Fall 1988 // Volume 26 // Number 3 // Forum // 3FRM1

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You Gotta Be Kidding!


Arlen Etling
Assistant Professor and 4-H Specialist
Agricultural and Extension Education
Pennsylvania State University-University Park

I knew my county director would never let me go to an in-service workshop on "marketing Extension." His philosophy is, "Do a good job, keep a low profile, and eventually your work will speak for itself." He also believes our national economy should return to the gold standard and that horses are the only moral means of transportation.

I also knew that he often took action before seeking approval from the "higher ups." His motto: "It's easier to get forgiveness than to get permission." So I waited until the day before the workshop. After he went home for the day, I put my travel request on his desk. I made certain that I was on the road before work the next day.

When I returned from the workshop, he was waiting in my office, "MARKETING EXTENSION! You gotta be kidding." His tone was belligerent, but he smiled.

"It was a good workshop." I said hopefully, "Lots of ideas."

"So now you're gonna be Mr. Slick: our local expert in deception, exaggeration, and white lies." His sarcasm was unmistakable.

"Oh no!" I replied in mock horror. "That's not marketing."

"So what is marketing, and what does it have to do with your 4-H program?"

"Marketing is the 'fair trade of value for value' according to the workshop presenters. You've encouraged me to recruit more 4-H members and volunteer project leaders. This workshop should help me to do just that. Using principles of marketing, I can plan different strategies for different groups. If I market 4-H properly, I'll find a way to give the target group something that 4-H can offer in return for something that I need: their participation in 4-H." I waited for a reaction.

Finally he said, skeptically, "Tell me more about this 'targeting' business."

I explained, "When businesses market their products successfully, they identify a particular group of potential clients and collect information on that group; they plan a sales strategy so that they have the right product with the right price in the right place at the right time; they recognize what the competition is doing; they use the right promotion methods; and they carefully manage the entire process. In 4-H, we offer opportunities instead of products. Unlike in the past, however, I should target specific groups with specific strategies."

He wasn't that easily convinced. "Sounds like fancy jargon for what we've always done when we visit schools to tell kids about 4-H."

"That has worked in the past," I admitted, "but with more school activities, cable TV, and working families, 4-H is just not as competitive as it used to be. We can't rely on general appeals entirely. We have to target specific groups with specific projects and activities. Also, we're under increasing pressure to reach more urban and suburban audiences. We can't do that by emphasizing only large animal projects as we have in the past."

"Maybe so...," he muttered thoughtfully. So I pressed on.

"You also realize that we're losing some of our state and national funding. We need more local donors. So we must develop still another marketing strategy for this group." I paused so he could digest that point.

"Sounds pretty complicated to me," he said. "Where are we gonna find time to do all of this marketing?"

I was ready for that question. "We'll need to take more time when we're planning programs. That's a critical time to consider marketing strategies. But if we do a good job of planning, then we should save time in the long run. I, for example, spend a lot of my time in 4-H doing chores that volunteers won't. If I did a better job of marketing 4-H, I could expect more committed volunteers and could weed out some of those 4-H activities where interest is low."

"I don't know how much time we'd really save," he said. "Still we're gonna need resources and expertise. You can't just throw something like this together."

"I agree, and the workshop gave me some pointers on that issue, too. Part of our marketing effort ought to aim at recruiting local volunteers who have marketing skills from their business experience. We were also advised to look at other social service agencies who successfully market their programs, to form partnerships and to cooperate with these other agencies."

He was immediately suspicious. "What do you mean by 'cooperate?' What 'other social service agencies' are you talking about?"

I was on thin ice. "We'd certainly need to carefully consider any possibilities for cooperation. But we should work more closely with the schools, certain civic groups, and some of our agricultural commodity groups. Those are partnerships we definitely need."

He didn't argue that point, but instead shifted to another concern. "What did they tell you about planning these market strategies?"

I was back on the offensive again. "They told us that most of the marketing currently done in Extension uses the 'shotgun' approach. We send general messages about our programs to the public using mostly mass media. That approach is fine to raise awareness about Extension. For volunteers, however, we should use a 'rifle' approach-develop an individualized request for each potential recruit using three steps: (1) list the skills, knowledge, experience, and interests that are needed for a particular volunteer job; (2) identify an individual who has the best combination of the desired skills, knowledge, experience, and interests; and (3) write down and rehearse the appeal based on 1 and 2. They told us to never try to recruit a volunteer unless we can give that volunteer three reasons why he or she would benefit from volunteering."

"That makes sense," he observed.

I continued, "For donors, the rifle approach would also work. In addition, we should also use a 'differentiated' approach for initial donor contacts. That means we develop a marketing package that can be changed slightly for different ones. A one-page, front and back, tri-fold brochure can be used to tell potential donors about 4-H. This can be supplemented by a personal letter appealing to each one's particular interests."

"That might work," he admitted, "but how would marketing help me with my agricultural programs?"

I answered with a question, "What is your major headache this time of the year?"

"I'm on the phone constantly answering questions about getting backyard gardens started," he replied with disgust.

"Could you schedule two or three horticultural field days around the county to answer most of those questions in one setting? Use marketing to anticipate the common questions, cover those questions through demonstrations, discussion, and handouts, and plan suitable dates and locations for the field days. Then plan the best combination of methods to get publicity out to the interested public. You might work with the nurseries and the garden clubs in this effort. You already do much of this work. Why not tie it all together in one or two marketing strategies?" I didn't mention that part of his marketing strategy might be to start a Master Gardener volunteer program. He'd been fighting that idea for years.

"You sure have all of the answers, don't you?" he stated as he got up to leave.

I laughed.

"If you try any of those ideas, keep me posted. If they work for you, then I might consider them. But don't hold your breath. I'm not planning to rush right out and lay this marketing stuff on my clients."

Just as well, I thought to myself. The last bit of advice I got in the workshop was "avoid shortcuts." A sloppy marketing package can be as bad as no marketing package.

Walking out the door, he turned, smiled, and asked, "By the way, do you really think you're gonna get away with that last-minute travel request?"