HOW TO PUBLICIZE A CONVERSION TO JUDAISM CLASS
This article is intended to provide information on publicity for a conversion class aimed primarily or partially at potential converts to Judaism. The information is appropriate for conversion classes, Introduction to Judaism classes, and other similar programs, such as workshops or discussions on conversion to Judaism. Publicity starts with the designation of one person to be in charge of publicity for the class. This person can be a rabbi, executive director of a congregation, an outreach or education director, or an interested congregant. The publicity director's job is to coordinate all publicity efforts with the help of as many other volunteers as possible. Here is a sample publicity schedule that can be adapted to meet local needs. It will be useful to have a Publicity Notebook to keep track of all efforts.
Twelve Weeks Before the Class:
1. Gather Together All Pertinent Information About the Class.
All the basic information about the conversion class needs to be determined or decided. Such information includes, for example: (a) the nature of the course of study and the intended audience (for example, is it just for potential converts, or does it include or require the potential convert's romantic partner to attend? Is it available for born Jews? For anyone in the community?); (b) the location or locations of the class (for example in a Jewish congregation, Jewish Community Center, or some other similar institution); (c) the number of sessions and their dates and times; (d) the subject matter or curriculum, texts and other materials; (e) the instructors; (f) the cost and whether or not there are any scholarships available; (g) any special attractions about the course such as outside speakers or interesting hands-on experiences during the class; (h) the flexibility of the course, that is can a student who misses a class make it up? Can students begin at various times or must they start at the beginning of the course? Are tutors available in person, or through phone, fax, or e-mail?; and (i) a contact name, address, and phone number for those seeking additional information.
2. Develop Your Mailing and Contact List.
Publicity starts with good information about local media and other contacts. Draw up a mailing and contact list of all key local people such as rabbis, Jewish educators, and editors or religious writers in Jewish and secular local papers. Those secular local papers should include standard newspapers plus such publications as college newspapers, local shopping papers, publications aimed at parents of young children, city magazines and so on. In addition, the mailing list should include other local Jewish congregations within the movement of the congregation offering the conversion class, Jewish schools, including day schools, and organizations, such as Federations and Jewish Community Councils, Jewish Community Centers, local interested Jewish educational organizations, Hillels, kosher food establishments such as butcher shops, delicatessens, and bagel stores, mohelim, radio and television stations, local bureaus of wire services, weekly entertainment guides, libraries, museums, colleges, and other similar places. For each name or place on the list, have an address, telephone number, and contact person, if known. Canvassing people for media contacts can be especially useful.
3. Gather Information About Other Conversion Classes, Publicity, and Advertising.
All examples of successful programs can be helpful. Contact the appropriate movement in Judaism for suggestions. In addition, contact other congregations and institutions that have run conversion classes or Introduction to Judaism programs and ask for sample news releases, flyers, and any other publicity materials they can show you. This is a good time to ask if there are any people in the organization who have a publicity or advertising background. Read about publicity and advertising.
4. Formulate A Publicity Schedule and Budget.
The suggestions in this pamphlet can be done at no cost or extremely low cost. Leave as much lead time as possible for publicity. The schedule should include as many of the suggestions listed below as possible.
5. Check With Media and Organizations On Your Mailing List About Their Deadlines.
Make a list of all the deadlines on a master publicity calendar and plan to send materials to them before those dates. Ask appropriate congregations and organizations if they will distribute flyers announcing the course and if so plan to send them flyers as well.
Eight Weeks Before the Class:
6. Begin By Publicizing Within Your Congregation or Organization.
Prepare a brief notice for the bulletin. Send a flyer to people who took conversion classes and who might have friends who are interested and to all members, or selected members, such as parents of students in the congregational school. Obviously if there is an outreach coordinator or group in the congregation, they should be included in seeking publicity for the class. Put posters up on bulletin boards. If possible notices should appear in the bulletin several times as well as in any mid-month mailings.
7. Write a News Release:
When it comes to letting those outside your congregation or organization know about the class, the heart of free publicity is the news release. Here are the steps to writing a press release:
A. Gather together all the information about the class as discussed above.
B. Use either congregational or organizational letterhead stationery or take a white 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper and type the name and address of the sponsoring organization in the upper left corner.
C. Below the name and address of the sponsoring organization, type: For further information, contact: and give the director of publicity's name and phone number (either at the organization or at home, preferably both).
D. Below that, type, in capital letters, FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, which means the information can be printed or used immediately. If the information should be held for a specific date, type FOR RELEASE ON (date).
E. Next, in the center of the paper, capitalized, write a headline. Imagine your target audience reading a paper. Consider what would attract them.
F. Double-space your press release and use wide margins. Type it on one side of the page only, and limit the release to several paragraphs if possible. At most, the release should not be more than one page. If, for some reason, you must go on to another page, for example because you were asked to send a schedule of all classes, type -more- on the bottom of the first page and end the first page with a complete paragraph. The second page should contain an abbreviation of your headline and a numbering of the page. At the conclusion of the press release type "end."
G. Indent the first paragraph. Provide in this paragraph a summary of the basic information about the course. A second paragraph might include additional information, a quotation from, for example, a rabbi teaching the course, or other related materials. Make sure you include information about how those who are interested can get information about the class.
H. Once the news release is finished and polished, it should be shown to any appropriate rabbis, instructors, or committees for final approval.
8. Prepare Public Service Announcements (PSAs).
Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are timed messages for radio and television broadcast often made available for messages deemed to be in the public interest and provided by tax-exempt organizations. Some PSAs are videotaped or audiotaped, but these can be very expensive. One much easier approach is to provide a PSA script for announcers to read or put on the screen. There are several steps needed to preparing a good PSA: (1) listen to local radio and tv stations that provide PSAs to get a sense of their style and what they want; (2) call the station to get the name of the public affairs or public service director and what they require for a PSA, such as a copy of the 501 (c) (3) tax exempt certificate; (3) prepare four separate scripts for radio stations. These should be scripts for 10 seconds (10-15 words), 20 seconds (35-40 words), 30 seconds (55-65 words), and 60 seconds (120-125 words). The scripts should be sent in using this form: a headline in capital letters, the words "Public Service Announcement" on the next line, and the length of the script, such as :60 Radio for a sixty second radio spot, on the next line. This should be followed by the script all in capital letters and with ellipses (...) whenever there should be a pause. The language should be simple and direct. Always include a contact name and number. When you are finished, read the spot aloud and time it with a stopwatch. If the PSA is to be put on the screen of a cable station, you can use the format employed in the flyer described below.
9. Prepare Advertisements.
Paid advertising can also be very expensive. If your budget allows for it, keep these ideas in mind. One-shot ads rarely work. The principle of repetition is important in advertising, so that an effective advertising campaign is likely to be expensive. Quality is also crucial. If at all possible, ask someone with an advertising background or ask an ad agency to volunteer their efforts. In general, ads should have a strong headline. The most effective ads appear in the front section on the right-hand page and above the fold. Again, include a contact name, address, and phone number. Advertisements can be placed in a variety of publications. For example, if you have regular conversion classes, consider advertising in the local Yellow Pages. Ads for conversion to Judaism classes may qualify for a subsidy. The National Center to Encourage Judaism will provide subsidies for advertisements concerning such classes. The ads must be in the secular, non-Jewish press. The subsidy will provide half the cost of one or more ads, up to a total of $300 per year. A bonus will be given for particularly original and catchy ads. To apply for the subsidy, the congregation or organization sponsoring the conversion class needs to send a copy of the ad or ads, a receipt for payment, and a statement of how many converts the organization welcomed into Judaism during the previous year. For further information, call (301) 593-2319. All materials should be submitted to:
National Center to Encourage Judaism
Silver Spring, MD 20918
10. Prepare Brochures, Posters, Flyers, Letters to the Editor, and Op-Ed Articles.
There are other forms of writing that can be done for publicity. These include brochures, posters, flyers, letters to the editor, and op-ed articles.
A. Relatively cheap threefold pamphlets can be used to explain the conversion class. The benefit of pamphlets is that they can contain all the needed information, are easy to read, and can be folded and carried in a pocket, wallet, or purse. If a pamphlet is used, the cover headline should stand out. Some eye-catching visual design should be used on the cover.
B. All materials, especially posters, need to be proofread very carefully for mistakes. Obviously on the poster the message needs to be brief, direct, and attractively laid out. Volunteer professional help would be very useful.
C. Flyers should be eye-catching, with some key words at the top in large-print to attract readers. Flyers on different color paper can often be effective.
D. Almost all newspapers have a letters to the editor section. This section is one of the most popular with readers. Although not all letters are printed, brief and interesting letters often are. A letter about the conversion course as valuable for the community is appropriate.
E. Many newspapers set aside the page opposite the editorial page for opinion articles. An op-ed article about the course can be submitted. It will be especially valuable if it is written by a well-known member of the community.
11. Deliver Flyers and Pamphlets.
Deliver flyers and pamphlets to local Jewish institutions such as Jewish Community Centers, Ys, Jewish schools, and Jewish Community Councils as well as all organizations that agreed to distribute them. Deliver flyers and pamphlets to local colleges with Jewish-oriented courses, asking an instructor of such courses to announce the course and post the flyer. Also deliver flyers to appropriate public institutions such as libraries and museums and ask if the flyers can be put on bulletin boards and placed in public areas for distribution.
12. Put Posters Up.
Place posters in all stores and locations that allow you to do so. Use the list of stores compiled for your mailing and contact list. If posters are not available, flyers can be substituted.
13. Send News Releases and Flyers.
Send your news releases and flyers to your entire mailing and contact list. Although this may be very early for a newspaper, you will need enough lead time to attract students. The usual deadlines are 2-3 weeks for a story, 1 week for a news event, and 2 weeks for a calendar listing.
14. Contact Reporters for a Story.
Newspaper, radio, and television reporters can be called directly about a week after the news releases have been sent to them. If possible, contact the religion reporters at both Jewish and secular papers and suggest a story. If you don't know who covers religion, call the paper and ask. Be prepared to fax or re- send all materials after this follow-up. Radio interview over the telephone ("actualities") are effective, as are stories taped or recorded on location or in the studio. For radio and tv, contact the news director.
15. Contact Graduates of Conversion Classes.
If you have had previous Introduction to Judaism classes, contact graduates of those classes and ask if they know anyone interested in taking the course.
16. Send Op-Ed Pieces to Newspapers. These can appear as soon as 7- 10 days after being submitted if they selected for publication.
17. Send Public Service Announcements.
18. Place Advertisements.
Four Weeks Before the Course:
19. Send Out Speakers to Discuss the Class.
Speakers can volunteer to talk about the course at local Jewish congregations and organizations, public libraries, adult education classes, and so on.
20. Write Letters to the Editor.
21. Do Follow-Up Calls.
Do follow-up calls to publications, reporters and others on your mailing list. Especially try to get stories in local media.
Two Weeks Before the Course:
22. Ask those who sign up for the course if they know people who would like to learn about the course and send a flyer to them.
23. Call all those who inquired about the course but have not yet enrolled to determine if they wish to do so.
Taken together, all these activities will attract and retain an increasing number of students for the conversion to Judaism class.