Good information sharing and public relations help to turn a good, memorable tournament into a smooth, media-friendly tournament.
Newsletters and updates
Your first consideration prior to the Championships should be to maintain regular contact with all the participating countries. Back in 1988, communication was essentially by mail; in Canberra 1996 and Bermuda 1997, most communication was by fax; in Jerusalem 1998, fax was still dominant and the telephone was in constant use, but e-mail was just beginning to be used. Today e-mail of course is the norm – although surprising as it may seem, some countries may still prefer to receive information by fax or even by snail-mail. However, whatever distribution system you use, regular newsletters are essential. A preliminary newsletter, accompanied by as much background material as possible, should be available for distribution to all countries at the competition immediately preceding the one you intend to host. (See Bidding to host.)
The first "real" newsletter should be circulated about nine months before the competition, giving as many general details as possible - especially concerning costs, details of the venue and the dates, the timetable for registration, visa requirements if necessary, as well as some general background information on local tourist attractions, any special events planned, etc.
After that, there are usually two or three further newsletters. Typically, Newsletter 2 will go out 3-4 months before the competition, confirming final details, giving a tentative schedule, suggestions for travel (airlines, rail, etc.), and announcing the opening of registration if this has not yet been done.
The last newsletter should go out about one month before the competition with last minute details, a final schedule, list of participating countries, etc. It would be advisable to ask for confirmation (on e-mail, press the "confirmation of receipt" icon) that this has been received, so as to prevent last-minute complaints that some particular country never received the information.
In between newsletters, it's important to provide participants with updates and reminders of any important information. This might include reminders to register or pay, requests for people to choose their excursions in advance, or notices about accommodation availability before and after the official tournament period.
These days, it's highly likely that you will want a website for the tournament you are hosting, distinct from the official World Championships site at www.schoolsdebate.com.
You will want to launch your site at least 6 months before the event. Afterwards, it should be maintained at least until the next Championships, as this gives a sense of continuity between Championships, provides a source of detailed results, and enables you to offer even better value to your sponsors.
A well-designed website will serve three key functions:
- Providing information to participants
Although you will be distributing updates by e-mail too, you might save time and effort by making key information available on the website and simply e-mailing everyone to ask them to visit it. This also provides a handy boost to your website hits. Don't forget to make Word or PDF versions of your newsletters available, too.
- Marketing the tournament within your own country
The site will provide a good information source for media outlets, schools, educational bodies and others. If it is professionally designed, it will also boost the image of the event.
- Boosting sponsors' profile
As well as branding the whole site with the image of your title sponsor, you can also create a dedicated sponsors' page, with different levels of prominence given according to level of support.
The World Schools Debating Championships website acts as an archive of information for past tournaments. You are asked to send a copy of any documents or photos that you can by e-mail to the Executive Committee for inclusion on the website.
- Final results and tab from the Chief Ajudicator
- List of participants
- Information about your Organising Committee
- Information on Patrons and special events
- Final versions of newsletters
The World Schools Debating Championships has its own 'corporate' logo (see top left of this page), but in recent years most tournaments in recent years have devised their own additional logo. This will usually be something that evokes your country in some way (perhaps quite abstractly).
Clearly it is helpful to have a consistent image when marketing your event. Unless you have a gifted designer as part of your Organising Committee or volunteering team, you'll almost certainly need to use a professional designer. If you have a good marketing budget (or you can strike an in-kind sponsorship deal), you might choose a design firm which will do everything for you - logo, website, banners, programmes, newsletters etc. - so that you just have to provide the relevant text. But this isn't strictly necessary; what's important is that key public information (particularly the website and your souvenir tournament brochure) is presented well so as to enhance the professional image of the World Championships as a whole.
As part of such considerations, you might also want to produce the following:
- Letterheaded paper, printed with your logo and contact details - for all those letters seeking sponsorship, inviting VIPs to events, thanking supporters and so on.
- Banners and displays, which can be set out at events during the tournament (as well as being useful in airports and train stations, if you can get permission to put them up).
Maximising media interest
In general, the competition has suffered in the past for lack of publicity and public relations. Yet these things are essential not just for the competition itself, but in order to further the cause of debating in general, particularly in non-English speaking nations. Remember: for many countries the competition will also be a means to an end – the promotion of debating in general and English language debating in particular.
As noted in the section on Organising Committees, Public Relations Officer is the one position that might have to be filled by a paid professional. A volunteer is very unlikely to have the time needed, the skills necessary or, more importantly, the know-how and contacts to interest the written press, television and radio so that they cover the event seriously. Such a person needs to begin work about several weeks or even months before the tournament itself and for a week after it is over. This appointment cost $2,500 in Israel in 1998 and was worth every cent. The huge coverage in all the media resulted in substantial income for the Israel Debating Society when the competition was long over, from people who had read, saw or heard the various programmes. In any event, paid or unpaid, a staff member exclusively responsible for public relations, publicity and the press, is essential.
That said, if your budget really is very tight, and you are unable to appoint a professional PR person, here are some very basic rules of thumb:
- Ask the press departments of your sponsors to help out: after all, it's in their interests to maximise publicity.
- Make sure your website (see above) is error-free, is updated regularly and is easy to find via search engines.
- If a newspaper cannot send out a reporter/photographer, it might cover a story on the basis of a press release and a high-quality digital photo. With the exception of some local newspapers, you will probably need a photo taken by a professional.
- Newspapers need quotes, and that means you need to get debaters/judges/coaches to provide comments for inclusion in press releases.
- It's no use sending out press releases weeks before the Championships. You'll need to get talking to TV stations and newspapers before then, especially if your contacts are thin on the ground, but media outlets work on a very short time-scale and a press release sent a few days in advance is more likely to be picked up.
- Press releases are not newspaper articles. They should contain all the relevant facts about the Championships (or a particular event within it) without being flowery, excitable or excessively self-promoting.
- Try local newspapers and radio stations as well as regional/national outlets. If debates are taking place in a local school, they are very likely to cover it.