Advocating Archives: Intro to Public Relations for Archivists


  • Archivists together with all professionals who work with several publics, establish their PR daily. Whether those relations are useful or harmful, sound or unsound, good or bad depends on how well the archivist understands the nature, purpose and pervasiveness of PR in an archival program.
  • The PR of an institution is no better than the quality of its management decisions and its service to the public.
  • Two publics and archives serves: (the two publics are interlocking and interchangeable)
  1. Researchers
  2. Donors, volunteers, staff, board etc
  • Elements of service
  1. The archivists professional stance
  2. Physical and psychological environment we provide the researcher
  3. Nature of the records as the public views them
  4. What research tells us about the users of records
  • Sensitivity to the needs of your publics must reach all levels of your organization and influence all decisions and policy.
  • In general it is a disservice to researchers and detrimental to your professional stance to provide information on demand rather than teaching the user how to find it. An archivists job is to make material as readily accessible to users as its contents and condition allow.
  • The archivist who views their central responsibility to be teaching the patron to function as efficiently and independently as possible leaves that patron with an impression of quality that reaches well beyond the door of the archives.
  • There is no archives so small or under staffed that time can not be spent on basic preservation techniques: flattening, refoldering, labeling, boxing and maintaining order. Probably no other basic archival function converges so visibly with good or bad PR. With out a basic preservation plan, the concept of archives PR becomes moot, since the holdings are unusable or about to become so.
  • Whatever the form you should have descriptions readily available to the researcher, physically situated where he/she can find and use them, interchangeably and intellectually constructed so that they suggest research strategies to the researcher, not simply provide a numbered list of boxes.
  • Four strategies of patron use of records
  1. discovery of records
  2. orientation to procedures at an archives
  3. searching the records for information
  4. applying the information to research

2) Money Talk

  • Institutions that successfully tap the generosity of American foundations, corporations and individuals are those that carefully identify these organizations, define their purpose, articulate it in a way that is meaningful to the donor and ask for support, often through personal solicitation.
  • Steps to implement fund raising
  1. conduct a through self assessment, including a mission statement and make an analysis of your strengths and weaknesses
  2. determine what you will do with the money you raise, from whom you will raise the money and how you will raise the money.
  • You must clearly articulate your mission for the public and then stress the importance and relevance of an archives to them before you ask for funds. Tell why the archives are important to them.
  • Shift into a positive attitude. Instead of discussing the institution’s weaknesses turn the discussion to the institutions NEEDS. So you are taking a positive approach instead of painting a picture of an ailing institution.
  • Case statement – states why the money is being raised. It is presented to perspective contributors to convince them that they should support the institution. Be sure that the brochure, pamphlet, etc shows you honestly and at your best, but is not so expensive looking people wonder about your fiscal responsibility.
  • Prospect identification and evaluation – figuring out who to ask and how much to ask for
  • Corporate giving (be sure they are potentially willing to give to your organization first)
  1. be sure to address your letter to the appropriate person – no generic letters
  2. follow up with a phone call – to make sure they got it and to answer any questions they might have
  3. schedule a meeting with them if appropriate
  • The path to foundation and corporate support
  1. do library research first (foundation directories etc)
  2. use directories of information
  3. obtain and submit application forms
  4. follow institutional guidelines
  • A solicitation is more likely to be successful if the person asking for funds combines the attributes of volunteer, contributor and peer.
  • Contents of a solicitation packet for a board members to use
  1. one page fact sheet on the archives and its programs
  2. the most recent annual report
  3. case statement
  4. brochures
  5. significant statistics about the program and its services
  • Ask for specific amounts, do your research and figure out how much you think the prospect can contribute.
  • ASAP after the donation express your thanks with a statement of the amount of the gift or a receipt.
  • Continue to cultivate donors with letters inviting them to continue their support, even people who say no should be cultivated unless they tell you not to come back.
  • Fund raisers – events are an inefficient way to raise money
  • Use events to raise your profile, give people a sense of your institution’s mission, garner new friends or as a thank you to major donors.
  • Fundraising consultants – they advise and train, they bring experience in fundraising, proven research methods, sound management theory, strategic planning skills and an adeptness at training and motivating volunteers and staff. The do NOT approach donors for funds.

3) In Print on Air – working with the media

  • Basic publicity activities must be considered core activities in any archives program, as important as processing a collection or appointing new personnel.
  • Basic publicity activities
    • The goals of any regular, basic publicity activity in an archives are to heighten awareness of the archive’s activities and increase public support in all its forms.
    • The most publicized activities in archives:
  1. the receipt of new accessions
  2. the opening or availability of collections
    • Additional activities that can be publicized
  1. new or changing personnel
  2. a grant award
  3. an exhibit opening
  4. scheduling of education programs
  5. plans for special events
  6. significant or nontraditional uses of records
  7. improved access to collections
  8. significant developments within the field
    • The basic formats for issuing information to the print and broadcast media are news releases and broadcast media releases.
    • Put the most important information first because editors start cutting stories down from the end and work their way up.
    • Generally speaking a news release is meant to provide filler (a short story for extra space in a publication). It should be kept to 250 worlds or one double spaced page. If there is a second page put “more” at the bottom of the page. Use the AP or NY times style guide for your press release format.
    • Radio and television releases are usually shorter. When you are sending tape include a copy of the script triple spaced with the letters in caps and wide margins. Indicate the contact person, phone number, number of words, tape length and release date with the tape.
    • If you want materials returned pick them up yourself or the station will toss it.
    • Ask stations for their publishing guidelines before you make your announcement.
    • Press kit – for use with reporters who show up unexpectedly or even for scheduled visits
    • In the kit have documents that provide information on:
  1. what the institution does
  2. who uses it
  3. what is currently happening
    • What specifically goes into a press kit portfolio:
  1. brochure
  2. sample clippings
  3. fact sheet stating collecting areas, size of the holdings, bulk dates, founding date, usership and products of use
  4. schedule of upcoming events
  5. photos of archives – 8 X 10 B&W glossy
  6. business card
  • Whom should I contact?
    • Direct your release to a person, either the news editor (print) or news director (broadcast). Mail the release at least 15 days in advance of their deadline but research the deadlines for each entity you wish to send your release to, they will all be different.
    • Send a thank you note to the editor when your piece has run.
    • Issuing press kits – send out press kits to the local media with a cover letter explaining why you issued it (updating info etc) and who to contact for more information. Then the media can file the information and call you for updates on slow news days.
    • Preparing for an interview:
  1. assume no one knows what an archives is – have a few sentences ready to explain
  2. expect to have less time than you wanted
  3. be yourself – do not pretend to be an expert if you are not
  4. wear comfortable clothing
  5. request a tour
  6. know the format – solo interview or panel discussion and approximate time
  7. take a friend
    • Press conferences:
  1. only call a press conference for important topics
  2. pick out a place that shows your institution favorable
  3. have plenty of electricity available and know where your plugs are
  4. send out a teaser fact sheet to get reporters in
  5. have objects/photos ready for safe handling – put them in sleeves with the box up front for easy access.

4) Marketing ideas for the expansionist archives

  • Marketing techniques for archives
  1. publications
  2. exhibitions
  3. AV productions
  4. PR activities
  • Publications
    • Almost every archives produces both formal and informal publications as part of its regular outreach efforts. These printed pieces inform the institution’s public about its holdings and stimulate use of its collections and should simultaneously generate fiscal, moral and political support for its programs.
    • The most common/important publication is the brochure or flyer. A basic brochure emphasizes the mission of the institution and describes in broad outline the jewels of the collection. It might also include information on available finding aids, conditions of access, research services, hours of operation, address, phone number and other pertinent data.
  • Exhibitions
    • Exhibitions offer extraordinary potential for outreach in a society attuned to receiving messages in short visual bursts.
  • Programs
    • Two popular platforms for creating programs are family genealogy and preserving personal documents

5) Anniversaries – framework for planning public programs

  • Improve your public services and PR by anticipating and planning your events.
  • You can not only celebrate anniversaries but also contribute to other celebrations like Black History Month or Women’s History Month etc. Be sure to choose a celebration that fits your collection. With these celebrations you build on an existing level of interest rather than build something from scratch.
  • Planning for an event – needs and factors you should consider
  1. focus or theme you want to emphasize
  2. the audience that may be involved
  3. staff requirements
  4. technical needs (meeting rooms, AV equipment)
  5. financial support necessary to undertake an event
  6. publicity requirements
  7. evaluation procedures
  • The amount of lead time allotted by a committee to any anniversary activity is inversely proportional to the complexity of the event.
  • Planning tips:
  1. Set priorities
  2. Investigate resources at your disposal
    1. Finance
    2. Human resources – staff, volunteers, tech support, catering etc
    3. Archival resources – holdings, archives as a meeting place, hobbies and talents of the staff
    4. Community resources – historical society, boy scouts, etc
  3. Investigate possible program offerings and then prioritize
  4. Coordinate fund raising activities
  5. Develop a time-line
  • Establish procedures on paper that will help administer the activities you have chose, especially budget and expenses.
  • Planning tips
  1. Keep programs in mind and pick one for the climax event
  2. Be pragmatic – a centennial is the perfect time to get rid of left over 75th anniversary history books
  3. Mail out invites eight weeks prior to the date
  4. Phase mailings and publicity – 4-6 weeks, 2 weeks and 1 week
  5. Budget – think of expenses for everything
  6. When ordering services don’t forget to ask for deadlines and lead time amount needed for the service
  7. Find out deadlines for media and the information formats they want

6) Volunteers & Friends – Recruitment, management and satisfaction

  • Setting up a volunteer program
    • True value (for a program) comes with first assessing the needs of the repository and then deciding if volunteers can supplement the work of the staff. The first question for the archivist to ask is whether volunteers can help reach the goals and fulfill the mission of the repository.
    • Starting a program
  1. brainstorm with the staff to figure out how to use the volunteers and what they can do
  2. create job assignments
  3. consider the staff reaction to the use of volunteers
  4. understand that volunteers are not “free” help – you must be willing to train, supervise and reward volunteers
  5. seek the support of top management
    • Planning for a volunteer program:
  1. Choose a volunteer coordinator – they recruit, interview and select volunteers. They also handle scheduling, record keeping, program evaluation and rewarding volunteers for their service. They orient volunteers to the repository and train them.
  2. Create a workspace – give volunteers their own workspace just like staff. Also try to put volunteers near people or schedule two to work together so they are not alone.
  3. Insuring security – supervise volunteers working in the collections and with valuable items and carefully screen volunteers.
  4. Liability – investigate accident and liability insurance.
  • Recruitment
    • You do NOT have to accept every person who offers to volunteer. Make sure they are suitable to the job and repository. Have them fill out an application.
  • Application for volunteer service
    • Make a call for volunteers and have an orientation session describing the institution, jobs available, hours available and then invite people to fill out an application.
    • Application form – gives you information about the knowledge, skills, interests and availability of the volunteer as well as their contact information and emergency contact info.
    • Keep applications in case a future project becomes available for someone interested and indicate clearly on the application those who are not suitable for service.
  • Interviewing the volunteer
    • Ask general questions – what type of work do you like. Do you prefer to work alone or in a group etc so you can match the person with the right job. Have job descriptions available. Discuss the jobs available, hours needed and policies and rules they must follow as well as volunteer benefits.
    • Call or write the person a few days after the interview and notify in writing those who are rejected permanently.
  • Training
    • Job description:
  1. Define what qualifications and skills are needed
  2. Time requirements of the job – can you do the job three hours a week without having to be retrained each week, or does it need a longer commitment
  3. Scheduling requirements
  4. Can the volunteer set their own work pace
  5. Is errorless performance necessary
  6. What decisions must the volunteer make to do the job
  7. Make sure the job is worthwhile and not just busywork
    • Orientation
  1. History of repository
  2. Kinds of material collected, sources and subjects covered
  3. The repository’s place in the parent institution
  4. Its allocation of sources and funding
  5. Nature of the repository’s clientele
  6. The organization and work of each section
  7. The numbers and responsibility of staff and the line of supervision
  8. The contribution that volunteers make to the institution
  9. Description of the work rules
    1. What kind of training they will receive
    2. How they can change jobs
    3. How volunteer-staff problems are resolved
    4. What to do if you cant come in? – do they need to find replacement, call?
    5. Rules for security and parking
    6. Recordkeeping – sign in and out
    7. Phone number where the volunteer can be reached while working and rules for using the phone
    8. With whom the volunteers will work.
    • Volunteer manual – tells about the rules of the repository and about the repository (brochures etc).
  • Training
    • Have written instructions and frequently check their work for errors at first.
  • Dismissing a volunteer
    • Try to mediate the situation first. Switch jobs and give them more training etc. If necessary you can fire them (with tact). Use the same procedures you would with firing an employee, document!

7) Trouble shooting

  • The essence of trouble shooting is planning. Good planning consists of two broad categories: avoiding problems by anticipating them and handling them well when they occur.

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