May 17, 2024

How to Save a Place: Get the Word Out

An essential part of ensuring the preservation of old places is ensuring community support. In this installment of the How to Save a Place series, we’re sharing ways you can draw attention and build support for your project. Methods range from public relations to community tours. (And don’t forget the other popular tactics in our Become an Advocate toolkit!)

While these strategies are not a replacement for community participation in the preservation process (which is paramount for any any preservation project) here are a variety of tools, techniques, and tips to help you shine a light on the places you love.

A news camera points towards a woman sitting in a chair waiting to be filmed.

photo by: Sam Mcghee, Unsplash

You can attract attention to your cause by pitching a story to the media.

Public Relations

1. Craft an effective communications strategy for your preservation project.

A campaign to save a place can benefit greatly from identifying and targeting a specific audience with key messages. Plus, publicly presenting an issue through the media can also help attract the attention of policy and other decision makers who could ultimately decide the outcome of your project. (Toolkit: Crafting a Communications Strategy).

2. Pitch your story to national, regional, and local media.

Pitching a preservation story to a reporter—i.e., alerting them to all the good work you’re doing -- can seem daunting the first time. But the more you practice, the smoother your outreach efforts will become. The top tips: Know your story inside and out, target the right media outlets, make your message stand out, and follow up!

3. Write an op-ed or letter to the editor.

If you have a time-sensitive or pressing preservation issue that you want to get in front of readers as soon as possible, then consider writing an op-ed or letter to the editor (LTE) instead. These allow you to express your opinion quickly while still reaching a large audience. Think like a reader as you draft these pieces, and be sure to include relevant evidence to bolster your credibility. Also, when it’s applicable, encourage readers to take action.

An outstretched hand hods a smart phone. Colorful bokeh lights fill the frame.

photo by: Rodion Kutsaiev, Unsplash

Maximize social media to reach new audiences and build commuity around your efforts.

Social Media

4. Create a social media plan.

A social presence is close to a requirement these days—an overwhelming thought for those of us who love historical things more than technological things. The good news is, planning ahead pays dividends for your cause later. Set goals, define your audience, and list resources (human, financial, etc.) that can support your work. Most importantly, don’t feel like you have to be everywhere. Pick the channels that will work best for you and your cause. (Toolkit: 9 Questions to Ask When Using Social Media to Save Places)

5. Manage the social media time crunch.

You can build and maintain an engaging social media presence with just a small window of time each day. Participate regularly, talk about what you’re already doing, and make it simple for people to connect with you. Not only will you build community, but you’ll have fun talking to people as passionate about preservation as you!

6. Use photography and video to your advantage.

Visual imagry is essential to building interest in your work and providing additional context. The good news: The places we love tend to be pretty, dramatic, or otherwise visually appealing. Create pictures and video often, share with your social media audiences, and include captions, clear alt text for accessibility, and hashtags to help spotlight endangered places and share success stories when they're saved.

Tip: Consider hosting an Instagram tour of the older or historic place you love.

Tip: Dip your toe into the hashtag pool with these preservation faves: #SavingPlaces, #Preservation

Interior view of the Bracero Reception and Processing Center built in 1951 at Rio Vista Farm.

photo by: Robert R. Arzola, Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) Architect

The places we love tend to be visually appealing. Document the things that make the site unique!

Special Tactics

7. Nominate your site to America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places List.

The 11 Most list has been one of the most effective tools in the fight to preserve our country’s irreplaceable architectural, cultural, and natural heritage. Think your historic site has a strong case? Complete a nomination form during the next annual submission round.

8. Organize a community tour.

Help people in your neighborhood play history detective right in their own backyard by setting up a walking tour. These kinds of outings are great ways for local history-lovers and preservation groups to bring a community together around beloved places (or their desire to sneak a peek inside that big house on Main Street). Try coordinating one for your town and see what happens.

Tip: Check out some easy ways to build your tour guide skills.

9. Document the community’s thoughts on video.

One of the best ways to get your message out there is to create and share video interviews with community members who support your goals. To make interviewees comfortable, explain your purpose, list your questions and expectations, and don’t apply pressure. You’ll build their confidence while compiling lots of compelling footage. (Toolkit: How to Conduct a Oral History Interview).

An earlier version of this story was published on May 28, 2015.

Donate Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened.

Donate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation today and you'll help preserve places that tell our stories, reflect our culture, and shape our shared American experience.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi was the senior director of digital marketing at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and gawks at buildings.

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