When TechnoServe received close to $50 million in donations from Google.org and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), executives at the nonprofit knew the organization had entered a new phase.
The group has been working to aid developing nations since it was founded in 1968. But earlier this year, TechnoServe decided it was time to rethink its messaging and branding strategy. In February, the organization partnered with its first AOR - Text 100 - to tell its story to a broader audience and better leverage new media.
"With the evolution of new media, there is [more] public awareness of the challenges of global poverty and an appreciation of the private-sector marketplace approach at a scale you haven't seen before," says Bruce McNamer, president and CEO of Techno-Serve. "We need to be out in front of that."
Perhaps because of the involvement of high-profile celebrities, issues surrounding global poverty have reached new heights in public awareness in recent years. Yet, largely unknown to the mainstream public, TechnoServe has been using the private sector to deal with global poverty for 40 years.
In honor of its good work, Google.org awarded the organization a multi-year grant of $3 million to expand private-sector development efforts, and the BMGF gave it a four-year grant of $46.9 million to help small-scale farmers improve coffee quality and production.
After securing the prominent grants, McNamer thought communication about them would be most effective by emphasizing how the donations will impact the lives of struggling workers in developing nations. But this meant shifting the organization's traditional communications focus from its metrics-centered message to one with a more emotional resonance.
"Because many of us come from the private sector, we are very focused on our results," he says. "On one hand, people appreciate it. But on the other hand, we have millions of stories to tell about people whose lives were profoundly affected by this [organization]."
Even though McNamer wants to amplify the humanitarian angle of the organization's messaging, he does not want to resort to tear-jerking pleas for community involvement. Rather, he envisions a messaging strategy that evokes feelings of hope and change.
"We don't want to overdo the emotional appeal," he says.
McNamer also wants the organization's refreshed messaging to clearly show audiences how dollars from donors have impacted lives and helped TechnoServe meet its humanitarian goals.
But the company's communications challenges are not just linked to its messaging. Its name sometimes leads people to believe the organization is a software or IT company, McNamer notes. The organization coined its name in 1968, before the word "technology" had taken its current connotation of gadgetry and the Internet. The organization's full name was originally "TechnoServe: Technology in the Service of Mankind," with technology referring to a mechanism to better produce palm oil in Ghana.
But despite the occasional confusion, there are no plans to change the name as part of the new branding strategy. Rather, McNamer says the organization's name is an opportunity to tell its story.
"[Our name] might be slightly misleading, but if you get the next question, you might find out what it means," McNamer says. "It's our opportunity to say what we do."
Aedhmar Hynes, CEO of Text 100, says the agency will rotate the pro-bono Techno-Serve account through its worldwide offices to ensure its messaging includes a global perspective to reflect the organization's mission. The agency recently completed a study to determine how TechnoServe's brand is perceived and what needs to be done to achieve its communications goals.
"So everything we do from this point forward is to form a more cohesive and logical position, [which] up until this point has not been as clearly defined as [TechnoServe] would have liked," Hynes says.
This includes crafting a campaign that makes use of TechnoServe's Web site, e-mail and text communications; social networks; and online video. Though traditional media relations will be a part of the organization's tactics, the outreach will be more strategic.
"I don't think we get much from one-off stories," McNamer notes. "You put a lot of effort into [getting an article published] and then what does that get you?"
Instead, McNamer plans to build a media campaign that encompasses the organization's full messaging and fosters long-term relationships with journalists.
"We don't feel like we need to educate people from scratch about the value of developing companies in the countries we work in," McNamer says. "It's more a case of why we do specifically what we do."
At a glance
President/CEO: Bruce McNamer
Headquarters: Washington, DC
Revenue: $31 million in 2006, including public and private funding.
Marcomms budget: Undisclosed, but Text 100 has committed to $300,000 worth of pro bono PR work per year.
Key trade titles: Chronicle of Philanthropy, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, FT, Institutional Investor
Comms team: Daniel Dupont, VP development/comms; Luba Vangelova, director of marcomms
PR agency: Text 100