Public Relations

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To help finance the shop and to earn money to support projects and hardware acquisitions, I'm trying to set up a system of public relations for the shop. Trevor Daniels is helping immensely on this, since he has years of experience working as a promotor for political campaigns. He wanted to volunteer to do some market research and advertising for us. Obviously I don't want to allow any company or outsiders to have creative control or tell us what to do, but this could bring in new members and pay for a lot of hardware, like the laser cutter or parts for a big CNC machine.

Media Coverage

Trevor has a working relationship with contacts that can get us free advertising in local newspapers, radio ads, and the like. We now have names for specific relevant staff at the Huntsville Times and WLRH. WLRH has been good to us in the past, we had a lot of people visit after that one radio ad. But since then it's my understanding we haven't been able to get a second ad. We can change that by identifying who specifically we need to talk to about mentioning local events and issuing that person a press release - see below.If we get a standardized process to have press releases, we could have a list of contacts to whom issue the press release for every event at the shop. The press release has a somewhat standardized format (more on that soon) but it's basically a mailing list with an abstract for whatever it is we're promoting. This list raises general awareness and some money in the short term, but it builds general awareness for the larger donations from organizations in the long term.

  • Any kind of local media coverage in our area
  • WLRH
  • Local Network Affiliates
    • Network news is always desparate for stories to cover with fluff pieces. It wouldn't be the most in-depth coverage, but it raises awareness for the solicitation package above.
  • Huntsville Times
  • Valley Planet

The above list generates only limited interest in the short term, sadly not everybody is cut out to be a maker or is interested in our kind of events. So we should also be issuing press releases to encourage coverage from specialized media that's more relevant to Makers Local.

    • Make Magazine
    • Wired
    • 2600?
    • IEEE?
    • Huntsville R&D

Members, please add to these list if you can think of anything; there's no reason not to issue press releases to a publication if there's any chance they could mention us in any way.

Press releases are easy and cheap to issue (fax or email) so we should start doing this immediately for any and every event that's of public interest. Not every venue will cover every event, some might never follow up or mention us, but the asking is free and if they do any kind of story about us it's free and can only bring people in to walk past our donation jar, there is literally no way to do harm by issuing press releases to a media outlet's news desk, that is what the desk is for. The more we increase coverage the more people walk past the jar. And that's only a small, short-term goal. Further down the line this increases public awareness; we already have great word-of-mouth but the more we act on it and spread it out in media the more likely large donors will have heard about us. If they've heard of us before, they're much more likely to donate larger sums of cash or materials or approve us for grants when we send them solicitations for donations. (see below)

Sort of like having Make Magazine follow us and announce the events on our calendar, the Huntsville Times has an insert every weekend on events happening in Huntsville, and they ought to be covering us just like they do the Flying Monkey. We're a community center, and we should be on the calendar of local events.

Only a few press releases have been issued a few of these so far, and it's gotten us some coverage. Usually it's for an event, such as an Open House or when the HSIS team won a major award. When it happens, I contact someone on the project and ask if they want to send a press release, and work together on the abstract. The result looks something like the example below. This is sent to the relevant points of contact in the database of email addresses. These are ideally sent a week before an event, or immediately after the successful milestone of the project.

There is a spreadsheet on the wiki now with a list of points of contact to send press releases.

Press Release Example

Makers Local 256 hosts free DIY Tech Expo

Huntsville, Al (August 14, 2010)-- Makers Local 256, Alabama’s first hacker space and make shop, will be hosting a free Do-It-Yourself Tech Expo from 5:00 - 10:00pm Saturday, August 14. Starting at 5pm, members of Makers Local will be presenting the recent projects they have assembled at our work shop, including a metal forge and foundry, a 3D printer, QR matrix barcodes, vacuum molding, silk screen printing tshirts, and more. We will also be serving barbeque starting at 7pm, and talks will go on through the evening until 10pm. Members of Makers Local will be on hand to answer questions and give tours of the shop. Makers Local is about collaboration and learning to develop projects; so attendees are welcome to play and get hands on experience with our projects, bring something to work on, or just find like-minded tinkerers for a friendly work environment.

For more information about Makers Local or the DIY Tech Expo, please visit

Makers Local 256 203 Brown Street Huntsville, Al 35805

NPR advertising

Because it's public radio, getting an ad on the local NPR station is free and actually really easy. In Huntsville, the point of contact for station WLRH is Bobby Milk, whose email address is in the press database. Bobby suggested sending an email to ask for an appointment about 3 weeks before the event. Like most ads, it takes a few repetitions for it to sink in with a listener, so the more times they hear it the better. Just like with most advertising, listeners tend to tune them out, but if they're someone who would be interested in the event, it could still take a few times before they actually listen and process the ad.I've only done this once so far, but here was my experience:

  • They make an appointment to meet you during business hours
  • There two kinds of promo - 30 seconds and 60 seconds, the 30 seconds get played more often.
  • All the relevant promos are shuffled to play at random times throughout the day until the the event happens
  • Bring the text you want to read in writing, they'll need to review it as there are some restrictons.
    • You cannot say an event is free, but you can say it is "open to the public."
    • You cannot say to visit your website, but you can say "there is more information at [url]."
      • I'd like to ask him why these restrictions are, it probably ties to their status as a government sponsored public radio station.
  • Their staff does not record the audio, that is on you. Don't have a sore throat when you go.
  • They will record multiple takes if you run long or too short (my goal was to read for 30 seconds, the first time I was 32)
  • They'll play it back for you to make sure you approve of how it sounds

Recording Volunteers

Recording an ad is fun and only takes a few minutes after you arrive at the station. If you want to volunteer to record an ad to promote an event at the shop, add yourself to this list below and I'll let pick one at random when as they come up.

  • Alii
  • Omegix
  • Preaux
  • Shapr

Sponsorship Solicitation

We could put together a more elaborate package, a proposal document to ask for sponsorship from some of the companies here in Research Park. Imagine if we could get Mark Spencer to donate some money to the shop on a regular basis? Or maybe Boeing wants to hang a banner up in the shop when we do an Open House, but they give us a few hundred dollars to have it up there? A marketing package, sort of a big brochure, would be our pitch to ask companies and organizations if they could help with the shop. The cost to mail these out would be surprisingly cheap. This is how the political campaigns get their fund raising done, and the follow up rate is about 10%. For every hundred of these they mail out, they get about 10 responses and they start talking about money.

  • Increase public awareness with untargeted media coverage - basic fluff pieces from general news, helps to ensure that people in charge of donations from these groups have heard of us before we send them a solicitation
  • Copy of a shop newsletter? - merits its own project and wiki page
  • Donations on this scale are usually targeted, in the sense that we are asking for their money so we can (verb) - like a highschool sports team asking for money to buy new uniforms. We could be raising money for something specific, so the donators know what they're accomplishing when they give us a check.
    • Laser Cutter
    • Infra structure improvements
      • more shelving
      • improving our electrical setup
  • Solicitation package should contain
    • mission statement,
    • verification of our 501c3
    • brochure content
      • About Us
      • completed projects
      • group history
    • Published content from our blog

After we identify a foundation/charity/company to ask for a donation or grant, we can investigate and find out who specifically do we talk to about supporting Makers Local. Rather than simply send a generic first contact email to a bulk email address, we can message that specific person whose job it is to meet with organizations like us. This is the person to whom we issue press releases and invite to the shop before we send them the solicitation package.

  • Identifying this person - is there a general job title?

Grant Applications

Lots of charities, foundations, and large corporations have a system for giving organizations like Makers Local money. We could try to find them and fill out applications for their grant programs. Trevor is conducting research on this now, hopefully more updates soon.

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