|Effective publicity is essential to the success of any event or
campaign. Since the power student groups have relies on people, getting
the word out is one of the most important things you will do. It
requires a well-thought-out strategy and plan.
- People should know about your event or campaign even if
they're completely oblivious to everything else going on at your
- Keep your message short, understandable, and simple.
People should get a good idea of what you're doing with just a brief
- Don't use jargon, slogans, or acronyms without defining
them. A complex issue can be explained in ways that even the most
apathetic can understand.
- Progressive groups are often criticized for over-
emphasizing the negative. In your publicity (as well as your activism
in general), balance critique with positive alternatives.
- Much publicity on campuses is dull, dull, dull. Be
creative! One group put messages about their campaign in fortune
cookies and handed them out. Colorful, visual, irreverent,
interactive, 3-dimensional, eye-catching publicity is more effective.
But don't let creativity obscure your message.
- People should hear or read about your event at least
seven times. No kidding. After the first few times, people who
might not otherwise come or participate will become interested.
- You do publicity both for your event and for your group in
general. There is nothing wrong or shameful about promoting your group
by clearly listing your group's name, a contact person the time of your
next meeting, how people can get involved, etc.
- Personal Contact/Word of Mouth
- Personal contact is one of the
best (and cheapest) means of publicity. Each of your members can bring
at least a half dozen people. Ask professors to announce events in
class or to let you do so.
- Knowing the Regulations
- Most schools have designated areas where
you can post things and procedures for tabling. Know the regulations
and the penalties. Some schools impose heavy fines for violations and
may even rescind funding or official recognition. If you post off-
campus, the local community's laws apply. This is not to say that you
must always accept such rules. If the rules are so draconian that they
infringe on your freedom of speech you may want to start a campaign to
challenge them. If you are challenging your school's administration,
you may find yourself the target of politically-motivated selective
enforcement of such rules.
- Poster Design
- Keep it short, simple, loud, and eye-catching. Make
your main message BIG-- people should be able to see it from 20 feet
away. Make the rest of your text SHORT-- people should be able to read
it in one minute. Keep it visually consistent-- more than one font or
more than two colors is distracting. Don't make it too CROWDED-- by
filling every space on the page. In fact, leaving blank space calls
attention to the text. Pictures and graphics can really add to a poster
if they are clear and powerful. Don't forget to clearly lay out the
time, date, and place of the event.
- Where and when to poster
- High-traffic areas such as dining
halls, campus centers, etc. are good places. You will be competing for
space and attention with every other group on campus. Don't limit your
posting to one area of campus or just high traffic areas. There are
many good spots to poster where you have a "captive audience" which has
nothing to do but read your poster. Bathroom stalls, cafeteria lines,
and bus stops are a few such places. On most campuses, bulletin boards
are cleared of posters regularly. Put your posters up in remote areas
several weeks in advance. Re-poster high-traffic areas several times
leading up to the event, with a final blitz a day or two before. (see
"How to do Leaflet..." in the Bibliography).
- Leafletting a busy intersection, mail room or dining
hall gets information to a large number of people. Leaflets are good
for publicizing an immediate and urgent event, like an emergency rally,
and for distributing info to passersby at demonstrations, or actions.
One person can distribute several hundred leaflets in an hour. You will
need quite a few and should probably make them 1/2, 1/3 or 1/4-page size
to save money and paper. In the leaflet itself, ask people to pass it
on to someone else or post it. Have more than one person leafletting at
once. Be ready for rejections, as many people will ignore you, and even
make snide remarks.
- You can put ads in your school newspaper, but the price
is usually high, and such ads are usually not as effective as posters.
There are other ways to use your school newspaper for publicity. Many
school papers sell much cheaper classified ads. Many also have
calendars of what's going on around campus, which list events for free
or cheaply. Letters to the editor and even guest editorials are a good
way to publicize, if you don't make it a completely apparent self-
promotion. One group ran classified ads that pretended to be a dialogue
between two lovelorn people flirting with each other. Everyone read and
followed the saga. Some school papers are so starved for news that they
will even do an article about your upcoming event.
- Many radio stations, especially college stations, run free
public service announcements. Send them an event notice or find out
how to do a PSA tape yourself. Encourage DJs to play them during their
- Phone Trees
- When you want to mobilize your supporters, a phone
tree is an extremely useful and efficient tool. You can start a phone
tree committee by passing out a sign-up sheet at a general meeting.
From this list, elect a phone tree coordinator (usually an officer or a
steering committee member, because they will most likely be aware of
what is going on) who is in responsible for triggering the phone tree.
The phone tree coordinator organizes the information to be disseminated,
then calls phone tree committee members, who each have a \list of people
to call with information about the next meeting or event. For meetings,
you only notify members of your group; for large public events, you
could assign each core member to notify 5-10 additional supporters to
turn out a really large crowd. The phone tree coordinator should be sure
to check with committee members to see if they made their calls, and be
prepared to take up the slack.
- Chalking on the sidewalks is as visible as spray painting,
and it washes right off. Groups have used chalked body outlines to
publicize human rights abuses or oppose military action. Chalking
doesn't require any paper and the words can be as big as you like.
Rules differ from campus to campus on whether chalking is allowed.
Campus police may harass you if they see you in the act. Try to keep
your chalking on the ground, as it doesn't wash off as readily on walls
and the chalk can cause damage if it stays on a long time.
- "Midnight Redecorating"
- Midnight redecorating is a term for
activities done late at night because they may prove unpopular with some
authorities, such as spray-painting, rubber stamps, Cow chalk (semi
permanent) or wheat pasting posters. Spray-painting can be done with
heavy poster board cut stencils of a slogan or graphic, or it can be
done freehand. Stickers placed on phone booths, elevator ceilings,
water fountains, stairwells, and "University Property" decals are
difficult to remove. Note: we do not advocate indoor wheat-pasting,
which can seriously damage your group's reputation; outdoor wheatpasting
is far lest destructive, but still may put you at risk of arrest.
- To make stickers, you can purchase 100 sheets of 8 1/2 x 11" sticker
paper for about $20. Then, using a heavy-duty copy machine and paper
cutter, you can make stickers -- usually 3 or 4 per page.
- To make wheat paste, mix: wallpaper glue + flour + water; apply with
a paint brush or wallpaper brush.
- To make "spray glue," mix: 1/3 parts Elmers glue + 2/3 parts water in
a plant spray bottle; apply with rubber gloves.
- Information Tables
- Most campuses designate an area where student organizations can set
up tables to distribute literature and recruit members. Many activists
think that tabling is a boring ritual consisting of a stack of
literature on a table with a person sitting behind it doing homework or
staring into space. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tabling
must be active and dynamic in order to yield results.
[Tabling tips adapted from Committee In Solidarity with the People of El
Salvador Campus Organizing Guide.]
- Table when you have something for people to do, and not just for
the sake of tabling. At the activities midway, it's O.K. to just ask
for new members, but the rest of the time, try to get people to do
something specific like sign a petition, buy a ticket for a
fundraiser, write a letter, or sign up to work on a specific campaign.
Always be sure to have a sign-up sheet available (see Sustaining your
Membership and Support Base) to build membership.
- Keep a schedule of who is to table, and have a tabling coordinator
reconfirm them the night before! Make sure people know where to pick
up the tabling box in the morning, and where to drop it off (a secure
place if you collect money) in the afternoon.
- Try to table where there will be a large concentration of people.
Dining halls near meal time, Student Unions or Centers, and films and
events attract a lot of people in a short time.
- Its best to have two or more people tabling together, preferably
pairing less experienced people with veteran activists. Have one of
them work the flow of people and draw people to other activists
sitting at the table.
- Training is invaluable. Write and distribute sample raps and practice
with role plays. This gives people confidence and prepares them to
deal with tough situations.
- Display a banner with your organization's name to develop
recognition, a sign and flyers advertising your next meeting and
- If you are collecting letters, be prepared with paper, pens,
envelopes, a box for donations to help with mailing costs. Depending
on your focus, have a list of US and state legislators or of
appropriate university trustees and administrators (check with a
librarian). Collect letters there to ensure that they get written and
- Be friendly and make eye contact. Entice passersby by asking a
brief question to involve the person a dialogue, such as "Do you want
to help stop ROTC discrimination?"
- Know when to call it quits. Don't get caught up with a reactionary or
someone who just wants to talk. Give them literature, set a future
meeting, invite them to an event, but don't waste your time while
other potential activists pass you by.
- Clipboards are your friends. They allow you to get out from behind
the table and ask people to sign up to do something, whether it be
making a phone call, going to a rally, or joining your campus
- Having a VCR and a TV showing an appropriate documentary (at low
volume!) at your table is a good way to attract people.
- Giving away pins or stickers is a terrific way to build visibility
and boost morale.
- Do not limit tabling to campus. Tabling in the community will: put
you in touch with a wide range of people & views, and expose peoplein
the community to ideas they won't normally hear in the mainstream
media. By meeting progressive people and activists who might attend
some of your meetings and events, you build essential links between
your campus and the community.