Web Site Development
A well-designed Web site is a powerful tool for communicating ideas, sharing information, and promoting an organization. Yet developing and maintaining such a site can seem a daunting task. The jargon can be confusing, the options overwhelming.
The first step is to come up with a name for the Web site – referred to as a domain name or Web address. The name should be connected clearly to the LSA. Sites like Register.com, Network Solutions, Verio, aplus.net, and HTML.com allow you to determine the availability of a domain name and will walk you through the registration process. Costs range from $19 to $40 a year.
Plan Your Site
Good planning is crucial to the site’s success. These are some of the steps to include in the planning process.
- Seek assistance of those within your organization who have Web experience. If you have the funds, consider contracting a professional Web designer to help with the initial set-up of the site.
- Outline the development process. How will decisions get made? Who will have input? Whether you have one person or a team guiding the project, make sure the process is clear.
- Develop a budget for the site. Registration, hosting, and consultant fees are just a few of the expenses associated with Web site development. Final costs will vary but it is wise to consider and keep track of them at the start of the planning process.
- Conceptualize the design and content. Effective Web sites are tools; they fulfill an integral role in an organization’s communication and outreach activities.
Contract With a Web Server Company to Host Your Site
To be accessible on the Web, the site needs to reside on a server with a high-speed connection to the Internet. Most organizations pay a monthly fee to rent space on the servers of a Web hosting company. Hosting companies offer an array of plans, including various configurations of essential services along with lots of bells and whistles.
You may be limited to the number of pages or amount of memory you can use on the server. Consider the services you really need. If you are going to manage the Web site yourself, you will want the host to provide an FTP (file transfer protocol) site so you can easily update and manage it. Most organizations can meet their needs with a hosting package under $30 a month (there may also be a setup fee, which should be under $50). Your Web site developer may be able to suggest a trusted hosting server.
Manage the Site
Maintaining the Web site is just as important as building it in the first place. New information will always be waiting to be uploaded, old information will need to be updated, and users will provide suggestions that need to be incorporated. Make a commitment to keeping the Web site up-to-date.
Whether you pay a developer to maintain the site or it is maintained in-house, it is important to quality control the site. It is a big mistake to put up a Web site and never use it. You are trying to communicate through the Web site, so make sure it’s saying what you want it to say. Here are some tips to making sure the Web site is fresh, functional, and fulfilling:
- View the Web page with different browsers, e.g. Microsoft Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator. These are the two most common browsers and cover most Web users. Each browser outputs the code differently. Sometimes a Web site looks great in one version but not another. The Web developer should fix any of those problems.
- Whenever additions or changes to the Web site are made, test it thoroughly and proof it carefully to make sure there are no errors.
- Check every link on the Web site at least once a month. Often, pages get moved, links are broken, and outside Web sites change domains. Make sure the links are sending visitors to intended pages.
- If the Web site is used to provide information, make additions to the Web site as soon as there is new material. If visitors see new information on a regular basis, they will come back to see what is new.
Getting a site on the Web is an achievement, but it doesn’t count for much if no one sees the site. Bring traffic to the site by marketing it to your key audiences.
- Contact other organizations that have Web sites and see if they will link the site to theirs.
- Place the Web address on any material your organization develops.
- Solicit feedback from Web visitors to improve the site and make it more effective.
- Adapted from Building an Effective Web Site: A Guide for Nonprofit Organizations by Adam Shannon, Oxygen Communications.
The Nuts & Bolts of Web Site Design
Plans for developing the LSA Web site are progressing nicely. Targeted audiences have been identified and a list of documents to post has been created. The domain name is registered and a server to host the site has been determined. A marketing plan and a plan for updating the site when new material is available also have been developed.
Now it is time to actually create the site—to get to the nuts and bolts of designing a Web site. Not too long ago, creating a Web site meant one thing—writing code in Hypertext Markup Language or HTML. Now there are many ways to create a Web page. These are some options to consider.
Hypertext Markup Language is the common language of the Internet. All pages on the Internet are based on it. This system uses programming codes like around text or an image to instruct a Web browser (such as Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator) how to format a document.
The advantage of HTML is it requires no expensive software programs. Simply type the code into a word processing program like Microsoft Word, save it as an HTML document, and then open it through the Web browser. The disadvantage is learning to write HTML code can be a long, steep learning curve, particularly when developing a more sophisticated presentation.
Fortunately, there are a number of sites that can help. For the serious student, Webmonkey offers an excellent set of free online tutorials and resources for the beginning Web author. Other worthwhile sites are Homebuilder.com, the Web Design Workgroup, and HTML Goodies.
HTML is for those who have a tight budget, plenty of time, a basic Web design in mind, and a knack for learning technical computer coding. If not, consider some of the other options.
Online Web Design
Another option for developing the site is using an online program that provides templates that can be customized. Offerings differ from provider to provider, but generally, these sites advertise simple “point and click” designing, professionally designed templates, one stop shopping for domain names and hosting, and technical support.
Some examples are Tripod.com, Yahoo’s GeoCities, and Network Solutions. Costs range from $5 to $30 a month. Be aware that the lower range limits the possibilities (i.e. only 5 Web pages for the site).
Developing a Web site with an online program can be as simple as writing e-mail. It can also be very restricting in terms of what, how much, and the design of the pages. However, these online programs might just right for those who are not technically inclined, have little time and a bit more money, and are looking for a very basic Web site.
What You See Is What You Get
Software that enables Web site creation without needing to learn HTML code is called a WYSIWYG (pronounced wizzy-wig) program. The name is an acronym for “what you see is what you get” because unlike a text editor such as Notepad, these programs display text and images pretty much as the Web browser will present them. WYSIWYG programs allow users to drag and drop images and text onto a blank canvas while it quietly composes the HTML code underneath.
Dreamweaver, Frontpage, and Print Shop® Deluxe are among the better-known WYSIWYG programs on the market now. Ranging in cost from $50 to $300, the programs include tutorials, templates, and loads of clip art allowing beginning and intermediate users to simply and quickly create relatively sophisticated site.
Those with a budget and a short timeline should consider a WYSIWYG program for designing their Web site. Spend some time reviewing the offerings before buying. It will be time well spent. Also make sure the Web server can support everything the site needs to do.
Promoting Contract Surety: How SIO Can Help
The most time-consuming component of any marketing strategy is developing the message and the materials. SIO offers a wealth of resources to help LSAs reach a variety of targeted audiences and can provide assistance with private construction project owner outreach, writing articles, developing presentations, or increasing the LSA’s exposure at exhibitions and trade shows.
SIO provides information and resources for specific targeted audiences:
Here are ways SIO is prepared to assist LSAs:
PowerPoint® Presentations – In today’s business world, PowerPoint® is the preferred visual aid. SIO offers PowerPoint® presentations with speaking notes that can be downloaded from its Web site. Be sure to distribute to attendees.
Article Placement – By maintaining relationships with several editors or various publications whose audience needs to know about contract surety bonds, SIO continues to place articles that educate readers on the value and importance of surety bonds in construction. SIO writes articles for Construction Executive, Engineering News-Record (ENR), and many other publications. SIO also uses its contacts to place articles written by NASBP and SFAA members. For help with an article, contact SIO.
Prestigious Awards Program – If an LSA hasn’t won an SIO Award for Excellence in Surety Bond Promotion, associations either aren’t actively promoting surety bonds or members aren’t being recognized for their efforts. SIO presents these awards to recognize LSAs, NASBP members, and SFAA members who have taken special initiatives to promote contract surety bonds. SIO’s prestigious Tiger Trust recognizes NASBP and SFAA members who have persuaded a private construction owner or lender to require surety bonds on a project.
Electronic Newsletters – The LSA Communiqué provides LSA officers and members with resources and ideas for promoting contract surety bonds and recognizes NASBP, SFAA, and LSA members who promote surety bonds. To see what other surety professionals are doing and to learn strategies and tips on promoting surety bonds, subscribe to the LSA Communiqué. The Surety Bond Networker keeps surety professionals abreast of industry trends and information, as well as SIO activities and news. Stay connected to the industry’s leading surety professionals. Subscribe to the Surety Bond Networker.
Speakers’ Bureau – Need a speaker? Like to speak? Call SIO at (202) 686-7463 or submit an online speaker request form. When someone needs a speaker, SIO turns to the SIO Speakers’ Bureau to offer potential candidates. The speakers’ bureau contains a list of NASBP and SFAA members willing to accept speaking engagements. SIO can arrange for surety professionals to address a variety of topics such as:
- How to obtain surety bonds;
- Why contractors fail;
- Basics of bonding;
- State of the surety industry;
- Surety bonds for public works;
- Protecting construction lending capital; and
- Surety bonds for private projects.
Conferences and trade shows offer unique opportunities to meet with targeted audiences and promote contract surety bonds. SIO and SFAA take their exhibits to several expos and trade shows every year and may call on LSAs to assist with booth staffing. LSAs may borrow SFAA’s exhibit booth by calling (202) 463-0600. In addition, LSA’s may check-out SIO’s
exhibit posters and order handout materials by calling (202) 686-7463.
Promoting Surety in a Crowd
- Pick the Crowd – Who is the targeted audience? What issues need to be addressed? Contractors and public owners may be the obvious choices, but bankers, private owners, real estate developers, design professionals, and other construction industry advisers need to hear about the value and benefits of contract surety bonds.
- Prepare Materials – Prepare materials to reflect the specific benefits surety bonds have for the targeted audience. For example, a convention of private owners could be swayed with case studies illustrating the need for surety bonds, while a meeting of emerging contactors may be more interested in how to obtain surety bonds. SIO offers CDs that address specific needs of public owners, private owners, contractors, and students.
- Send Out the Alert – Let attendees know ahead of time that you will be exhibiting at an event. Don’t rely solely on the marketing efforts of the meeting managers. Offer to provide a short, engaging article to the group or association holding the event. Provide a news release to trade publications or a business journal about contract surety bonds and mention the exhibit to create pre-show interest. Send a direct mail letter or postcard to event registrants offering an incentive for visiting your booth. Become an event sponsor to heighten your exposure.
- Collect the Data – Obtain information from exhibit visitors interested in surety bonds and offer to send literature after the show. Prepare beforehand what information you want to collect and from whom.
- Follow Through – Once the event is over, the work is just beginning. If you prepared follow-up material ahead of time, the time between parting handshake and next contact will be short. The sooner the contact hears back from you, the better. Send a personalized letter addressing the contact’s individual needs, questions, or concerns. Prepare a general letter prior to the event, but take the time to personalize the letter with information specific to your conversation with the individual.
- Make a Splash at a Conference – Take advantage of question-and-answer periods by stating your name, employer, and a brief job description. Attendees will be more apt to approach you afterward if you introduce yourself to the group. Look for opportunities to visit with conferees such as in an elevator, at the registration desk, or waiting for a taxi or valet. Arrive with brochures, giveaways, or fact sheets and distribute them to everyone you meet.
SIO’s List of Speaker Topics
For a list of recognized experts on a topic, organizations that can assist with locating a speaker, or speakers SIO staff has heard speak, view SIO’s List of Speaker Topics. This is by no means a complete list of speakers on the topics listed. Some speakers may charge a fee and/or travel expenses.
SIO PowerPoint® Presentations
All SIO PowerPoint® presentations are downloadable from the SIO Web site.
Unleash the Power of PowerPoint®
These days, the word "presentation" is synonymous with "PowerPoint®." While this omnipresent tool can help create appealing presentations, its true power is sometimes ignored. PowerPoint® is a means to communicate visually with an audience. Take advantage of its power, not by including overwhelming amounts of information, but by using it to emphasize, clarify, and quickly convey your message.
Quality vs. Quantity
More is not always better. Reducing your messages to bite-sized chunks allows your audience to digest them more easily. After you have crafted the presentation, go back and conduct an audit. Examine each slide carefully and determine whether it’s truly necessary – combine and condense wherever you can.
Balancing Text and Graphics
No doubt you’ve seen the PowerPoint® presentation where the speaker seems to be reading verbatim from a printout of the slideshow. What was gained by hearing the slides read aloud? According to multi-media graphic designer Patty Civalleri in the September 2002 issue of Presentations magazine, “this presentation technique usually does more harm than good.” She adds that a large amount of text causes the audience to read line-by-line, diverting attention away from the speaker. Use text sparingly and emphasize key points to keep the audience focused on the message and you.
Replace words with graphics if you can. Images convey large amounts of information in a small amount of space. Images you include should complement your speaking points. A conflicting or seemingly random image creates confusion – don’t add graphics simply as filler.
Think of each slide as an ad for a point in a larger campaign you are communicating through the entire presentation. Would you be attracted to a full-page advertisement of black and white text? Create something that you find visually appealing while using words and images to engage and communicate.
When designing slides, keep in mind some basics about colors and legibility. Use a high contrast between the text and the background. Light, bright colors on a dark background are effective, and vice versa. Small-point fonts won’t convey your message – think big and bold. Also, keep in mind that what you see on your computer screen may not be what you get on the full screen. Always conduct a trial run with your projector on a full screen to ensure slides can be read easily.
Don’t Go Overboard
PowerPoint® offers a number of features to animate text and graphics, but a slideshow with words and images flying, dissolving, and popping out all over the screen can be distracting. When in doubt: keep it simple.
Remember, PowerPoint® is only a part of the overall presentation. Do not rely on PowerPoint® to give the presentation for you. Watching someone click a mouse and read slides is not an engaging experience. Use PowerPoint® for its maximum intended effect – as a visual aid to your oral presentation.
How do you take the efforts of your local surety association members to the next level? Two words: speakers’ bureau. This next step in promoting contract surety bonds may be challenging to organize, but it also offers rich rewards.
First things first – what is a speakers’ bureau? At its basic level, it’s a list of well-spoken experts – but the power behind the list lies in the fact that you will have an audience’s undivided attention, and full control of the message. Editors can alter press releases, your voice can get lost in an exhibit hall – but a speaking engagement gives you complete control of the content and quality of your message.
The following list serves as a quick guide to help you develop a speakers’ bureau.
- Designate someone to be the speakers’ bureau coordinator. He or she will be in charge of maintaining the speakers’ bureau file and will serve as the key point of contact for those seeking a speaker.
- Identify the experts and issues. Assemble a listing, with contact information for each, of those who are knowledgeable in specific areas of surety. Next, prepare summaries (a bite-sized abstract will suffice) of the issues that your speakers are able to discuss.
- Create a speaker file. Put together a file for every speaker containing a biography, a photograph, and a brief but suitable introduction for them. This information is useful not only to promote speakers, but also comes in handy when groups want to announce a speaking engagement in their newsletters and meeting programs. “Creating a speakers’ bureau is all about having direct contact and communication.”
- Identify your audience. While your list of speakers and topics may cover everything from default insurance to warranty issues, not everyone will be interested in surety from A to Z. Identify the topics that are most pertinent to each group (e.g. bank letters of credit vs. surety bonds for bankers; contractor prequalification or claims handling for owners). Pool your group’s contacts throughout various industries to compile a comprehensive list – matching up a speaker, topic, and audience. Again, keeping this list (as with any media list) up-to-date is imperative.
- Promote! Once you’ve identified the best speakers for each group, it’s time to let the world know. Put your promotional skills to work using an assortment of tools to get the word out: a traditional press release; a direct mail post card; a one-on-one phone call; or a personalized letter.
- Try tailoring, as much as possible, each piece to the particular audience by including a listing of the topics most relevant to each. Also, reach out to local media or trade publications and alert them of the bureau – the extra exposure can only help.
- Utilize Feedback. After a speaking engagement, make sure your group gets a chance to debrief the speaker. Finding out what issues, questions, and concerns each group raises is important for adapting your messages in the future.
Creating a speakers’ bureau is all about having direct contact and communication. While it may take a good bit of coordination and time to organize a bureau, the chance to be able to share the industry’s perspective on issues directly with other groups is invaluable.
Public Speaking Tips
Getting an Audience to Listen
Author Richard Dowis offers many useful public speaking tips in his book The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write It, How to Deliver It.
- View an invitation to speak as an opportunity, not a summons that appeals to you about as much as an IRS audit.
- Compose a statement of purpose as a starting point to your writing. Your purpose can be to entertain, inform, inspire, advocate, motivate, educate, persuade, and yes, even to SELL!
- Audiences are primed to listen at the beginning so craft an opener that will establish rapport, set the tone, enforce your authority to speak on the topic, and arouse interest.
- Write your speech as a conversation, not a lecture! Use plenty of pronouns: you, I, us, we. Engage your audience; be interactive.
- Choose gut vs. brain words. Do you use verbs like postulate, fabricate, ascertain, surmise? If so, cut the brain words and use gut action verbs, such as, cry, jump, ooze, roar!
- Everyone loves a story, anecdote, or joke, but only use ones that are true (or perceived to be true) because they offer insight about the topic, the speaker, or the event, and they’re interesting or amusing and easy to understand.
- Only use visual aids if they enhance your message. Do not let them detract from your spoken message.
SOURCE: The Lost Art of the Great Speech: How to Write It, How to Deliver It by Richard Dowis, AMACOM, 1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019, $14.95. Printed in Communications Briefings; 703/548-3800; Speak With Confidence and Power.
When preparing to give a presentation, make sure you can answer YES to these questions:
- Do I know the one thing I want the audience to remember? If the answer is no, your speech has no focus.
- Do I know how much people can remember? Rule of thumb – if you give a five minute speech, your presentation should have only one main point.
- Are my figures clear? Audiences are slow to receive and analyze data. Make charts and graphs simple, with key points emphasized. For complex information, prepare a handout, but try to limit it to one page.
SOURCE: Creating Confidence: How to Develop Your Personal Power and Presence by Meribeth Bunch, Kogan Page Ltd., London, England. Printed in Communications Briefings; 703/548-3800.
It’s Still the Words
Think about great speeches you’ve heard or read.
- Martin Luther King Jr., "I have a dream."
- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, "The only thing to fear is fear itself."
- John F. Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
- Abraham Lincoln, "We cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow this ground."
Even in an electronic age, it’s still the words that live in our minds.
An unforgettable speech takes research, planning, and the right words. The first consideration in finding the right words and constructing an effective speech is know the audience! And know the type of speech appropriate for the audience. For example, remarks to busy executives should be challenging, quick, and engaging. Regardless of the type of address, waste no time in making a quick, clear, and simple connection with the audience. Find something in common with your listeners and lead with it.
SOURCE:"Speak Like the Best of Them," by Daniel Cirucci, Association Management, 1993.
Speak With Confidence and Power
Prepare, Relax, Be Positive: three suggestions from the editors of Communications Briefing, a Alexandria, Virginia based publication providing business communication advice.
Prepare – We’ve all heard public speaking tips about being prepared, such as "Know your audience;" "Do your homework;" "Practice, practice, practice" – and they’re good tips to follow, but some other important preparatory steps include practicing pronouncing difficult words and names, double-checking facts and figures, and cutting material that isn’t vital to the speech’s main message.
Relax – Take gradual steps to overcome stage fright and anxiety about public speaking. Practice a speech to an empty room, then deliver to smaller, safer audiences such as family members, co-workers, and close friends. When practicing, record your remarks on audiotape to listen for any grammatical errors or mispronunciations; then video tape your presentation to ensure you are not doing any annoying or distracting gestures or body movements. Lastly, determine what motivates and appeals to your audience. You’ll be able to match your message to their interests and they’ll be more responsive to you.
Be positive – Your attitude helps determine how well the audience will receive your message. Most audiences want you to succeed and to be yourself; sincerity and enthusiasm often prevail over a lack of public speaking experience. To calm your nerves, visualize yourself giving a successful speech. And remember, audiences are attending your presentation because they are interested in the topic.
SOURCE: How to Speak with Confidence and Power, Printed in Communications Briefings; 703/548-3800.
The Rewards of Public Speaking
"A good speech is the single most cost-effective marketing and public relations tool any organization can have," advises author Joan Detz in her book How to Write and Give a Speech. Giving an electrifying, informative, and entertaining speech is comparable to making 50 to 100 cold calls in one day. You may not make a sale today, but you may have sold yourself and your company/product to a future client – a member, or two, of the audience!
A must after every speech or sales presentation: get the audience’s business cards and follow-up with a letter and phone call.
SOURCE: "You, Too, Can Be a Successful Public Speaker" by William C. Wilson, Jr. – American Agent & Broker, December 1999.
Dispelling the Myths of Public Speaking
Myth Successful speakers have natural speaking voices.
Fact The best speakers are those who connect with an audience by being themselves and speaking conversationally. Speak as if you are conversing with each audience member, use eye contact, smile, and target your message to make a personal connection.
Myth Good speakers do not have a fear of speaking.
Fact Every speaker, experienced or inexperienced, feels anxiety before a presentation. Anxiety can be reduced through relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing.
Myth Begin your presentation with a joke to loosen up the audience.
Fact Humor is an important component of any speech, but it must have relevance to the topic under discussion.
Myth Effective speakers do not use notes.
Fact Skilled speakers have found ways to use notes without distracting from their message. From your written copy, condense your remarks into outline form, and then create a second outline of keywords that will remind you of the full concepts designated by the keywords.
Myth Excellent speakers are spontaneous.
Fact Effective speakers rehearse their presentations. Practice is essential. The more familiar you become with your material, the more the words flow with passion. The more comfortable you feel with your words, the more naturally you present your speech. Good speakers practice… and practice again!
SOURCE: Based on "Add Spark to Your Speeches" by Rob Sherman in Association Management, January 2000. Rob Sherman is an attorney in Columbus, Ohio and author of Sherman’s 21 Laws of Speaking: How to Inspire Others to Action, Cedar Creek Press. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
We live in a fast-paced age so try to keep speaking engagements 20 to 25 minutes (but always allow additional time for Q&A). When writing and editing your speech, remember this general rule of thumb: Every double-spaced page of copy is about 90 seconds of speaking.
SOURCE: "Speak Like the Best of Them," by Daniel Cirucci, Association Management, 1993.
Speech Structure Checklist
An effective way to make the beginning, middle, and end of a speech work together is to use a basic rule of communications: Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.
In the beginning, preview what is to come. In the middle, present most of what you have to say. In the end, summarize what you said.
SOURCE: "Speak Like the Best of Them," by Daniel Cirucci, Association Management, 1993.
Presentations: Be Prepared
For promotional tools for surety professionals, click
SFAA’s The Surety & Fidelity Association of America’s Newsletter
After many years of serving as a “Members Only” publication, subscriptions to The Surety & Fidelity Association of America’s Newsletter now are available industrywide. The Newsletter is published every other month and contains valuable information regarding industry developments, federal and state legislative activity, legal decisions, LSA activities, regulatory news, and coming industry events. Print out an order form to subscribe.
SFAA Subscriber Program
In response to increasing industry demand, SFAA’s Board of Directors has voted to provide those in the industry who are ineligible to become Members or Foreign Affiliates of SFAA the opportunity to become SFAA Subscribers. The subscriber service includes a newsletter; statistical reports; Binder of SFAA Standard Fidelity Forms; SFAA Manual of Rules, Procedures and Classifications for Fidelity, Forgery and Surety Bonds; a Web listing; and reduced rates on other publications and special data requests. For more information, contact Barbara Finnegan Reiff at email@example.com.
NASBP’s monthly periodical Pipeline covers current events in the surety industry; state-by-state legislative updates; coming meetings, conventions, trade shows, and seminars. To learn more visit NASBP’s Web site.
SIO’s Surety Bond Networker
Surety Bond Networker provides insight into PR, marketing, and promotion and recognizes the efforts of NASBP members, SFAA members, and LSA members at promoting surety bonds. It is perfect for surety professionals who are interested in seeing what other surety professionals are doing or who want to learn strategies and tips on promoting their product and business. To receive Surety Bond Networker, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
SIO’s LSA Communiqué
The LSA Communiqué provides LSA officers and members with resources and ideas for promoting contract surety bonds. It recognizes the efforts of NASBP members, SFAA members, and LSA members who promote surety bonds. To receive the LSA Communiqué, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Working with the Media
Editors of newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV news and talk show programs are always looking for information that will interest their readers and viewers. And to get a story about surety bonding in the media, it may just take a phone call or two. Suggestions and tips for success in working with the editors of radio, television, and the print media, newspapers, magazines, and trade journals, follow below.
General Guidelines for Working with the Media
It pays to get to know the editors and reporters in your area. Regularly offer them opportunities to cover the role of surety bonds in our society. Remember that since they are interested in material that will interest their readers or viewers, present the material from the point of view of their audience. (For example: on the general pages –How surety bonds protect taxpayer dollars. On the business pages –How bonds protect investment dollars, lender dollars, and shareholder dollars, etc.)
One more point: be alert for story ideas that give local slant on a nationwide trend or legislative happening. For example, if someone from your region receives a Tiger Trust award, inform the editor about the use of surety bonding in private projects.
Remember: keep the facts about your suggested story on hand when calling a media representative and always follow through with what you say you are going to do. A few tips to capitalize on the persuasive power of media publicity: Tell the surety bonds story so it is able to advocate a position: "We advocate not changing the threshold of the Miller act."
Offer advice: "When you build, BOND!"
Tell what your organization has done: "The producer organization or local surety association has successfully counseled small, minority, women-owned contracting firms and has helped them receive their first bond." Give specific examples wherever possible.
Give the consumer benefit "Surety bonds save taxpayer dollars." Tie in with other happenings "The Iowa Surety Association applauds District Rep.’s bill to guarantee access to small contracting firms."
Remember that news is what the editor says it is, and if your story offers a clear benefit to the media’s audience, you are more likely to receive coverage. Also, make it easy for the reporter to cover the story by providing fact sheets, additional information, and access to people to interview.
Reporters typically have an agenda or angle. Of course, you can influence the reporters’ ideas and help shape their stories, but they write on their viewpoint based on their research and interviews, which may include several sources. Avoid making statements that might inadvertently strengthen an opposing view in the event the article takes a different angle than you would prefer.
Reporters must meet deadlines. When a reporter calls, the first question should be, “When is your deadline?” Be courteous and help them meet their deadlines, and they will be more inclined to work with you.
Reporters have an obligation to present the source’s words as they are said. The quotations used may not include every word, and perhaps not in a way the source would like, but quotations should be accurate statements and not taken out of context. Reporters rarely show a story to a source before it is published. However, they may allow a source to review any quotations the reporter attributes. Not knowing what will be written is precisely what makes interviewing with the media a very risky proposition.
10 Tips for a Successful Interview
Here are 10 tips to participating in an interview when a reporter calls on a local issue or story for which you have expert knowledge. If the reporter reaches you directly (as opposed to leaving a message for you), you may want to indicate that you will need to call back. Set an appointed time so you can complete the steps below:
1. Be prepared – Make sure you know the subject inside and out. Plan out what you want to say before the interview. What quotes do you want to be published? What do you want the reporter to know about the subject? Prepare your comments and what you want to say, and then return the reporter’s call. If the reporter is looking for information on a national level, or on a subject you are not completely familiar, refer to SIO, NASBP, and/or SFAA.
2. Communicate Your Message – Be accurate, but try to communicate your message–one that puts the industry in the best light. This may mean that you not only respond to the reporter’s question, but that you add additional comments that get the industry’s points across too.
3. Relax – Even though you should be prepared, your comments should not come off as “canned.” Speak in a conversational tone, but stick to the points you planned before the interview.
4. Realize Anything You Say May Be Quoted or Used – They may not attribute a statement to you, but the information you give may end up in the story in some fashion. Generally, if you don’t want it reported, don’t say it. If you are experienced in dealing with numerous press calls, you may be able to establish ground rules with a reporter, but this can be very tricky. For example, experienced public relations personnel or interviewees often will indicate to the reporter that they are only speaking on background and not for attribution. They may indicate to the reporters before the interview proceeds that any comments or information the reporter would like to quote or even use in the story must first be agreed upon. But establishing and enforcing such ground rules takes practice, so unless you feel that you can do this, assume anything you say may be quoted or used in the story.
5. Be a source, not an editor – Do not ask a reporter if you may edit or review a story. Reporters do not want advice on how or what to write, they want information. As noted above, under certain circumstances reporters may allow you to refine your own remarks or information, but they rarely allow you such opportunities with the rest of the article.
6. Strike “no comment” from your vocabulary – Never use the phrase “no comment.” It gives the perception you have something to hide and ruins your credibility. If you are legally advised to abstain from commenting on something tell the reporter, “I am not at liberty to discuss the matter.” They will understand.
7. Be honest and direct – Do not avoid reporters or mislead them. If you do not know the answer, tell them that. As suggested above, use the reporter’s questions as a vehicle to make your point and communicate your message.
8. Be accurate – Be particularly careful with facts, figures, dates, and names. Errors of this nature hurt you in two ways. One, reporters never want to run a retraction or correction, so if you misspeak you make them look bad. Second, when a reader sees inaccurate information attributed to your statements, you lose credibility, which makes you look bad.
9. Support the industry – If you make a statement that is detrimental to the image of the industry, there is a very high likelihood that the reporter will use it. After all, you have inside information and if you say things contrary to your expected position, that’s news. Also, when insiders say things against the industry it is much more detrimental than someone from outside the industry. Ask yourself this question before you comment, “Does this make the industry look good?”
10. Respect deadlines – Find out what a reporter’s deadline is, and how much in advance of that deadline they will need to interview you. Do everything you can to accommodate their time constraints. If you do not have the time to respond, refer the reporter to SIO, NASBP, and/or SFAA.
Preparing a Media List
Setting up a card file or computer data base with the following information will help you in distributing information on surety bonds to the media. Research online or call each station to get the below information.
(Name/call letters, e.g.: KDKA, WLS) (Frequency)
TALK SHOWS OR SPECIAL REGULAR PROGRAMS
(NAME OF SHOW) (AUDIENCE) (NAME OF PRODUCER)
Be sure to keep a record of the contacts you make with the station for future reference.
Something to note: While certain off hours of the day (especially Sunday morning) aren’t exactly "prime time" or "drive time," people important to our product and industry do listen at these times. It’s easier to get something on the "air" at these hours, and keep telling yourself –"it’s advertising for the industry!"
NAME (e.g. WCAU TV-1 0, Philadelphia):
CABLE ACCESS CHANNEL:
BUSINESS NEWS REPORTER:
TALK SHOWS OR SPECIAL PROGRAMS
(NAME OF SHOW) (AUDIENCE) (NAME OF PRODUCER)
NAME (e.g. The Atlanta Constitution):
EDITOR IN CHIEF:
PREFERRED CONTACT METHOD:
DAILY WEEKLY BI-WEEKLY
DEADLINE FOR NEWS STORIES AND PRESS RELEASES:
SPECIFIC INSERTS, SUPPLEMENTS OR ISSUES DEALING WITH: CONSTRUCTION INSURANCE
BUSINESS TOPICS OTHER
NAME (e.g. ABA Journal, AICPA Journal, etc.):
EDITOR IN CHIEF:
PREFERRED CONTACT METHOD:
WHEN IS IT PUBLISHED:
REGULAR FEATURES, SUPPLEMENTS OR ISSUES THAT MIGHT APPLY TO SURETY BONDS:
Media lists are only as valuable as they are up to date. After a mailing, be sure to track down new addresses for any returned envelopes. Auditing a press list annually is also a good idea to ensure the information is reaching the necessary groups.
Creating a Positive Message
The words we use have a significant impact on how others perceive our industry. Here are some tips on how to keep a positive message in the public eye and contractors’ and owners’ minds.
|Elements of a Negative Message
||Elements of a Positive Message
|Portrays increased surety loss over the past two years as a result of poor/loose underwriting standards
||Portrays increased surety loss over the past two years as a result of a changing economy that increased the likelihood of default
|Addresses problems the industry is facing and offers no solutions
||Addresses challenges the industry is facing and explains how the industry meets those challenges
|Creates the impression that the surety industry is making changes to make up for poor job performance in the past
||Creates the impression that changes are being made to meet the demands of the current economy
|Presents prequalification as an obstacle to the contractor bidding a job
||Presents prequalification as a service to guide the contractor to an appropriate workload and enhance his or her business
|Generates fear that the industry is in trouble
||Generates confidence in the surety industry
|Discusses how the contractor and owner must meet the demands of the
surety underwriter and producer
|Discusses how the surety underwriter, producer, contractor, and owner work as a team
|Focuses on surety bonding as a corporate industry
||Focuses on surety bonding as a person-to-person relationship
|Describes the current state of the industry as being in turmoil
||Describes the current state of the industry as evolving to meet new
|Illustrates the industry as over-promising
||Illustrates the industry as over-delivering
|Builds anxiety toward the state of the industry
||Encourages patience with industry changes
Newspapers, magazines, and trade journals, the traditional print media, offer several unique ways to tell the surety bond story. Due to their format they can offer an in-depth approach to the topic.
Getting Surety’s Name in Print
Seeing your byline in a trade publication is a thrill, and it is great PR for the industry. If you would like to publish an article, contact SIO and staff will gladly assist. SIO has extensive press lists for publications read by contractors, public owners, private owners, bankers, architects and engineers, and the surety and insurance industry.
Keep the following in mind when attempting to have stories appear in print publications:
- Establish personal contacts – Get to know the editors and reporters of publications that may have an interest in surety bonds. These could be construction trade magazines, association newsletters, business journals, or local newspapers. SIO can provide a listing of local trade organizations.
- Appeal to the audience – Before submitting an article to a publication, understand the readership and specifically address that audience’s interests.
- Provide local slant on nationwide trend – Editors often seek stories that explain how their readership is a part of or affected by the larger picture. Consider issues or trends that the audience may be facing now or in the near future.
- Build Credibility – Editors want stories from credible sources. Explain what you, your business, or organization(s) with which you are affiliated have done to address the particular topic.
- Offer referrals – Make it easy for reporters to cover a story by providing fact sheets, additional information, and access to others to interview.
- Please the editor – Editors determine what stories get placed and that they follow the style and guidelines for the publication. Find out how many words the editor prefers for an article. Read the publication prior to submitting and follow its style.
Writing an Effective Press Release
A press release is a useful tool to obtain coverage on particular issues such as:
- Elections/appointments of officers and committee members;
- Announcing award winners;
- News of specific projects in which the surety team is involved or has particular interest;
- Announcements of seminars or conferences that your company or organization is sponsoring and/or participating.
Send the press release to news media and publications whose audiences are interested in your message. SIO can provide you with contact information for trade associations in your state and sample press releases. Contact SIO at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 686-7463.
Here are some tips for getting a press release published:
1. Editors determine what is news – Editors want information that is of interest to the publication’s audience. Have a clear understanding of the readership, and tailor the press release to that audience.
2. Editors have little time – A press release immediately should state what the press release is about. In the first paragraph answer the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How” of the press release.
3. Write in the third person – The press release should read as an impartial third party. Writing in the third person means using pronouns “he, she, it, and they” in response to who/what the press release is about.
4. Use full names and titles when quoting – When quoting, provide the person’s full name and title so the editor knows the credibility of the source.
5. Accuracy is essential – Proofread for spelling and grammar errors; check for accuracy of information including location and dates of events; name, title, and affiliation of people; and verify statements of fact.
6. Provide contact information – Include the name, phone number and e-mail of the contact person at the top of the press release. Press releases are alerts about news. Should the editor need to follow up or request a full article, contact information is critical.
7. Keep it to one page – Press releases should be typed on 8 ½” x 11” letterhead paper. Font should be no smaller than 11 point and the type double-spaced. If the release must be more than one page, number each page and type “-more-” at the bottom.
8. Format is important – At the top, following the contact information and release date, have a concise but snappy head. On the next line, begin the press release with the date and city from which the news is coming. Type “-30-” or “###” at the end of the bottom of the last page to signify the end of the release.
A feature is an in-depth article written by a reporter about a specific topic. If a topic is timely and interesting to the publication’s audience, call the editor or a reporter who covers business news and suggest the topic. Be prepared to answer the question "Why will my readers be interested in this?" Tell the story to the editor or reporter from the reader’s viewpoint.
Look for ways to enhance the story by photos and suggest these to the reporter. Provide plenty of written information to ensure the facts in the story are presented correctly. Cooperate with the reporter by helping to line up sources for interviewing and by providing additional information, if needed.
Thank the reporter for his interest in the story and for fair coverage of the topic. Encourage the reporter to treat the feature story as a "round up" story that covers how the subject affects everyone involved. Suggest that the reporter cover all viewpoints. While opposing viewpoints may get mentioned, the story will usually have a broader perspective and the reporter will usually cover your viewpoint in more depth (after all, you gave him or her the story, did much of the background work and impressed him or her by your fairness).
Additional Print Media Tools
Editors love photographs. A good photograph draws in the reader and significantly increases the likelihood of publication. Here are some photo points to keep in mind:
- Copyright – Just because you have a photograph in your hand (or on your computer) does not mean you have permission to print it. If you know who produced the photograph, request permission to use it. If you don’t know where the photograph came from, then do not use it.
- Hard Copies – Mail in a photo-mailer and write “do not bend” on the outside. If you want the photograph returned, place a label on the back stating “please return to: name and address.” If you write on the back of the photo, use a grease pencil or felt-tip marker. Ballpoint pens distort the image on the reverse side.
- Digital photos – Resolution should be no lower than 300 dpi. Check with the publication for the preferred format (e.g. gif, jpeg, tif, etc.).
- Tell the story –Avoid “grip and grins,” “hand-shaking,” and other “staged” photographs. Editors want “Action photos” and images that illustrate the article.
- Explain the picture – On the back, identify the person(s), place, or event.
- Captions should captivate – Together, a good image and a well-written caption often tell the story much better than a lengthy press release. Explain the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of the article/press release or the relevance of the photo to the story.
These are opinion pieces written about a specific topic by someone not on a publication’s editorial staff. Usually the Op-Ed piece is an in-depth discussion about a subject that has generated interest by the news media. The advantage of an Op-Ed piece is that this is one of the rare times you have control over what is published.
Letters to the Editor
It is also possible to present the surety bond story through letters-to-the-editor. Keep the letters short and to the point. A successful letter will refer to something covered in the publication recently or something "happening" in the government arena.
Good topics for letters to the editor are:
1. Your organization’s reaction to proposed changes in the Miller Act or Little Miller Act.
2. Your reaction to the practice of government waiving bonds.
3. Minority access to surety bonds.
4. The risk of accepting personal sureties.
5. The rigorous process of prequalification and its importance.
These can be a valuable tool in providing the press with factual information. These are especially useful on complex topics. A listing of the major elements of a story can save time for both the reporter and the source. Fact sheets don’t have to be long, but should cover the factual information and include all appropriate facts, figures and statistics.
You may also find that reporters frequently call with similar questions. Background fact sheets can be helpful in saving you time in releasing information.
It is a good idea to keep on hand up-to-date biographies of anyone in your organization who might be newsworthy. This can save time for both you and the reporter. Also make sure that recent photographs are available. Nothing can make an official look more ridiculous than having a 20-year-old photograph published in the local newspaper.
An excellent method to use in making a big, important announcement. But these are rare and you should consult with the Surety Information Office beforehand. Always have something prepared, such as a press release, fact sheet or press kit available for the reporters attending the conference. Also try to start on time, since reporters face problems with deadlines. Don’t give one reporter an advance on what is going to happen, while the others are left in the dark.
A useful method of having continuing contact with the press on a controversial topic, such as ongoing debate on upcoming surety legislation. The briefings give re- porters and company officials an opportunity to discuss the problem in a non-crisis atmosphere. Since reporters cover the briefings on a regular basis, it will also help develop their understanding of the surety bond industry.
A brief announcement of an upcoming event, which reminds reporters and editors that coverage is invited. The memo should list the event, where it will take place, time, who will be there, what specific photo opportunities will be available, and the person to contact for additional information.
Errors in Print
Nothing stings like reading an article where you’ve been misquoted or the facts are misstated. No matter how you feel, avoid the temptation to call the reporter and give him/her a piece of your mind. First, make sure it truly is an inaccuracy. If the facts or quotations are incorrect, then bring it to the attention of the reporter. If it is a difference in perception of the facts, then it may be best to let it go and not damage your relationship with the reporter.
If you find an error, call the reporter to request a correction. Tell the reporter precisely where the mistake was made. Don’t complain about the way the publication covered the story – that’s their prerogative.
The needs of broadcast reporters are obviously different from those of their print counterparts. This section discusses briefly some of the particular situations faced by broadcasters.
Don’t let the prospect of being interviewed or "going on the air" make you overly nervous or reluctant to follow through. Radio and TV interviews are, by and large, not hostile situations. You’ll do quite well – especially if you are prepared. Don’t hesitate to contact SIO before appearing on either format.
Radio, with its talk shows, public service announcements, and news stories, is one of the best and simplest ways to get coverage to the business community.
Reporters in this medium need tape, sometimes miles of it. You may be called upon to do an actuarial, which simply means being interviewed on tape. If the reporter is taping you over the telephone, you must be informed in advance before the taping begins. As was discussed in the section on interviews, try to relax and sound natural, but remember you are as good as "on the air" when the tape is running. The reporter’s "cue" to you that taping has begun will sound something like this –"OK, we’re rolling tape now…"
Radio is also the most immediate medium there is. Deadlines occur every minute. This means radio reporters are almost always in a hurry. Reporters in radio often note that "television reporters are frustrated actors, newspaper reporters are frustrated writers, and radio reporters are just frustrated."
Arranging for a Radio Talk Show Interview
1. Select the talk shows you would like to have carry the surety bond message. Listen to them. Based on the topics covered by the show, who is the audience? Does the show cover business related topics? Is the audience interested in surety bond information?
2. Choose a specific topic – e.g. bonds in general, the Miller Act, private sector interest in surety bonding or surety bond availability for minorities and women.
3. Prepare a fact sheet or a list of questions and answers about your topic.
4. Choose a speaker – someone who is knowledgeable about the topic, can communicate in a clear pleasant voice and is active in your local surety association.
5. Call the talk show’s producer and introduce your topic, explaining why it is interesting to his listeners. Ask him/her to interview your speaker on his/her show.
6. Write the show’s producer a note thanking him/her for the upcoming interview and send the fact sheet, a short biography or resume of your speaker and additional information about surety bonds. And possibly a list of questions he or she can ask. The least sophisticated interviewer will generally ask each suggested question almost verbatim. The most sophisticated interviewer may only ask one or two of the prepared questions. The rest will be rephrased and several more pointed questions will be added.
7. Fax or send a memo to the fellow members of your local surety association and SIO asking to listen to the broadcast. Assign someone to tape the broadcast as well.
8. Before the broadcast, your speaker should practice stating points he or she plans to make in a clean, positive, friendly, and succinct fashion. Use simple English and avoid complex sentence constructions. Limit the use of synonyms for a word or topic. Don’t use pronouns, stick with proper names. Use lots of verbs. Give statement attributions at the front of a sentence not at the end.
9. The day of the broadcast, the speaker should arrive 15 minutes early to get organized and to chat and get to know the talk show host. Before you go on the air, ask the talk show host if the material you sent was useful and if he or she has any questions. (This serves these purposes: 1) It opens the line of communication between the speaker and the host; 2) it helps to warm up and relax the speaker and 3) helps to focus the topic for the interview.)
During the interview try to stay relaxed. Be calm and work into your statements the key points you wish to make. In nearly every case, you won’t be in an adversarial relationship with the talk show host. So just relax and enjoy talking about what you know best, suretyship.
On the radio, unlike TV, you may use note cards with key reminder points. Make these on index cards, arranged logically.
Sample Questions to a Radio Interview
(Taken from an interview of James M. Maloney, Past-President, NASBP, on KLHI FM radio, Maui, Hawaii, April 28, 1993, 7:00 a.m. "drive time.")
1. What is a surety bond?
2. Who pays the cost (premium)?
3. What does a surety company do?
4. Who does the surety bond protect? (e.g. owner, subcontractor, laborer, TAX-PAYER, banker or lending institution.)
5. Are surety bonds required by law?
6. Are surety bonds used in private construction?
7. Do many contractors fail? (Yes –high peril business. Dun & Bradstreet (1992) 12,300 contractors failed –$5 billion loss!)
8. What is prequalification?
9. If a contractor fails, who pays the claim? All of it?
10. What causes contractors to fail?
11. Are low bidders on public projects by nature high risks?
12. Does surety bonding work like other insurance where the premiums are put into a pool, and only a few suffer losses?
13. How does the surety underwriter make judgments about the contractor’s ability to do the job?
14.ls the surety bond producer part of the system of awarding contracts to the contractors?
15 Can small contractors get bonds?
16. What is the Small Business Administration Surety Bond Guarantee Program?
17. Can minorities get bonds?
18. What is the NASBP?
19. What is the SFAA?
20. What is the goal of your organization?
NOTE1: A list of helpful questions should be provided to the interviewer. It helps the interviewer and it helps you better focus your presentation.
NOTE 2: This is simply a sample list of questions used in the interview. It will change dramatically according to the scope of the topic, the audience the station appeals to, your knowledge of the host and the host’s knowledge of the industry, to name but a few variables.
Radio News Shows
If you have a topic that is timely, for instance a statement in reference to an action in the state legislature, call the editor of the radio news program, introduce yourself and be prepared to make your statement or participate in a short interview, right there, over the telephone.
Always make a list of the points you wish to make and place them in front of you for easy reference during the phone interview. Always answer the interviewer’s questions, but in expanding on these answers, be certain to make the points you want to make – without rambling on, of course.
Television, with its mix of sound and pictures is the most persuasive medium available. Television talk shows and news broadcasts offer an unparalleled opportunity to persuade its audience.
TV reporters need good film footage. They want to avoid talking heads as much as possible. These shots of someone speaking are boring to viewers, according to TV news producers. TV needs action, action, action! Instead of interviewing you in your office, the TV reporter will most likely prefer an on-site interview, with some action in the background. Construction sites make great backdrops. There’s a lot of activity almost all day long.
There also may come a time when you will be asked to appear on a television interview program. This is often an excellent opportunity to present our point-of-view. Try not to think about the television cameras while you are being interviewed. Again, relax and be yourself. But remember television thrives on controversy. Be prepared with short, concise answers.
1. Select the talk shows you would like to have carry the surety bond message. Listen to them. Based on the topics covered by the show, who is the audience? Does the show cover business related topics? Is the audience interested in surety bond information?
2. Choose a specific topic – Ask yourself if there is anything visual that illustrates your point? Perhaps a building that was unfinished due to contractor failure. Get permission from the owner and take a slide photo.
3. Prepare a fact sheet or a list of questions and answers about your topic.
4. Choose a speaker – someone who is knowledgeable about the surety topic, can communicate in a clear pleasant voice and is, preferably, someone clearly aligned to your region or local surety association. Your speaker should also pay close attention to their appearance by wearing appropriate attire and being well-groomed.
5. Call the talk show’s producer and introduce your topic, explaining why it is interesting to his/her listeners. Ask him/her to interview your speaker on his/her show.
6. Write the show’s producer a note thanking him/her for the upcoming interview and send the fact sheet, a short biography or resume of your speaker and additional information about surety bonds.
7. Fax or send a memo to the fellow members of your local surety association and SIO with information on the broadcast. Assign someone to videotape the broadcast as well.
8. Before the broadcast, your speaker should practice stating the points he or she plans to make in a clean, positive, friendly, and succinct fashion. Aim to follow these guidelines. Use simple English and avoid complex sentence constructions. Practice speaking looking into an imaginary camera. Memorize as much information as you can; you don’t want to be fumbling with note cards on TV.
9. The interviewee should dress for the camera. Avoid loud plaid jackets and bright colors. Go for a conservative look with traditional business attire. Avoid extremes in dress and hairstyles. Arrive 30 -45 minutes early and ask the station’s make-up artist to powder your face and help with shiny noses and foreheads. Don’t be afraid of the make-up. It helps avoid the camera "telling all!" Remember, you only need to look at the interviewer when answering question. Simply block out any other activity that is taking place on the set – the camera will find you.
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