Public relations can look like plenty of different things, but the overall goal is to control the message of your chapter by telling your story. A healthy public relations program will emphasize all of the other work your chapter is doing!

There are many definitions of public relations, and its applicability to a fraternity is unmistakable. Consider the definition written by Public Relations Society of America:

“Public relations help an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

A fraternal organization has many publics (target audiences) each, which the fraternity depends on to operate and that rely on the fraternity to add value in return. The public relations function manages the ever-changing relationships an organization has with outside organizations and individuals in order to bring the highest value back to the organization. The name of the game is developing relationships that will bolster your chapter’s image and reputation.

Dos and Don’ts of Fraternity Public Relations

Do:

  • Promote honesty and transparency
  • Maintain positive relationships
  • Keep your messages simple
  • Keep accurate records
  • Stay accessible
  • Proofread
  • Strategize
  • Be proactive
  • Ask questions

Don’t:

  • Lie
  • Talk negatively about other fraternities, sororities or student organizations
  • Hide public information
  • Publish factual errors
  • Ignore potential threats
  • Speak on behalf of the chapter
  • Make assumptions
  • Be content

Image Over Time Equals Reality/Perception Equals Reality

The concepts image/time = reality and perception = reality may appear straightforward, but don’t let its simplicity fool you. The public perception of your chapter’s image is by no means easy to control and the chapter is constantly being judged by the behavior of its membership. Therefore, it is critical to stay aware of the messages communicated at chapter-sponsored events as well as membership conduct outside the chapter. Consider the following scenario:

Johnny, a college freshman, is at his first football game, and sees three of his peers doing keg stands while yelling obnoxiously at a nearby tailgate spot. He glances at the tent and sees Greek letters that say Pi-K-A. He then asks his friend, Mike about it, and Mike replies, “Yeah, those are the Pikes. I met one of them last year, and he was hitting on my girlfriend while I was standing right there. Those guys are jerks.” Johnny doesn’t think much more about it, and heads into the game.

The next week, Johnny is sitting in the lunchroom and gets approached by another student with a flyer in his hand, who’s wearing a t-shirt that reads “PIKE: Better Than You Since 1868” with torn up jeans and a three-day beard. The young man seems to be inviting Johnny out to a Pi Kappa Alpha rush event, and is telling him about how good his chapter’s brotherhood is. How do you think the freshman responded?

Now the answer to this scenario may be obvious, but consider these facts… The chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha that he encountered actually completed 2,500 hours of community service, donated $8,000 to charity, and carried a cumulative 3.4 GPA. In all reality, it’s a very good chapter; but the recruit only encountered 3 of the members, and has to make his judgments based off what he knows. To quote an old saying:

“If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and talks like a duck, it must be a duck.”

Thus, if your chapter “just has a bad image” for a semester/quarter or two, you can bet that image has become your chapter’s reality. That reality will determine your perceived power and standing on campus, as well as affect your chapter’s programming efforts.

Continuous Public Relations by Every Chapter Member

As previously discussed in this handbook, it is truly every person’s responsibility to uphold the chapter’s image. The presentation and/or actions of one person can have extreme positive or negative consequences on the entire chapter’s reputation. One negative action can dismantle months or even years of positive chapter operations. However, every day positive public relations can greatly assist your chapter’s image and reputation. Below are examples of good and bad public relations by every chapter member.

Negative

  • Inappropriate comments in public
  • Inappropriate or offensive t-shirts
  • Inappropriate Facebook, Twitter, and other social media posts, pictures, or comments, etc.
  • Not attending class regularly
  • Wearing ragged/tattered/unpresentable clothing
  • Poor sportsmanship

Positive

  • Maintaining a positive public outlook towards others
  • Keeping social media outlets positive
  • Attending class and always being on time
  • Building good personal relationships with professors, campus professionals, community representatives, etc.
  • Being a courteous and polite person. Presenting yourself as a “gentleman” to all

In today’s media-heavy world, the value of an impression has never been worth more. In marketing terms, an impression is the interaction between a medium, organization, or person and a single member of the audience who is exposed to that medium. These impressions can have either a favorable or negative impact on your organization’s reputation.

Identifying Chapter Stakeholders

A stakeholder is any person, group or organization who has a “stake” in your organization because it can affect or be affected by your organization’s actions, objectives or policies. It is important to identify your chapter’s key stakeholders and how they affect the chapter and vice-versa. Ask the following to identify your chapter’s stakeholders and begin to evaluate the nature of your chapter’s relationships:

Who do we have a relationship with? How do other organizations or individuals affect us? How do we affect other organizations or individuals? What type of relationships do we want to have with other organizations or campus leaders?

Campus: deans, professors, sororities, other fraternities, student government association, university athletic teams, the student body, potential recruits, etc.

Community: local stores or restaurants, parents, hospitals or health centers, the mayor, local TV, radio, newspapers and publications, etc.

Pi Kappa Alpha: Pi Kappa Alpha staff, regional presidents, alumni advisors, alumni, other Pi Kappa Alpha chapters, etc.

Relationship Building Activities with Chapter Stakeholders

Once you’ve identified your key stakeholders, you can begin to build crucial chapter relationships. Below are strategies chapters use to develop relationships with its stakeholders:

  • Attend community service and philanthropy events hosted by other organizations on campus and in the community
  • Present flowers to sororities and cards to fraternities on their Founders’ Days
  • Send thank you cards to organizations/individuals that make chapter contributions
  • Send holiday cards to key chapter stakeholders
  • Send regular parent and alumni newsletters
  • Help organizations, campus leaders, professors and deans accomplish their objectives
  • Maintain a clean chapter house and a clean community
  • Help raise donations to local charities
  • Support university athletics

It is important to note; the true value of a relationship can only be realized if genuine effort is put into developing the bond. An apathetic attempt to build a friendship for superficial gain is typically easy to spot and will not serve the chapter well. Only will a truly valuable relationship be formed if the proper time and authenticity is invested into its creation.

The public relations handbook has a wealth of more detailed information including the various committee models as well as tips for writing an effective press release. Every chapter is different, so pick and choose what works best to optimize your program!

Jarrett M. Way

Director of Educational Content & Strategy