Fall 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA10

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Using Volunteer Marketing Professionals


Carole S. Fromer
Visual Media Coordinator
Cooperative Extension System
University of Connecticut-Storrs

When you need valid marketing advice, where do you find it? Should you contact an advertising agency or a television station? Would a marketing professional or a radio news director have the best insight? How about a corporate communicator or a public relations representative at a nonprofit agency?

Each of these resources would offer a unique perspective, but which one would be most appropriate for your marketing needs? Sometimes, the nature of your project helps with your selection. At other times, your budget (or lack of one) makes the decision for you.

In Connecticut, we decided not to choose between these viable alternatives. Instead, we asked them all to help us.

We were forming a Cooperative Extension Public Information and Marketing Advisory (PIMA) Board and we contacted: the president of a media services firm, the program director of the state's public television station, the public information director of a nonprofit agency, a corporate communications administrator at a major insurance firm, the public affairs director of a network television station, the vice-president of an advertising agency, the marketing director of a management and development company, the director of institutional relations at the University of Connecticut, and the development director of a large conference facility.

All agreed to serve as volunteer members of the board.

We held the first PIMA Board meeting in Summer 1988 at the centrally located Hartford Cooperative Extension office. To accommodate busy schedules, we met from 5:00-7:30 p.m. and served a light meal.

While some of the board members knew each other or the Extension visual media coordinator who chairs the group, few were acquainted with the Cooperative Extension System and its impact on people's lives through educational programming. As we provided a historical review and described the administrative and programmatic changes Extension was implementing, the nature of the board's marketing responsibilities became clearer. The additional requirement of publicizing Extension's upcoming 75th anniversary further clarified their task.

Our work began with an assessment of Extension's mission, goals, the environment in which the program was functioning, and the current level of public awareness. We then analyzed the existing marketing brochures to see if they met our needs. A key shortcoming of these materials was the orientation of the content. "You're talking to yourselves," commented one board member. "Put the copy in language appropriate for those you're trying to reach." Another person offered, "Relate what you do to people's needs. Don't expect them to make those connections for you."

The quarterly meetings of the PIMA Board which followed were essentially creative brainstorming sessions. Ideas were tossed out so quickly and with such enthusiasm that we found taperecording the discussions the only way to catch all the suggestions that were bouncing around the room. The thoughts of the marketing professionals were given immediate peer review by their colleagues. Approaches offered by Extension personnel received similar scrutiny.

We didn't realize the full value of this interaction until it was identified by one board member. She said, "You're getting a little different advice from us as volunteers than if you hired us. As our client, we'd be trying to please you to keep your business. In this situation, we're free to be more candid."

Topics on the PIMA Board's agenda included designing a new Extension logo, developing a new positioning line (slogan), editing a new general programming brochure, formatting an external newsletter, and designing a marketing strategy for Extension's 75th anniversary commemoration.

As a result of these efforts, we have a better understanding of the Extension characteristics we should highlight. We're focusing our message in a different way to increase awareness and response to our offerings. Our updated program brochure incorporates the volunteer board's ideas in language suited to those we want to reach. Publications include a call to action that makes it easier for the public to contact us.

Several thousand dollars were saved in developing our new logo because, through the volunteer board's connections, it was designed free at an advertising agency. The volunteers identified other pro bono opportunities as well.

While final decisions on specific communication projects are made by Connecticut's Extension administrators, they're able to make more informed choices because of the insights and creative suggestions offered by the PIMA Board's volunteer marketing professionals. We couldn't possibly pay them for their time and inventiveness. But, because they're willing to donate their expertise, the impact of Extension's educational programming is intensified and an increased number of Connecticut residents reap the benefits.