Spring 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW1

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Responding to Crisis


Steve Stark
Marketing Coordinator
North Dakota State University-Fargo

What parent hasn't had the nightmare about an abducted child? Comfortably nestled in the Midwest, Fargo, North Dakota, is nonetheless home to the child stalker. But a recent fast response by the NDSU Extension Service helped troubled school officials, children, and parents prepare themselves with knowledge about what to do when faced with attack.

Wednesday morning's headlines in the Fargo newspaper screamed about an 11-year-old girl narrowly escaping an attempted abduction, the third such incident in as many days. Sensing a public need for information, a communications department staff member quickly arranged to have NDSU Extension's childhood development specialist interviewed on a popular radio call-in show. He also arranged for her to be available to the press. Her subject was what parents could tell their children about being confronted by strangers. Clearly, an alarming topic on that Wednesday morning to the 100,000 people in the Fargo area.

In addition, the childhood specialist met with the marketing coordinator and departmental editor to determine whether the NDSU Extension Service could possibly respond to the community's fear and apparent need for information by quickly offering a concise publication. All agreed that such a publication could be written, reviewed, printed, and distributed within days if everyone having a say in such matters would agree to shortcut standard publications procedures to get the information out fast.

Meanwhile, the marketing coordinator contacted the superintendent of schools in Fargo and West Fargo to learn if such a publication would be used. Their enthusiasm was encouraging. "This is exactly what we need," one superintendent said. "If you can have it to us in two days we can distribute it before the weekend."

The following day the story was phoned to the editor and transferred from tape to hard copy by the department's secretary. It was edited and given to two staff members for peer review. Every publication must be peer-reviewed. The reviewers had been contacted earlier by the editor and urged to act immediately and accurately - two elements not frequently associated with one another. They agreed and returned the two-page document within hours.

Immediacy was also the watchword for the typesetter, graphic designer, and printer, who sped the piece through the system.

To emphasize the importance of the story, the editor that night again interviewed the child development specialist by phone from his home to add a story to the weekly newspacket though this meant holding the presses on Thursday morning until the story could be inserted.

The result? Forty-eight hours after the terrible headlines, every home in Fargo and West Fargo with a child in kindergarten through sixth grade had a copy of the NDSU Extension Service publication, How To Talk to Your Kids About Strangers: Advice for Troubled Parents. The school districts distributed it to their 19 elementary buildings.

The initial run of 12,000 was depleted by the following week and another 25,000 were printed. Home economists and agents throughout the state introduced the publication to their county's homes and school.

One home economist said, "I don't ever remember being that proud of a publication. It was meeting a problem immediately."

NDSU Extension Service is in its second year of an organizational marketing process. Reacting quickly to a crisis such as child abduction is indicative of an organizational mindset that is societal marketing in its highest form. It demonstrates that Extension professionals make a contribution not only to individuals, but to society as well. With continued cooperation from colleagues, Extension helps put knowledge to work for people and can save lives as well.