Not Just 'Cows and Plows': Century-Old 4-H Rebrands

Organization Modernizes By Focusing on STEM, Healthy Living Programs

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Youth development organization 4-H is kicking off its first rebranding campaign in 100 years to shift the nonprofit's image away from agriculture and highlight its wide array of offerings, including STEM, healthy living and civic engagement programs.

Credit: 4-H

The organization, which stands for head, heart, hands and health, was rooted in agricultural, said 4-H Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer Artis Stevens, but what most people don't know is that the original idea was around teaching the newest farming technology. Decades ago, Mr. Stevens said adults were reluctant to alter their farming techniques, so 4-H decided to teach their children instead, which brought to life the nonprofit's focus on youth empowerment.

With the launch of its "Grow True Leaders" campaign, 4-H has set a goal of reaching 10 million youths, between the ages of 6 and 18, across the country by 2025. "If we're going to be able to grow and reach more kids, we need people to support us and understand what we do and ensure that our brand is relevant," said Mr. Stevens.

Working with advertising agency Dailey, which is providing pro bono services for the campaign, 4-H is releasing a broadcast PSA that will run throughout the summer, as well as some radio ads and targeted print in partnership with Meredith Corp. 4-H also teamed up with Comcast, Bloomberg TV and digital, Country Music Television, AOL and STEM Jobs Magazine for the initiative.

"This really is a movement – a perception and reality story," said Tom Lehr, president and CEO of Dailey. "I know I used to see 4-H at county fairs and the perception is cows and plows."

In coming up with the idea for the campaign, 4-H and Dailey looked at a year's worth of research about the organization's estimated 25 million alumni. Even though the nonprofit received a 96% approval rating, the majority of former members said they no longer feel informed or connected to 4-H.

One of the reasons the campaign and its marketing elements are unique is because they've been "guided, developed and executed with young people," said Mr. Stevens. 4-H worked with its youth counsel and youth board members, in addition to incorporating insights from its alumni audience. The main target for the initiative includes Generation X and millennial moms, especially former 4-H members, with school age children between six-and-18-years-old.

To get the alumni voice into the campaign, 4-H is working with a number of former members, such as Facebook engineer Andrew Bosworth, who is helping the nonprofit with a social media and digital effort that will ask adults "to shout out young people in their lives or communities who are making a difference," said Mr. Stevens.

On Tuesday, more than 300 youths will gather in Washington, D.C. for a 4-H "Grow True Leaders" rally, where they will talk to Congressional leaders about their "solutions for America," said Mr. Stevens. The teens will be joined by 4-H alumna Grammy award-winning music artist and 4-H national spokeswoman Jennifer Nettles and 2016 Miss America Betty Cantrell at the D.C. event.

During the rally, the National 4-H Council will release the results of its National Youth Survey on Leadership conducted online by Harris Poll among 1,501 9th through 12th grade students. Some topline findings include that the majority of youth (81%) think leaders today are more concerned about their own agendas than those of their organizations, and more than half (51%) rate government and political leaders as having weak leadership.

Other 4-H alum, including President and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Javier Palomarez, Today host Craig Melvin, CNN host Nancy Grace and U.S. Congresswoman Terri Sewell, will also attend events this week and voice their support of the campaign.

Hill & Knowlton Strategies is 4-H's PR agency of record, while Osborn Barr focuses on agricultural media outreach.

Due to the nonprofit's "nominal" budget of $250,000, Mr. Stevens said earned media and communicating the campaign messages in an endemic way are key. He added that bringing on other media or brand partners will also help spread the word.

The second wave of the campaign will run after the summer and will start integrating out -of-home and more print, said Mr. Stevens.

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CORRECTION: Due to inaccurate information provided by Hill & Knowlton Strategies, the PR agency for the 4-H, the story initially stated that the group hopes to reach 1 million youths by 2025. The correct number is 10 million.

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