by Sharon Lovering, Gaylen Floy, and Sara Conrad
This year, the public relations committee held a contest for ACB affiliates and chapters. Affiliates and chapters, 10 in all, sent in their brochures for three members of the PR committee to judge. Entries were judged on whether they grabbed the reader's attention; whether they contained useful information; how well they portrayed the affiliate/chapter; the quality of the writing; and their overall layout and presentation, including graphics.
The winning entries were: first place, North Dakota Association of the Blind; second place, Washington Council of the Blind; and third place, Utah Council of the Blind. Winning affiliates were awarded certificates at the combined membership and public relations committee meeting at the ACB national convention in Columbus, Ohio.
What the Good Brochures Did
The winning brochures had eye-grabbing covers; provided useful information; portrayed the affiliates well, both in pictures and writing; and were designed well. North Dakota's brochure included an outline of the state, done in blue with a bright yellow outline, and the letters "NDAB" diagonally down the center (also in bright yellow). Washington's brochure included a state outline, too, but in black, with the letters WCB in large, bold print and sim-braille of the same size inside it. Utah's had a full-color picture of four members hanging out with their canes on a sidewalk; the type was extra-bold on a bright yellow background. All three listed the affiliate name at the top; North Dakota and Washington listed their slogans, and North Dakota listed its mission. Washington and Utah included contact information on the front cover as well.
On the inside, all three had a variety of information. Washington and North Dakota both had membership information on the inside. Utah's membership information was on the back. All three affiliates' brochures listed the services they provided. North Dakota included pictures connected with several of its programs: a photo of a previous scholarship winner, one of the busload of people heading for a Ski for Light event, one of a group of people taking a walk at camp, and, on the back, a sunset picture from summer camp. All photos were big enough and clear enough to see faces, and action on the walk. Washington listed its mission in the inside, as did Utah.
North Dakota continued its program information on the back, along with its motto and contact information. Washington included program information and annual highlights on the back, along with a list of additional resources. Utah included photographs of several activities on the back, along with an invitation to join the chapter, and its contact information. As for low-vision-friendliness, two of the three used Arial for the font; one used Arial on the front cover and switched to Times New Roman for the rest of the brochure.
Overall, these brochures gave us a taste of what it would be like to be a member and participate in the activities of the affiliates.
Now, for the Rest of the Story
Seven other affiliates and chapters sent in their brochures: South Central Kentucky Council of the Blind, Alabama Council of the Blind, Tiger Council of the Blind (Mid-Missouri), Blue Water League of the Blind (Michigan), Golden Triangle Council of the Blind (Pittsburgh, Pa.), ACB of Oregon PDX chapter (Portland, Ore.), and the Albuquerque chapter of the ACB of New Mexico. These brochures had a variety of problems, from poor design and/or poor writing to lack of useful information.
One brochure had a dominant logo that really grabbed our eyes, but it didn't follow up with a compelling reason to keep reading, though the inside was chock-full of good information and a handy tear-off card to mail in. Another affiliate's brochure included the old ACB "eye" logo – and outdated information about the national organization. One brochure cover grabbed my eyes, with the black-and-orange type; it had a great deal of good information, but lost points with the committee for not having an action shot. The writing was concise, but needed to be more compelling, and use proper spelling ("through," not "thru").
Another brochure was really small in size – 6" tall and 3" wide when folded up. The picture on the front cover was so small as to be indistinguishable for low-vision folks, and the ones on the inside were similarly sized. There wasn't much writing on the inside, and what was there was riddled with spelling and capitalization errors. It referred to ACB as the "American Counsel of the Blind." The type definitely needed to be bigger, and so did the pictures.
One chapter submitted a flyer. It lacked a logo or photo to catch the eye. It gave the bare-bones basic information, but it didn't address the reader. The thing that caught my eye was that it had a person's signature on it backwards in several places, which marred the type and made it very hard to read.
Another chapter's brochure looked as though it had been put together backwards. It had an eye-catching photo on the back cover. It included the logo, mission statement, and vision statement on the front, plus the name of the chapter; the chapter name was the only thing in Arial. The inside was a bit better; it had tons of information about the chapter, but it wasn't really focused on the needs of the person reading it. Also, it was last updated in 2007.
The last brochure was also from a chapter. The front cover included the chapter logo and contact information, but it didn't really make us want to continue reading. We did, though, and the inside was much better: it reached out to the audience, had a friendly tone, and covered the basic information in a concise manner. It fit together nicely, and was short enough to be interesting yet long enough to cover the subject. However, it was a flyer designed like a brochure – everything was aligned center, and the printing was only on one side of the brochure. The centering worked well for the cover page, but not for the rest of it.
What Can We Learn from This?
Brochures need to address the needs of the reader, so know your audience. Is your brochure focusing on getting new members, raising funds, helping senior citizens who are losing their sight, or reaching out to the general public? These groups all have very different needs. One brochure can't do it all.
Keep your brochures up-to-date. If your affiliate moves, or your chapter president moves, or a new president gets elected, be sure to update the contact information on your brochure. And make sure to update the information for the ACB national office, too; it's been in Arlington, Va. since December 2008.
Spelling, punctuation, and grammar still matter. People won't take you seriously if you can't spell your chapter name, or the name of the national organization, correctly. They may miss your point entirely if the writing is full of errors.
Layout and design also matter. Use the front cover to grab their attention and give people a reason to keep reading. Then they'll open the brochure and find out more about your affiliate or chapter. If you're talking about scholarships, for instance, include a picture of a scholarship winner or scholarship presentation with that section. Talking about summer camp? Include a photo from camp in that section. Don't put all your pictures together on one flap and expect readers to be able to connect them to the various sections. Wrap it all up with the affiliate or chapter contact information. Be sure to include a name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and the web site if you have one. If you still have space left, a list of additional resources in your state or local area is a helpful bonus.
We included ease of reading in layout and design. Several brochures used multiple fonts, which made it harder to read. Some used large print, which were easier on the eyes than the smaller print. A few used glossy paper, which created problems with glare for the readers. Some were printed in color; some, just black-and-white.
Remember your audience when choosing your paper and your typeface and size. Glossy paper is fine for the sighted (they like eye candy), but it doesn't work very well for folks with low vision, including seniors who are losing their sight. For more information on paper and font/size selection, check out CCLVI's document called "Best Practices and Guidelines for Large Print Documents used by the Low Vision Community," available at www.cclvi.org, or by calling 1-800-733-2258.
A good brochure has an eye-grabbing cover with a logo and/or an action photo; writing that tells the affiliate's or chapter's story in a compelling manner, with correct spelling, good grammar and punctuation; includes photos that tie in with the writing and are on the same page with the segment they focus on; is up-to-date; includes the affiliate's or chapter's contact information; and makes you want to become a member of that affiliate or chapter. Our three winners succeed in that!
For the members of the subcommittee that handled the contest, we learned that judging such a contest is a time-consuming process. We waited for the brochures to arrive, went through our e-mails to see whether they had arrived yet, then did the reading and evaluating, wrote the evaluations, and sent them in to be tallied. And then we waited for the results! It was truly a learning experience - learning patience!
Are we going to do it again next year? We're not sure. So stay tuned to "The ACB Braille Forum" and find out.