Thursday, February 21, 2013

Andy Atkins meeting in Coventry - Storify report and effective publicity for public meetings

The boss of bosses at Friends of the Earth, Andy Atkins spoke in Coventry last night and delivered a rather nifty speech on the green economy. I've embedded a tweet by tweet account at the end of this post, but right now I want to talk about publicity.

Picture by John Halpin of Coventry Friends of the Earth

Mercifully the weather held good after it had snowed at lunchtime, so 50 people showed up to hear Andy. More importantly, probably around half of them were fresh faces! Lots of people left their details with the Coventry volunteer group with some help from Andy's prompting.

So, how did we get them to turn up on a frankly rather miserable February night? Well, taking the old maxim that only half of advertising works but no-one knows which half, we'd thrown the kitchen sink at it.
  • The group got the word out locally using e-mail networks, flyers and posters. 
  • We'd had a great planning meeting in January where members had suggested a number of other local networks they were in touch with to whom they could promote the talk.
  • The group had also gotten several mentions in the local media and on the radio to publicise Andy's visit.
  • The neighbouring groups in Warwickshire and beyond contributed another dozen or so attendees. 
  • They had also circulated the invitation around their networks.
 What did I do as part of this? Well...
  • I oversaw online publicity including an e-mail invite to our supporters across the county as well as a plug in the monthly newsletters two months previous.
  • I also designed the poster and the flyer used locally.
  • And I set up the Facebook event and carried out some inevitable pre-event tweeting.   
So - first and foremost - I reckon that congratulations are due to the local group for making the best use of their local connections and media savvy to promote the event over a period of several months before and after Christmas.

Having allies - in this case other Friends of the Earth groups - able to bulk up the attendance and supplement the publicity certainly helped. And then we in the regional office were able to get things out through broader but shallower online networks.

And of course the Head Honcho is a prestigious draw to have on the bill of any meeting.

The big question after the meeting was how much the e-mail invitation to national supporters had helped push up the turnout. After all, everything else was straight of the "how to organise local meetings" playbook we've been following for years. This, however, was more of a nod to the 38 Degrees approach on issues like the NHS and forests.

Word from this and another recent public meeting in Birmingham seems to suggest an increase in attendance of at least 10% on the back of an invite. And I'd tentatively argue that some of this ten percent are people who wouldn't otherwise be reached by the usual networks green groups have - the people who might sign an e-petition or a postcard but haven't yet connected with grassroots environmental action. 

Certainly, more rigorous analysis required to determine just how much of a game-changer this actually is, but for now it seems fair to say that it definitely helps!

Enough chin-stroking, however, and on with the report of Andy's speech, Twitter style.


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