Promote and Market Your Genealogy Society

February 2010

By Daniel Horowitz (IAJGS board member/IGS webmaster) and Schelly Talalay Dardashti (journalist/blogger)
Additional contributions by Max Heffler (JGSGH), Jacqueline Fineblit (JGSPBCI), Jan Meisels Allen (JGSCV), Merle Kastner (JGS Montreal) and Naomi Johnson (JGS Colorado)


Societies can advertise their activities in many ways, as this article demonstrates.

Promoting and marketing your society sends a strong message to others in your community. These are people who may not know there is a society, have never considered genealogy as an interest, and who may be considered potential society members.

The society must have either an individual or a committee responsible for Marketing and Public Relations. A detailed contacts database is essential, including print and other media contacts, synagogues, schools and other Jewish community institutions.

“Ten years ago, when the current public relations director of the JGS of Palm Beach County Inc. (JGSPBCI) volunteered to handle publicity for the society, there was no established precedent for disseminating information to the general public or the membership. Today, the society, through the remarkable efforts of a dedicated committee, has put in motion a complete plan for submitting program notices, special events and monthly meeting information to both members and the public. Almost everything is transmitted electronically via computers and the internet.”

Among the responsibilities of these individuals is preparing articles – gathering information, writing, and mailing the notices. The articles must utilize good journalism standards and meet requirements established by the local press — including deadlines, usage, content and style. They are unelaborated, third person descriptions of the five “Ws”- who, what, where, when and why.

All publications should be proofread by TWO copyreaders for accuracy, grammar, punctuation, additions or corrections. All communications must be sent in a formatted page, with society logo, name, address, website address and phone/email contact information of the society, at least two weeks before the event. You need to understand that some media have varying deadlines (due to publication schedules). A short email remainder a few days prior to the event is always helpful.

Here are different ways in which you can market your society using varied techniques. Find some links to examples of other societies:

1. Brochures: A two-side tri-folded letter-size sheet. Include basic info about the society, membership benefits, activities, projects, meetings and contact information. If possible, reserve one panel for a registration form to encourage membership among those who read it. An example is the Chula Vista Genealogy Society printable version of its brochure and membership application form http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~cacvgs2/Forms/cvgs_brochure.pdf

2. Posters: Even children can make posters. What a wonderful idea! Why not organize a contest among Jewish school kids? Your society could always ask a talented member to make a few to promote a particular meeting or the society itself. Place posters in Jewish schools, synagogues, public libraries, Jewish community centers and Federation buildings, Jewish restaurants and establishments, local senior centers, Hadassah, Wizo, B’nai Brith, local Family History Centers, local historical societies and non-Jewish genealogy societies. The more widely disseminated the better. You never know who might see your poster.

3. Local Newspapers and Magazines: Jewish or not, many local newspapers have a calendar column and will publicize area events. Many papers also have websites with the same information. Cities often have many free weekly neighborhood papers.

4. Message boards

5. Electronic Mailing Lists: There are many Internet-based groups that will accept your event notice. Some require subscriptions, such as Yahoo (http://groups.yahoo.com) and Google (http://groups.google.com), two of the most popular groups.

Each society should have a database of members and interested non-members (those who have attended a meeting, shown an interest or receive society newsletters). A society can pick up some members each year from this prospect list. Some societies drop the non-member from the list. However, the society may lose them forever if the drop the person. Perhaps the person isn’t ready to get involved, but might be interested later.

For the JGSPBCI and many other groups, this list has proven to be one of the best methods of increasing meeting attendance. Two weeks prior to a meeting or special event, members and others receive a full program description with a follow-up notice sent one week later.

The PR person or committee should maintain a separate media contact database for local daily, weekly, monthly publications and media outlets (Jewish and general). This database must be constantly reviewed and updated to keep track of all print/electronic media willing to publish society announcements. Necessary data fields: publication name, publisher, addresses, phone numbers, specific individuals (reporters/editors) and their responsibilities (religion, events, education, features, news, etc.), and emails. Contact specific journalists and writers separately depending on the subject (Jewish or more general). Given the current economy and closure of print publications, this list changes rapidly.

Depending on the focus of a particular program/material, consider contacting organizations, genealogical or historical societies catering to other ethnic, cultural or geographic topics (such as Germany, Russia, Sweden, Poland, etc.).

6. Blogs: Like websites but more interactive, easy to maintain and frequently updated. The main Jewish ones today are Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish Genealogy Blog (http://tracingthetribe.blogspot.com), authored by journalist Schelly Talalay Dardashti and JewishGen blog (http://jewishgen.blogspot.com) maintained by a group of collaborators.

Other general blogs with calendar events are:

7. Websites: Almost every society has a website to publicize activities, projects, members and benefits. A society does not need to spend a lot of money or have major programming experience. Places like Google (http://sites.google.com) offer easy and free ways to create websites. See a complete list of JGSs websites on the IAJGS members’ page (http://www.iajgs.org/members/members.html) [updated 2016]

8. Postal Service: Snail-mail is still useful to communicate information. Computer written/photocopied short paragraphs or periodic newsletters are snail-mailed to a handful of newspaper, radio personalities and society members without email access. If possible, personalized letters to “personalities” sometimes works wonders.

9. Telephone: A JGSPBCI telephone squad contacts those few members with out internet service. Old-fashioned, but 100% effective.

10. Newsletters: This publication promotes all meetings and events, and may include interesting news about the genealogy world or members’ research. Many societies offer a newsletter as a membership benefit and reprint articles from other newsletters and publications. Remember to always obtain the original publication’s permission to reprint and credit that publication properly (name and date of issue) when reprinting.

11. Local TV cable station and community channel: Send at least three weeks in advance, and add a copy of the society’s 501-C3 to prove its non-profit status, otherwise the item will not be posted.

12. Radio: Are you having an international or “big name” speaker who attracts wide attention? Ask your local radio station to interview him or her. They frequently look for subjects to interview for call-in noontime or evening rush-hour shows. Sometimes, the station may air an interview several times before a special event. Click here to listen to Daniel Horowitz’s interview experience, thanks to the Blair County Genealogical Society (http://www.microtarget.com/bmr/WRTA630am.mp3, http://www.microtarget.com/bmr/WRTA730am.mp3 and http://www.microtarget.com/bmr/WRTA830am.mp3)

13. Social Networks: Facebook (http://www.facebook.com), Twitter (http://twitter.com), Ning (http://www.ning.com), GenealogyWise (http://www.genealogywise.com) and other social networks offer an easy way to publicize activities and research projects. You don’t need to spend a lot of time feeding these sites with information; many will allow the use of RSS* tools. Access Facebook pages for JGS’s from the IAJGS members’ page, (http://www.iajgs.org/members/members.html) [URL updated 2016]

* RSS: Really Simple Syndication, is a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works-such as blog entries, news headlines, audio, and video-in a standardized format.

14. IAJGS Calendar of Events: Every society’s program person has access to post their meetings in the IAJGS Calendar (http://www.iajgs.org/members/calendar.html) visited by people from around the world. Traveling Jewish genealogists like to know about a meeting in a place they will be visiting. [URL updated 2016]

15. Genealogy Events: Distribute society flyers and old newsletters at many events.

16. More good ideas: The JGS of Colorado produced bookmarks with the year’s events included and distribute them at each of their events.

Final considerations:

Ask all contacted organizations to share upcoming meeting news with their own members in their e-mail mailing or newsletter. Ask your members to help distribute posters, flyers or newsletters to other organizations to which they belong. Your meeting venue (libraries, synagogues, etc.) is a good place to start.

To insure continuity, at least two committee members should be available to step in if the publicity director is unavailable. Committee members should have back-up copies of mailing lists and databases and be prepared, if necessary, to write and/or e-mail notifications or use on-line services like Google documents (http://docs.google.com) for electronic collaboration.

For the past 10 years, the JGSPBCI archivist has kept a record of all newspaper clippings, meeting notice computer printouts and society press releases. It’s also good practice to keep a record of items printed by the press.

International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies