By John Ensslin | June 15th, 2008
Here is a recipe for attracting new members. It’s a formula that worked well for Colorado SPJ, enabling our chapter to grow by 30 in one year.
Results may vary. Feel free to modify these instructions to best fit local conditions. Just let us know what worked for you.
Step One: Assemble the cast
To produce a successful training seminar, at minimum, you will need the following five people:
A chair: someone who oversees the operation, delegates work, holds people to schedules, makes adjustments when needed.
A campus insider: someone currently working at a college campus with routine and regular interaction with students, someone whom they trust and respect.
A booker: someone who is responsible for assembling the speakers.
A publicist: someone who is charge of marketing the event, who will do outreach and build an audience.
A designer: Someone who will create a graphic that can be used interchangeably as a flyer, e-mail, poster or postcard.
Four speakers: each with a different area of expertise that would be relevant to an audience of young journalists or journalism students. Someone who would be willing to donate about 90 minutes of their time for free.
Step Two: Doing the logistics
Find a venue: a room capable of holding up to 50 people, preferably with a projector screen and Internet access. Ideally on a college campus, it can also be in a newsroom, a library or a community center. Also needs to be free.
Time: Do not attempt one of these sessions without at least six months advance notice. You will need half that time to plan the program and the other half to publicize it.
Pricing: Set your price low enough to just break even. The fee should be equivalent to the dues that your chapter charges its members.
For example: in Colorado, we charge the national rate of $72 for professionals and $36 for students plus local chapter dues of $17.
We applied the $17 toward lunch and other expenses and forward the rest to SPJ national in the form of a dues payment. Try to hold food costs to about $15 per person.
In some cases, where we had student members who were not part of the state chapter, we simply forwarded $17 to SPJ national and upgraded their membership to pro chapter status.
Thus we were able to charge the following rate structure for the half-day seminar: $89 for non-member professional; $56 non-member students and $30 for current SPJ members (students or professionals).
If possible, try to collect fees in advance of the event. Here’s where a campus adviser/insider can help by serving as both RSVP and money collector.
Location: Go to where the students are. It’s easier to ask four speakers to drive to your location than to have your audience commute to your event.
Step Three: the initial organization meeting
Take an hour to have the principal organizers outlined above meet face-to-face to decide the following: venue, date, price, theme and date for a follow-up meeting.
It helps to have a catchy title such as the baseball motif we used Spring Training or Fall Classic. Also use related titles for each of the individual sessions. We had sessions such as “Put me in coach” for a talk on the editor/reporter relationship and “Slick Defense” for a session on copy editing.
Discuss possible speakers, but leave it to the booker to sort out the details and the lineup. Don’t get too hung up on the theme and the speakers. Remember to devote an equal amount of time to publicizing the event as you devote to programming it.
Have a designer begin to rough out a graphic immediately after this meeting.
Step four: the follow up meeting. This can take place via conference call. During this time, finalize the speakers and the order in which they appear. Also sign off on the graphic. It should be colorful and not too text-heavy. Include contact info for the RSVP person.
Step Four: the publicity campaign.
The publicist should enlist other journalism groups that can share the flyer with their members.
It also helps to find one person in each nearby newsroom who will agree to act as a contact person and ensure that the flyers actually get into the hands of their co-workers
Attend local press association conventions, journalism forums, mixers and make newsroom visits where possible to promote the event.
It also helps to hold a mixer at a local bar about a week prior to the seminar and invite students and young journalists to attend.
Third and final meeting: Check list of final details. Make sure audio/visual and Internet access works. Make sure there’s coffee and donuts at the beginning of the session as well as bottled water and snacks for the afternoon.
The booker should make a round of calls about a week before the event to reminds speakers when and where to show up.
Scheduling: We found that Saturday morning from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. works best. Beyond 3 p.m. even the most brilliant speakers will have a tough time holding the audience.
Sessions: Instruct your speakers that they have to fill one hour. A half-hour presentation followed by 30 minutes of question and answer session generally works well.
Encourage your speakers to bring handouts. Leave a break period of 15 minutes after each session for speaker and audience to interact one-to-one.
It also helps to have someone who can talk over the lunch hour. Have fun with your speaker topics. Don’t be boring.
Backup: Have one person (usually the moderator) who is prepared to step in and make a presentation on short notice in the event one of your scheduled speakers fails to show.
Finale: End each seminar with the SPJ initiation seminar. (See Garden Center Post “Ritual as Compost” from Dec. 30) You will need some candles and about 2-3 chapter members to conduct the initiation.
About a week after the seminar, the organizers should do one last conference call to critique what worked and what didn’t.
The chair should prepare a report for the SPJ national membership coordinator, detailing who joined, supplying their contact info as well as a breakdown of the money that will be sent to purchase new memberships or upgrade existing one.
About one month after the seminar, the chapter president should send an e-mail welcoming the new members to the chapter and out-lining other upcoming events.
Good luck and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPJ by the Numbers
Membership this week 9,480
Membership last month 9,391
Membership one year ago 8,813