Fall 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA9

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What's Relationship Marketing?


Bruce DeYoung
Associate Professor and Extension/Sea Grant Program Leader
Cooperative Extension Service
Oregon State University-Corvallis

Amid the survival frenzy of dealing with decreased funding, Extension professionals are being encouraged to aggressively market their programs and organizations. The reaction of Extension field staff to increased marketing efforts is mixed.

Some staff arriving at marketing training workshops are hopeful that increased "media visibility" will increase their leverage with funding sources. Other staff express fear that subsequent marketing efforts may be "too successful." They foresee vast new audiences overloading limited Extension programming time and resources.

Experience indicates that both expectations are unrealistic given the nature of marketing. Marketing success requires more than increasing our media visibility, and, long-term Extension survival won't require vast new media-generated audiences!

Relationship Marketing Concept

In our haste to gain media visibility, we sometimes overlook Extension's most important marketing resource - our relationships with people! This is ironic since the backbone of Extension's success is based on commitments of volunteers, legislators, lay leaders, and our staff members.

Educational organizations who wish to survive the competitive "shake-out" period of the 1990s, will need more than media attention. Emerging marketing research indicates that heightened public awareness of organizations is only a first step in the marketing process.1

Building constructive relationships with selected target audiences is more important to Extension's long-term marketing success than acquiring widespread public awareness. Relationship marketing is the process of attracting, maintaining, and enhancing relationships with key people.2 This marketing process applies to Extension since funding is garnered from a few sources and continuous educational programs are delivered to specific audiences.

Successful Relationship Marketing Techniques

The greatest challenge confronting Cooperative Extension during the next 20 years will be persuading county, state, and federal legislators to financially support Extension. Quality educational programs that meet critical community needs are a prerequisite for funding.

However, quality, need-fulfilling programs aren't enough. Targeted relationship marketing initiatives that raise Extension's credibility with decision makers are no longer a luxury, but a necessity for public funding. As Boldt notes, Extension staff must become effective at relationship marketing to understand emerging governmental priorities and influence future financial support.3

Typically, decision makers have only a small window of exposure to view Extension programs. Extension must focus its message on the critical difference it makes on the lives of voters. Keys to successful communication with decision makers include:

  1. Coordinate communications. Communications with elected officials must be coordinated by one person in each county and state office. This coordination eliminates duplication of efforts and maximizes the impact of Extension's educational message. The elected officials should be contacted by both staff and well-trained clientele.
  2. Know your elected officials. Identify all local, state, and federal elected officials in your area. Collect basic information on their background and interests. This data collection can be done by adult or 4-H youth volunteers. Elected officials should be visited personally by a team of staff and volunteers on a year-round basis. Assign one volunteer and, if possible, one staff member to visit key elected officials.

    Before the visit, review information sheets and, if possible, attend a meeting that the elected official is participating in. This homework will help identify and target critical issues that the official is interested in. Target the educational message to meet the official's interests.4

  3. Get organized. Develop a file of success stories on significant Extension programs and issues that can be shared with elected officials. Tailor the distribution of success stories to personal/professional interests and needs of targeted legislators.
  4. Develop a communication plan. Volunteers and staff should speak one-on-one with key elected officials. Information sheets can be filled out on the key officials by volunteers. Personal visits with legislators should be planned and opportunities for personalized education through other means identified.
  5. Conduct effective legislative visits. Face-to-face visits with legislators by clientele who live in their districts are most effective. When a group is involved, there should be one spokesperson. Make an appointment for a short, well-planned visit and present your views rationally. Facts, figures, balance sheets, and other evidence can be convincing. Develop a one-page information summary to leave with the legislator or staff member.

    Personal visits and written communications must be planned as part of a continuous, year-long dialogue with legislators. Remember to include the elected official's secretarial and aide staff. These staff members are literally the eyes and ears of the elected officials. It's imperative to get to know them personally. Contact staff members regularly on a year-round basis, don't wait until budget season. Get to know them, and give them a chance to know you. As you plan your legislative visit, determine the most important issues to be discussed.

Still More Relationship Marketing Techniques

Invite elected officials to Extension educational events. Make sure they are given a visible and active role in the meeting, such as keynote speaker, member of a panel, etc. If the officials can't come, they'll send a representative from their staff. When they visit, make sure they're given appropriate recognition and media coverage.

Send newsletters and other pertinent information to them. Occasionally include information about elected officials in your newsletters, remembering pictures are effective.

Send success stories, copies of letters of praise from clientele, news of staff awards, etc. Collect news clippings of programs, photocopy, and send them to elected officials periodically. If you have a feature article, a personal delivery is often effective.

Seek advice year-round from elected officials. Ask them if Extension staff can serve on appropriate committees that match professional responsibilities. This makes the communication two-way, rather than Extension always informing elected officials about needs and programs.

One of the most effective ways of educating decision makers is breakfast or dinner forums. These forums can feature short reports outlining Extension's program areas (achievements and future direction), a meal, informal conversation, and feedback between decision makers, staff, and key clientele. Make meetings short - no longer than one hour and lively. Deliver what you promise - on time and in a visible fashion.5


As Extension field staff and administrators develop marketing plans, it will be critical to the success of these to include relationship marketing strategies. While these relationship marketing initiatives could target key representatives of the general public, clientele, media, and decision makers - an audience critical to Extension's future viability is that of elected officials.

In developing, maintaining, and enhancing relationships with elected governmental officials, we need to employ "high touch and personalized technology" communication strategies. By using imagination to portray Extension's commitment and ability to address important community issues, our professional future will be secure. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emersen, future times can be very good if we know how to make them so through key relationships!


1. Bruce DeYoung, Marketing Your Charter Boat Enterprise: Putting Relationships to Work, Information Bulletin 206 (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, 1987).

2. Leonard Berry, "Relationship Marketing," in Perspectives on Services Marketing (Chicago, Illinois: American Marketing Association, 1983).

3. Bruce DeYoung and William Boldt, "Relationship Marketing: Putting Relationships to Work," in Cornell Cooperative Extension Marketing Manual, William Boldt, ed. (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University, 1988).

4. Barbara Bund Jackson, "Build Customer Relationships That Last," Harvard Business Review, LXIII (November-December 1985), 120-28.

5. Theodore Levitt, "After the Sale," in The Marketing Imagination (New York: Free Press, 1983).