The Ins and Outs of Advertising a Community Investment Initiative

by Caroline Incledon, Community Investment Campaign Organizer

The topic of this post may (at first) seem only tangentially related to responsible investment or organizing on college campuses. I know that its role certainly caught me by surprise. What I'm referring to is marketing, or brand image and advertising techniques, hardly something I thought I would have to tackle when launching a community investment campaign at Tufts University. But, surprisingly, I find myself continuously encountering marketing related opportunities and challenges in my community investment campaign at Tufts.

The necessity of a powerful marketing campaign first became apparent to me as I networked around Tufts, recruiting and connecting with allies and administrators. I found myself "selling" responsible investment - what did if have to offer, I was asked, and what would be the benefits of what we were trying to achieve? Although I knew the answers to these questions, I began to recognize the importance of, and begin to formulate, a more synthesized and relatable response. For recruits, this message needed to be attention-grabbing, yet capable of sustaining prolonged interested. Work should seem fun... but challenging... but also rewarding! The list goes on and on. Then, with allies and administrators, you must demonstrate the comprehensiveness, legitimacy, and beneficial aspects of your campaign. These challenges are what I view as "ideological" marketing; you are developing your own ideas and asserting the importance of socially responsible investment. Luckily, ideological marketing doesn't really feel like work. In reality, you are only refining your own incoherent thoughts and making them more palatable for your general audience.

But then there is the technical side of marketing. Running a campaign on your campus, or being an organizer, involves just that: organizing! You need certain structures or mechanisms to sustain interest, get the word out, and be productive. Maybe you start a club, and need a logo or club name to be more recognizable. Maybe you want to get to reach a larger audience or really get your unedited thoughts out, so you started a facebook page or blog, or design some flyers. All of a sudden, you are in charge of the brand image. Do you want it to be recognizable, or attention-grabbing, or familiar? Do you want your logo to evoke a sense of professionalism, or to subtly reference money or the environment? The physical images as well as the rhetoric you use combine to create a representation of your cause - one that can either draw people in (hopefully!) or turn them away.

Yet the power of marketing has also become apparent to me on a larger scale. It is a fundamental part of the structures we are working within. The schools we attend have spent millions of dollars and immeasurable quantities of time honing their images. They have reputations that bring them faculty, donations, and students desiring admission. They are institutions with clearly defined senses of self and well-thought-out ideas about their role in your life, the community, and the world. Acknowledging the pervasive inclusion of marketing in the communities in which we do work can help us.

Marketing has presented a few obstacles, but also a lot of exciting possibilities for growth. Developing an image for a cause can be fun. Furthermore, it can help a group to determine what direction they want to move in. It may even help you draw in the support of a graphic-deisgn savvy friend who might not otherwise have been immediately interested in endowment issues. Working on ideological advertising can also be helpful. The issues we are working on, from community investment to shareholder activism, can appear convoluted, and for perspective it is sometimes useful to utilize simple ideological statements such as "Move Your Money" and "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is". Finally, understanding the motivations (of reputation and image) behind some of your school's actions can be helpful. Appealing to your school's idea of itself may make administrators more receptive. Does your school pride itself on its strong relations with the surrounding town? Then it may be easier to convince them to invest in the community and live up to the standards they have made for themselves. Marketing, when done well and/or used in an intelligent way, has the potential to really further the work we do.

Good luck,
Caroline Incledon

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