Fall 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA4

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Enhancing Our Image


Mary T. Crave
Associate Professor and Extension Home Economist
University of Wisconsin-Extension
Marathon County, Wausau, Wisconsin

Brenda Byron Janke
Instructor and Extension Home Economist
University of Wisconsin-Extension
Langlade County, Antigo, Wisconsin

Extension home economists in Wisconsin have an identity problem. We're employed by the University of Wisconsin, the USDA, county government, and the Cooperative Extension Service. We're called teachers, agents, Extension home economists, Extension Homemaker advisers, and home agents. We're faculty in the Department of Family Development and program in the Family Living Education program area. We have many affiliations and titles. But the public still doesn't recognize us for the resource we are.

"Working for Wisconsin Families" is the four-year theme of University of Wisconsin-Extension's Family Living Education programs launched July 1, 1987, reflecting the changing needs of today's family.

The marriage, employment, aging, and economic trends reshaping our society are having a profound effect on families in Wisconsin counties. These challenges facing families formed the basis of a marketing effort, the concept of the "family expert." The idea of being a family expert isn't new, but consistently marketing ourselves as such and incorporating and articulating that expertise into ongoing programs is.

Four-Year Plan

The marketing effort is to position ourselves in the market as experts on families. The time was right - no single event brought this effort about. County staff had been initiating their own local efforts, legislators were scrutinizing programs based on outdated observation or perceptions, and state staff provided leadership. Finally, the completion of a four-year plan gave credence to the development of a marketing plan that would incorporate needs identification and planning efforts already developed. Even though the budget was passed, decreased funding in the future is still a threat. Marketing plans are proactive rather than reactive to budget cuts.

Competition for clients from other educational institutions and private businesses emphasized the need for a plan that would distinguish as well as highlight our credibility through our university campus link and role in teaching local professionals.


A committee of county and statewide faculty members met for two days with a professional marketing consultant. This forced us to "look at ourselves in the ways that others see us from the outside in...not the inside out."1 The theme or slogan, "Working for Wisconsin Families" was chosen to represent our focus for the next four years. It tells our communities what home economists do, who our audiences are, and that we're a statewide agency. More importantly, "Working for Wisconsin Families" says that home economists are advocates for families.

A slogan rather than a logo was chosen because it more completely, yet concisely, describes what we're about. It was felt a logo would promote a biased mental image of home economics in audiences' minds and wouldn't encompass the broad range of roles we play.

Long-range goals, objectives, and action plans to carry out these goals were identified. This article focuses on increasing overall visibility, enhancing image, and identifying the program impact of Family Living Education as a major component of Extension.

Marketing Tools Developed

A list of over 50 suggested actions and marketing tools was developed and prioritized. Many have multiple parts and may take up to four years to develop and implement. Others were and are already in use. Tools such as business cards, standardized introductions, podium banners, letterhead stationery, enclosure slips, name tags, table top name cards, slides, transparencies, promotional brochures, and publications clip art all include the "Working for Wisconsin Families" slogan and visually and verbally reinforce what we do. None of these tools is unique or unusually creative, but the determination to use them frequently and consistently is. We're less likely to have an audience member thank us for a terrific program and then ask, "Where are you from again?" or have a club president introduce us as "a fair judge" or "lady who answers canning calls."

Committee members collected examples of these various tools from home economists who'd developed and used them. Prototypes or examples of each tool were developed and shared so that each home economist wouldn't have to "start from scratch." State specialists provided family profile data for each county and helped in identifying local sources of additional data. Criteria for each tool were listed so that efforts in promoting our title, affiliation, and role are consistent within our own county and within the state, yet allow flexibility for each home economist to adapt tools to the needs and county situations. Sharing available resources not only saves time, it promotes more ownership of the marketing efforts by involving county faculty.

Objectives, action plans, and tools for the marketing and visibility effort were introduced by county faculty at two statewide conferences at the same time as the introduction of the next statewide four-year plan and national initiatives. Marketing these educational priorities was integrated throughout the training, emphasizing that marketing efforts are planned into program time, not in addition to planned time.

As other tools and ideas are developed, they're shared at monthly district faculty meetings and regular monthly mailings. A recent Educational Telephone Network program focused on improving radio programs with emphasis on improving our visibility as "family experts."

Each Extension home economist is encouraged to develop an attractive, four-page "Family Profile" flier that summarizes statistics and concerns of county families. This is shared with general audiences as well as influentials, advisory groups, and politicians in the county.

In communication classes, we learn to use "I" messages. Because we have the facts about area families, we can avoid generalizations about families and use "we" messages: "In this county, we know that 66% of the women with school-age children are employed. Ten years ago 43% were." We feel this helps us sound more credible as a family expert than saying, "More women are working now than before."

Visibility of the "Working for Wisconsin Families" slogan gives us an opportunity to explain our role as a family expert and how home economics might be different than traditionally perceived. For example, when presenting a program for a local civic group, one might start by referring to the podium banner with "Working for Wisconsin Families" and lead into a brief discussion on the current focus of home economics. Local facts on families and their needs can be woven into programs on nutrition or financial management as well as family development.

We've been forced to identify our position in the educational community and examine what University Extension home economists do differently or better than other institutions and agencies. We chose to promote our expertise about families in our communities. Other states may choose to position themselves differently. What's more important is a consistent and appropriate image. We can't expect taxpayers and legislators to support vague programs that appear to duplicate other's efforts, or that address client wants rather than needs.


It's too early to judge the statewide impact of our marketing efforts in Wisconsin, but we have seen successes in many counties. Extension agents, area schools, other agencies, and government study committees have called on us for family profile data and recognize us as experts who know and care about families in our communities. Our "Working for Wisconsin Families" slogan has great potential and can easily be used beyond the present four-year plan.

Just as consistency is important among Wisconsin Extension home economists, so it can be for other state program areas and national initiatives. The five challenges confronting Wisconsin, presented in the University of Wisconsin-Extension Cooperative Extension Service's Design for the Future,2 could all benefit from a marketing effort that sets us apart from others, is timely, and encourages involvement and ownership among the professionals carrying out the strategies.


1. "Marketing Cooperative Extension - A New Way of Thinking," Extension Review, LXI (Spring 1985), 2.

2. Design for the Future (Madison: University of Wisconsin-Extension, Cooperative Extension Service, 1987).