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Maintaining an active public relations program is the key to letting the community know about your Post’s service to veterans and your widespread support of the local area. By holding special events and presentations, and promoting these programs through the media, Posts of any size can build a positive reputation that shows why their Post is an important part of the community.
Here are a few ideas for putting the VFW mission of serving others into motion:
- Conduct public Memorial Day and Veterans Day programs
- Purchase holiday gifts for needy families
- Sponsor youth sports teams and Scouting troops
- Prepare a holiday meal for seniors
- Donate funds to a charity or food bank
- Visit local students to teach them about history and patriotism
- Donate new flags and offer to properly dispose of used flags
- Send packages to deployed troops, adopt your local military unit and hold parties to welcome them home
- Volunteer to help military families while their loved ones are deployed
- Distribute Buddy Poppies during special events or at retail locations
- Sponsor neighborhood beautification projects
- Offer to hold flag education seminars
- Recognize local veterans from all service eras
- Support victims of local disasters
Every issue of the Department’s newspaper showcases programs and events that posts use to support their communities.
Sharing Your Good News
Place public service announcements, news releases and advertisements in local media to promote your Post events. Contact the media a few weeks before the program to invite news coverage. Speak with the editor or local reporter at newspapers, assignment editors at television stations and news directors at radio stations. Be prepared to educate them about how your events benefit the public and veterans. The goal is to inform the media about ways your Post improves lives.
To help ensure accuracy, always give reporters a copy of the program agenda—including the spelling of all names—and any other information that helps them understand the program including speaker bios. Have a spokesperson available at all times during events. Post spokespersons should be experienced VFW leaders who refer to the VFW’s mission of “honoring the dead by service the living” in all interviews and can explain how the Post serves veterans, troops, military families and entire communities. Never refer to your Post as a club or bar; the VFW is a veterans service organization first and foremost, and does not exist just to be a drinking establishment.
As soon as the program ends, distribute a short news release that reports how the program benefited veterans and/or the community. Send good quality photos to newspapers along with a caption that identifies all persons shown.
How to Prepare a News Release
News releases should appear on Post letterhead, be straightforward and use layman’s terms to communicate your news. Give editors and news directors enough information to gauge newsworthiness plus information for contacting a Post spokesperson. Include all key details–who, what, when, where and why an event was held. Contact the Department’s Director of Communications/Public Affairs David Sandman if you need assistance with your media relations. Sample new releases can be emailed to you.
With today’s technology, it’s easy to capture good quality photographs suitable for use in the Department’s newspaper or to send to local media. Keep these tips in mind:
If you use digital equipment, choose the highest possible image quality setting. Test your camera to see how to produce an image file in the area of 500 kb or higher
- Always use a flash to brighten up indoor photos and fill in shadows outdoors.
- Use a fast enough shutter speed to “freeze” your subjects.
- Get as close as you can to your subject without cutting anyone off. If the “action” can be captured in a photo taken from the waist up, don’t include feet. For group shots, setting up two rows of chairs is better than taking a wide shot showing one row
- Always check your prints/digital files for sharp focus and good flash coverage
- Take a few more shots than what you think you need
- Never send a “one-of-a-kind” original photo through the mail.
Working with the Media
Whether you are inviting the media to a Post event or responding to an interview request, effective media relations requires providing editors/reporters the information they need, when they need it. If you are working with TV media, remember to provide a visual backdrop or unique scene to make their news footage attractive. Have a VFW logo and American flag are part of your event scene.
Contact the media at least two weeks in advance of an event. The more information you have, the more successful your pre-event publicity will be in attracting people and media coverage. Consider inviting a media representative to host the event, which will help generate coverage and public participation.
Use these tips to help your Post prepare for effective media coverage:
- Each year when a new commander takes over create a publicity committee
- Choose a Post spokesperson well versed about the VFW and its programs
- Inform all members that they should not speak for the Post when contacted by the media. All reporter calls should be directed to the spokesperson
- Have a brief history of the post available. Include an overview of the post’s community service and other details that show how the post benefits veterans and the community
- If you are unsure about how to comment on a breaking news story contact State HQ for guidance. Never provide off-the-cuff comments or information that should be “off the record.”
- Prior to an interview, identify main talking points that will give the post a positive image and stick to those speaking point. See the Media Kit section of this site for sample speaking points
- Remember that the primary purpose of communicating with the media should be to give the public a good impression of the post. Egos and/or personal conflicts should not get in the way
Nat’l VFW Department Resources
Posts can use many resources available through National HQ’s website to promote their programs and services. Visit www.vfw.org and log in using the Post Quartermaster’s information to get access to many VFW promotional tools.
VFW Accomplishments/Issue Priority List for Post Event Media Kits (see pages 137-145)