Zero Marketing Budget Doesn't Slow Down DoSomething

Three Questions with Not-for-Profit Marketer and CMO Strategy Summit Speaker Naomi Hirabayashi

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Naomi Hirabayashi
Naomi Hirabayashi

Naomi Hirabayashi is CMO of the largest not-for-profit for young people and social change, DoSomething.org. The group targets Americans 25 and under, creating accessible calls to action. It uses text messaging to reach its target and makes simple requests -- dropping off a pair of jeans at a local mall, for example.

Through her role, Ms. Hirabayashi has excelled at building tactical marketing partnerships with DoSomething's non-existent marketing budget. She also tackles social media with messaging that is human and receptive, which she calls key for effective social strategy.

Ms. Hiabayashi will be talking about those strategies at the upcoming CMO Strategy Summit on Oct. 16 in San Francisco.

Ad Age: How can non-profits make the most of small budgets?

Ms. Hirabayashi: When you have a small budget -- in our case, a zero-dollar marketing budget -- you're forced to be creative. When it comes to a big budget, it's easier to throw things around and not have to think as creatively. For us, you have to figure out how to actually build a mutually beneficial partnership. It forces us to set up relationships with different marketing partners who understand the value that they're getting.

We have to go into those situations and say, "What are you looking for in a successful partnership?" It could be access to a demo that they care about, like the college market. …Because we can't just rely on the exchange of money, it makes us a more valuable partner because we're thinking about what our assets are and what we can offer beyond the exchange of money.

Ad Age: How big of a role has social media played in your efforts?

Ms. Hirabayashi: It's impossible in this day and age, especially for our core demo, to talk about marketing and not include living online. For us, what we always talk about in terms of social media is respecting the medium, understanding why people are on that specific medium. For example, Instagram might be a lot of beautiful imagery or insider scoop into our office or inspirational quotes. Facebook is a lot of visual content that personifies the issues we're talking about. Twitter is more news-focused. So, first is understanding the medium.

Second, it's a feedback mechanism. … And it's also access. We did something one time when we were doing a huge food collection campaign in the spring called PB & Jam Slam. We were rallying young people to collect peanut butter for shelters in need. We told them if they let us know if they were TeamCrunchy or TeamSmooth, we would favorite every one of their Tweets. And we did. The idea that you can be more closely connected to an organization, a brand, a celebrity or whatever it may be -- when done right -- social media is one of the most exciting communication mechanisms that's ever existed in human history, in terms of how it operates and how real-time it is.

Ad Age: What can big companies learn from you? What are you doing that's innovative on a larger sphere?

Ms. Hirabayashi: One thing we're doing is we're using SMS technology as a way to start a conversation with young people, because it has a 97% open rate, and we know it's a medium that they trust. We're very careful about our messaging. The word authentic gets thrown around all the time, but it is true. Consumers and users are more savvy, but for us, our young people, teenagers can sniff out BS better than anybody. And so if we come across as preachy or insincere or if they ever sense that we're trying to advertise to them, that could never work. We would never work.

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