instagram. What they didn’t realise at the time is that the club, and the actions of the Publicity Committee, would play a role in keeping local independent businesses alive throughout the pandemic.
Emma Biggs joined Northallerton Rotary in late 2019 after she and her family moved back to England having spent 14 years abroad. With a background in marketing, Emma knew the importance of understanding the local community and devised a poll to understand the community’s awareness and attitude toward Rotary.
In early 2020, the club took the poll to the Northallerton high street and talked to locals as they went about their business. The club discovered there were various levels of awareness throughout the community.
They learned that people under the age of 40 had not heard of Rotary. People aged 40 to 55 had heard of Rotary but tended not to know what Rotary does. People aged 55 and older tended to know more about Rotary, or know someone who had been in Rotary before. There was a clear opportunity and need to do something in the community to raise Rotary’s profile. Then came the lockdowns.
“When COVID-19 hit, we realised all of a sudden that the high street could die. We could lose it all of a sudden if we didn’t do something,” says Emma.
Armed with this research and the desire to help keep the local economy alive, Emma and her husband, also a member of Northallerton Rotary and has a marketing background, came up with the idea of "Around the Town with Northallerton Rotary Club" to promote and support small local independent businesses. This consisted of fortnightly Zoom interviews with business owners or managers to talk about their services and how the community could use their services during the lockdowns.
Each interview was recorded and posted on Facebook for the public to watch. The club also gave each business a week of free marketing and organised a prize giveaway each week to attract viewers and interest from the community. As a result, each interview was seen between 2,000 and 4,000 people.
Having a committed Publicity Committee made the talks successful, she believes. She would run the interviews while others in the committee had roles in editing the videos and other aspects of the promotion.
“It was a lot of work, but it was definitely worth it for businesses and the high street.” Emma shares that the talks introduced businesses and the public to Rotary.
The club also believes that the interviews may have played a part in keeping all of Northallerton’s independent businesses alive during the pandemic. Having started off weekly, then turned to monthly, the Around the Town series went on for nearly two years–giving local businesses the opportunity to inform the community of what they do and how to use their services during the pandemic.
“The whole club is really proud…We do feel like we did a little bit to help,” says Emma.
Nearly three years after its launch, the club is noticing the positive effect that the Publicity Committee has in community relations. Over the past few years, the club has built a stable online presence with over 760 followers on Facebook and 260 followers on Instagram. Though the number of followers does not indicate engagement, Emma and Northallerton Rotary have noticed a significant shift in awareness of the club.
“Whenever we do anything now as Rotary, [the community] trusts us.” Emma believes that because the club is consistently present online and always does what they say they will do (be that running an event or supporting a particular cause) that the community wants to get involved. They have also noticed that more people are sharing the club’s social media posts.
Their publicity is also opening up opportunities for membership with the club’s most recent member having joined as a direct result of the club’s social media efforts.
The Publicity Committee is at the heart of Northallerton Rotary. Each person in the group deals with different aspects of publicity such as running the website, editing videos, taking photos, designing artwork for posters and signs, marketing and writing for articles and press releases. It’s even become a sort of family affair with Emma’s daughter meticulously managing the club’s Instagram account. Though there is a big focus on online publicity, the committee is also dedicated to traditional in person publicity. To mark their 75th anniversary, the club partnered with local Barker’s department store to showcase a Rotary window display. Window displays are one way that clubs can visually remind people of their presence and work in the community with clubs like Keighley Rotary creating a big display on their local high street. The club has also put on various events, including a summer fiesta in the market square with live music every hour.
“Having a publicity committee, and keeping it at the forefront of your club, reminds everybody that we need to take every opportunity to publicise the club and let everybody know what is going on,” says Emma.
What tips does she have for other clubs looking to increase publicity? 1) Encourage people who know about social media and advertising to help with publicity. 2) Try Around the Town as it’s a good way to connect Rotary and the community. 3) Regularly post on social media to increase visibility. Not everyone will see each post, so posting regularly means there is a higher chance that people will see and interact with what you are doing.
Find out more about Northallerton Rotary
Rebecca A Mendoza is a freelance writer and member of York Rotary. You can learn more about her work at www.rebeccaamendoza.com