Contacts – in the end, they’re all there is. If Mae West had been a journalist, rather than saying ‘keeping a diary will keep you in the end’, I like to think she might have instead spoken about keeping a contacts book with the same reverence.
Any time spent on creating and building contacts is never wasted, which is why I’ve included it so early in the process. It also won’t stop here, this post is simply a process to get started.
So where to start?
Setting up a website or blog from scratch is just like starting a new beat as a reporter. You’re looking for contacts who know everything that’s going on in their field. Well-placed people. Some of those will be people who are paid to communicate with the public eg. Press and PR but many will be people who hold a position of authority, or have volunteered for a role and who don’t necessarily know about public participation. Your contact with them will need to be handled slightly differently to explain clearly the context of what you are trying to set up.
Begin by listing any personal contacts you have as these will always be the strongest ties – family and friends. Then start with the main institutions in your town. Here’s a fairly typical list I’ve started for my town:
Mayor and councillors
Council press office
Police, fire and ambulance press offices.
School principles and heads of governors
Leisure facilities – cinema, theatre, operatic society, sports centre
Museums – Green Howard’s , Richmondshire
Neighbourhood policing panels
Town council clerk
Local MP’s constituency office
Existing campaign groups – Friends of Richmond CCTV
Having identified some of the local structures, time to put some research into finding the people behind the organisations and starting to build that contacts book.
Back in the day this meant a succession of well-guarded index tabbed notebooks – these days it means a database.
Taking the time to set up a spreadsheet right at the start of the process means an invaluable resource that can be easily updated as you progress. If there’s a group of you working on a project, it also makes it easy to share resources too. One word of caution on that – do ensure you understand the implications of the Data Protection Act when dealing with any data which isn’t in the public domain.
Using excel, googledocs or similar, layout your new contents database with column headings something like this.
Organisation. Name. Email. Phone. Notes. First contacted. Response.
If there’s a group of you doing this, you’ll need a column for who is to make the 1st contact too.
The heading ‘notes’ is for anything useful to know about contacting the person eg.’ Don’t call on Thursdays as child-minding’ or ‘strict vegetarian’ if you’re likely to be arranging a venue to meet.
The column first contacted is for recording a date so you can easily set a date for follow up conversations to track without bombarding someone with annoying repeat information.
All set – time to hit the phones and introduce yourself. Far better in person or over the phone as these are people you need to build relationships with.
If you do find a need to email to many people, just remember not to reveal people’s email addresses to everyone else in the list (without their prior permission). Use the BCC field of email to keep those addresses private.
The next instalment in this series will be some ways to approach ‘competitors’.