An average ham might think, “Why should I be concerned about PR, when my club and the ARRL have people to handle that job?”
Too many people don't know that ham radio exists.
Many that do know, have misconceptions -
1. It's just another form of CB.
2. It'd just a bunch of old guys that spend all their time sending Morse Code to each other.
3. You have to be rich to afford #4.
4. You have to have a big tower and powerful radio to be a ham.
5. Need to know Morse Code.
6. Someone's ham radio interfered with someone else's electronics, so it creates problems.
7. Someone's tower disrupts the charm of my neighborhood.
Too many hams think that PR is nothing but recruiting new members for clubs.
Recruiting is actually the third highest priority of amateur radio PR. Sure, more club members mean more money in the club's treasury, and could mean more volunteers for club activities and public service events.
But remember, PR is PUBLIC Relations. Ham radio clubs recruit hams, not members of the general public. Two factors work against the recruiting of hams.
1. Some hams aren't interested in joining a club. They might have had a bad experience with a club in the past; they don't see how club membership could benefit them; or they don't consider the possibility of their club membership benefiting others.
2. Some hams don't make good club members. They could be incompetent, or a troublemaker, or they have a criminal record that disqualifies them from participating in club activities. I'm not meaning to be judgmental here, but clubs have liabilities they must consider.
So, a more important goal of ham radio PR is recruiting new people into the hobby.
But, because some members of the public have a negative view of of ham radio, the most important goal of ham radio PR is to recruit new friends and supporters. Even though they may never become new hams, we are better off having them for us than against us!
I heard a ham say years ago,”Everyone should become a ham!” That sounds good, but ham radio is not for everyone. Some don't have the interest or the personality to fit into ham radio. But everyone should know about ham radio, and how it benefits society.
Now, you might say, “That's good for the PR people to know, but how does that affect me?”
Even if you don't know it, or believe it, you do represent ham radio. If you are the only ham that an individual knows, you represent the hobby to THEM.
Sure, they could have read something about ham radio, or heard or seen a story about hams on TV or broadcast radio. But ham radio will remain just a concept to them until they meet or realize they already know a ham. Otherwise, they will not have any real idea of what ham radio is, or what it is about.
Now, consider this: Were you inspired to become a ham because you knew a ham? If not, you probably still know a ham who became one because he or she was inspired by a ham they knew.
PR is every ham's business.
Now, let's get down to the how-to's, what you need to know if you help out with ham radio PR displays and demonstrations. Also, please realize that some of these items apply when you are helping out with public service communications, because you are still representing ham radio to the public
1. Show up CLEAN and looking professional.
A couple of years ago, a volunteer showed up looking like he just finished working an overnight shift at a steel fabrication shop. We let him go out and work an assignment, and we probably shouldn't have.
Now, I don't blame him. Anyone who works overnight has my respect, because I used to work rotating shifts at a glass bottle plant. The problem is that the person who let him go out didn't consider how the public would see him as a representative of ham radio.
We should have obtained a t-shirt from the event organizers, given it to him, told him to go to wash up, put on the shirt and come back to for an assignment.
Here is a list of acceptable apparel (vests, hats, shirts, badges, etc) in descending order of priority:
ARES – These let the people know about the value of ham radio to society.
Local Club – lets people know you are not an outsider.
Other ham radio organizations – ARRL, QCWA, etc.
Other ham radio sources – Equipment manufacturers, magazines or websites – avoid shirts with “inside humor;” non-hams will not may not understand, or they might get the wrong impression.
Served organizations – Salvation Army, Red Cross, Emergency Management, etc.
Public service events, especially ones that say “Volunteer.”
General business casual wear.
2. Consider your audience.
This is also known as the first rule of writing. It applies here, because PR is a form of communications.
No one writes a children's book the same way they would write a doctoral thesis. Now, one person could write both a thesis and a children's book on the same subject, but the thesis will contain technical and specific terms, and the children's book will contain simpler words and shorter sentences.
So, when discussing ham radio with the public, avoid technical terms. If you have to use one, explain it. For example: A repeater is an automated booster station that receives a signal on one frequency and retransmitts on another frequency, at the same time, and it usually does so at a higher power and from a high location such as a tower or tall building.
Sometimes, we have to talk about storms. When doing so, DON'T SCARE THE CHILDREN! We don't want them thinking that we are scary people they want to avoid.
3. Take the initiative.
If someone is lingering around the display, but not saying anything, or taking any literature, ask them a question such as:
“What do you know about ham radio?”
“Do you have any questions about ham radio?”
This lets them know you are interested in them as an individual.
4. Gently and positively push the literature.
The literature might cover aspects of ham radio that you don't get to cover in your conversations with people, and it could “extend” your presentation of ham radio to a later time.
5. Stay humble.
As hams, we know how great the hobby is, and the great things we get to do. We can easily let this go to our heads.
Remember, the things we get to do on the air are privileges, not rights. Bad PR can lead to us losing some or all of our privileges.
Our goal is to promote through information, not argumentation.
6. Be polite.
When someone approaches the display, greet them. When they leave, thank them for their visit and/or their time.
Now a word about what to talk about when discussing ham radio with a non-ham. If you are talking with a person with a technical background, then technology is okay. Otherwise, talk about activities and people. Play up the capabilities of ham radio in emergencies and disasters.
In writing and speaking classes, the instructors will often say the best subject to talk about is the one you know best – yourself. Talk about your favorite ham radio activities. People will pick up on your enthusiasm, and even if they don't become enthusiastic about ham radio, they will at least gain a respect for it from you.
I'll close this out with a story from my own PR experience:
The petite brunette walked up to the TRO (Tulsa Repeater Organization) table at the 2015 Green County Hamfest when I was the only one sitting there. She said, “I don't know anything about ham radio. Why would I want one?”
Ask me a loaded question, and I'll give you a loaded answer. And I sure gave here a load of information!
I started with how hams can talk when the phones go down or get overloaded during emergencies and disasters. Then I said, “Beyond that, ham radio is one of the most varied and fun hobbies or pastimes anyone can participate in,” before going into the different aspects of ham radio. I talked about subjects hams will learn about while enjoying the hobby, and the things I have done and enjoy doing as a ham. I finished by bringing things full circle by telling how we use public service events to prepare for disasters because we often encounter the same kinds of operating conditions in both types of events.
She left with a handful of brochures, flyers, and a copy of the February issue of The Signal, the club newsletter.