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How One Lodge Turned its Public Event into Front-Page News
An abandoned pyramid, a spooky cemetery, and 100 years of history are a pretty great place to start when it comes to drumming up media interest. But for the members of King David’s Lodge No. 209 in San Luis Obispo, having an amazing story to tell was only part of what went into a killer PR campaign. The real secret was thorough planning.
For lodges struggling to stir up interest from the local community in their public events, King David’s thoughtful approach leading up to a major public ceremony offers some key lessons that others can learn from. “It’s all about creating a relationship,” says Robert Sachs, past master of the lodge. “To get really good media coverage for your lodge, you need to do more than send one-off press releases to a single media outlet.”
Together with a core group of King David members, Sachs led a terrific multimedia publicity campaign last year that led to unprecedented turnout, increased media exposure for the lodge, and commendations from local community groups.
An Event a Century in the Making
This story begins more than 100 years ago with Frederick Adolphus Dorn, a prominent citizen in San Luis Obispo and the lodge’s master. Dorn’s wife and infant child had died unexpectedly, and in mourning, he commissioned the construction of a large granite pyramid to hold their mortal remains, to be situated prominently in the town cemetery. Further, he ordered that the door to the mausoleum remain open until the day he himself would be laid to rest with his family. His grand gesture proved not to be quite as final as it seemed, however, and within a few years Dorn had relocated to Northern California and started a new family. By the time, years later, that he finally passed away, his remaining children buried him in the Bay Area, hundreds of miles from the pyramid shrine. Ever since, “The pyramid has always held an air of mystery,” Sachs says. “People have written about it and it’s appeared in newspaper articles over the years.”
A few years ago, the lodge began making preparations to finally seal the mausoleum. When Sachs became senior warden in 2017, he headed the planning committee dedicated to the project. Over the years, the lodge had built up a robust marketing program, which included an up-to-date website, active social media accounts, and contacts with local radio and television stations. They brought all these resources to bear in the lead-up to the actual ceremony. It helped that the lodge had kept templates for media releases and a long distribution list of outlets to send them to.
But that wasn’t all: According to George Brown, the lodge’s longtime secretary and a member of the planning committee, keeping the lines of communication open within the lodge was just as important. Brown, a retired public information officer for the fire department, was adept at keeping everyone in the planning committee in the communications loop, so each member knew exactly what was going on as the project progressed. By remaining so organized, the committee was able to take a complicated task—drumming up interest in the sealing ceremony—and break it into manageable chunks. One member was in charge of the social media accounts; another was charged with keeping the website up to date; and so on. Each person followed a calendar with scheduled deadlines and periodic updates.
Sachs served as the public face of the ceremony. He appeared on local radio to talk about the event and the history of the pyramid, and coordinated with other community groups and stakeholders. “Beyond the media, it was important for us to get buy-in from other groups, including the local historical society, the City of San Luis Obispo, and the Dorn descendants themselves,” Sachs explains. That bridge-building paid dividends. Before the ceremony even took place, the lodge’s efforts were recognized with a preservation award from the San Luis Obispo Historical Society, and the mayor and district attorney publicly acknowledged the lodge’s good work.
When the day of the sealing ceremony finally arrived, the success of the venture was practically a foregone conclusion. More than one year of planning and strategic marketing had seen to that. More than 250 guests attended the ceremony, and another 200 came to the lodge building later that afternoon for an open house. In recognition of their efforts, Grand Lodge awarded King David’s Lodge the 2018 award for Best Advertisement/Marketing Materials for a Lodge Event.
How to Win Friends and Influence the Media
No two outreach campaigns are quite the same—the nature of your event, the makeup of the local media landscape, and the character of the lodge all factor into the plan. Regardless, here are some tips for maximizing exposure to your lodge event.
- Follow up with people. Sometimes it isn’t enough to simply send one email with a press release and call it a day. Reporters get a lot of press releases. If you see that a particular newspaper hasn’t run your release yet, pick up the phone and call them.
- Newspapers run on tight deadlines, so be sure to learn these deadlines. If a newspaper has to have all content finalized on Friday for it to appear in Tuesday’s issue, be sure to get the press release to the editor on time.
- Remember that editors and reporters are people, too. So follow up, but don’t hound them. As Sachs said, it’s all about creating a relationship.
- For a useful press release template, visit the Grand Lodge website.
- For an alternative template, take a look at this one provided courtesy of King David’s Lodge No. 209.
- Throw social events. Check out this simple (and fun) approach to holding lodge parties, fundraisers, and prospects’ nights.
- Get schooled. Masonic education programs create opportunities for research and discussion, and events often draw a crowd. The Grand Lodge website offers lots of videos and articles on Masonic education, all free.
- Ask the question. Follow up with members to see if they’re getting what they want out of Masonry. What kinds of activities would help deepen their involvement? Then call for volunteers to lead planning.
- Assign jobs. People like to feel helpful. Even if a member isn’t inclined to attend stated meetings, he may be willing to join a committee or contribute from home on a project.
- Assign ritual responsibilities. Give new members, even Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts, the chance to learn and deliver ritual charges.
Think Outside the Newspaper
- Think beyond newspapers. Most communities have other printed magazines, newsletters, or flyers that are distributed at community centers, grocery stores, and local libraries. If you want to place an advertisement in one of these, you have to plan well in advance. Magazines often finalize their content months in advance of publication.
- Go beyond print outlets, too: Websites that cover local news or issues related to your event would probably love to hear from you. And local radio stations are a great source of information for lots of people, even if the medium isn’t what it once was. Research your area to see if an advertisement spot on a radio station is right for your lodge.
- The same goes for local television stations. These stations are usually starved for content and might be more willing to work with you to get your message out than a busy newspaper.
- Although you can do a lot of advertising for free, consider budgeting for paid advertisements for your most important special events. Even if you create a great relationship with your local newspaper or radio station, these enterprises ultimately run on paid advertisements, so their goodwill can only stretch so far.
Digital Media: Website and Social Media
- Your website is the digital front door for your lodge, so at the minimum, your website should be three things: inviting, informative, and current.
- Use your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds to share current events and news about your lodge. Facebook code can now be easily embedded into your website, and it stays updated as you update your Facebook. Include community partnerships, signature events, and projects like scholarships or fundraisers there.
- Create a Facebook Event page for your events. This page allows people to RSVP to your event and gives you the tools to track the reach of your advertisement—that is to say, how many people who see your event page.
- Visit the Grand Lodge website for find more useful tips on managing your lodge’s social media accounts.
Has your lodge had a great communications or PR campaign this past year? If so, submit your good work into the Communications Awards. Winners will be announced at the Grand Master’s Banquet at Annual Communication. Learn More
Your August Checklist
Stay on track of lodge business and prepare for important deadlines. Here’s your August checklist.
- Make plans for your lodge master, wardens, or other representatives to attend the Annual Communication this October.
Senior Warden, along with Executive Committee
- Identify and approach members for 2020 open elected and appointed officer positions.
- Urge presumptive master, wardens, and senior deacon to perform their Master Mason’s proficiency soon, if not already completed.
- Urge respective officers to answer the master, senior warden, and junior warden questions early.
- Identify and approach members for the 2020 Audit, Membership Retention, and any other committees.
- Set calendar for 2020 and identify event leaders.
- Continue preparing 2020 budget.
- Set installation date and approach installing officer, master of ceremonies, and chaplain.
- Review all candidates’ progress toward advancement.
- Continue tracking 100% officer giving to the Annual Fund, with officers setting an example through gifts that represent their capability as well as their commitment to our charitable programs.
- Pay lodge per capita.
- Present semi-annual report of membership activity.
- Pay lodge per capita.
- Present semi-annual financial report.
- Present semi-annual report.
Questions? Contact Member Services at email@example.com or (415) 776-7000.
Question of the Month
Last month we asked how your lodge defines it unique culture and how that is emphasized through activities and events. Of those that responded:
- 50% - Through our Rituals and Stated Meetings
- 50% - Through out of Lodge Activities Between Members
- 29% - Through our Stated Meeting Dinners
- 43% - Other Answers (Community events, Past Master's Roast; Fellowship before and after most meetings, Saturday Masonic Education and coaching sessions.)