Public Relations, Outreach, and the Brand

FIRST is more than just robots - anyone in the program can tell you that. It’s about being part of a team, creating something together, running what is essentially a small business - the workforce of which is nearly entirely comprised of your above-average high schoolers. But there’s one simple force that makes that effort recognized: Public Relations. Public Relations (or PR) is a broad term that many teams decide to define in their own ways. Some like to limit it to grant writing and mentorship-finding. Others choose to have it oriented around outreach. No matter how you look at it, PR achieves one main goal - get your team’s name out into the world.

Before we look into having your team become a household name (Or at least, households with one or more enthusiastic FIRST participants in them), there’s a few things all teams need to have image-wise before being able to achieve “popularity”. For starters, all teams should have a recognizable brand that illustrates who they are, or at the very least, is easily recognizable as their own. Often, teams will design logos around their name, sticking with the same motif for other creations such as event names, team-based programs, even robot design. Keeping one theme helps people readily produce a mental image of your team at the simple mentioning of its name.

Secondly, all teams need to know their audience before attempting to spread the word about their team. Sadly, not everyone has as much passion for STEM as you do, and those people probably won’t be as interested in what you have to say. By all means, try to get them as hyped as you are, but for all they know, all your “robot talk” could be a different language to them (And no, I don’t mean like C++). Rather, try to find the people who share your love for FIRST and for STEM, as they’re the ones who will follow your team’s season to see how you do. Find the ones who will back you, who want you to succeed, who will help you out if they can. Every fanbase starts out small until the hype becomes mainstream.

And finally, make sure your colleagues know how to represent your team. Regardless of how large or how small your team may be, every member has an impact, both in positive and negative ways. Those who can rep the brand well raise your team’s credibility, and will help win you support. However, negative behaviors and attitudes not only drive people away, but are also not the impression you want your name associated with. Make sure all members know how to conduct themselves before reaching out to the public. Code shifting can be key as well - I’m sure your team has had some more “questionable” moments inside the shop than you’d like for others to see in public.

So how do you get recognized? The answer is simple - put your team and your name out there through simple acts of outreach. There’s many ways to go about this: Robot demos, mentoring FRC, FTC, FLL, or FLL Jr. teams in your neighborhood, social media, hosting events, etc. The list goes on and on, but the key point becomes clear - work with people! Whether they’re FIRST affiliated, or a parent off the street at your most recent demo, or the children you inspire through teaching about FLL, everyone in your audience can benefit from what you have to say and what you can do. Make your team known for how you illustrate FIRST’s core values - remember, FIRST stands for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” - so aim to inspire your community through your work.

For your pre-existing audience, it’s always a great idea to keep them updated on how your team is doing. Using social media is a great tool to give either short but frequent informational tidbits or long, detailed, but sporadic posts (Much like we’re doing right now. Oops!). No matter which you choose to use, always try to let your audience know what’s been going on - they care about what you do nearly as much as you care about what you do. Keep people informed! What was your greatest accomplishment this past week? Where does the team stand this far into Build Season? What event are you demonstrating your robot at, and how can people find you? What are you fundraising for? There are so many different ways Social Media can be utilized to interact with your audience. And this audience isn’t just limited to your parents, neighbors, or friends. It can also have the occasional sponsor checking in on your team’s progress. No matter what the situation, Social Media can be your greatest tool for providing information about yourself to others.

And in the end, all of the effort for recognition will pay off - eventually your team may become one mentioned on Chief Delphi threads, or often referred to in conversation with other FIRST members. You might find mentors that help guide your team after a recruitment post you published on Facebook. You might see other people wearing your team’s buttons because “they were really cool” or “because I like your team.” With enough thought and time put into PR, the team can find itself thriving with a fanbase of its own.