5: Marketing and Communication

Why does an Effective Marketing Strategy = Success?

It Emphasizes "the New" over the Current

The importance of effective marketing of the partnership, its vision and goals, and its activities cannot be stressed enough. The good news is that marketing can happen in many different ways, both big and small. Communications Strategies can range from simple (and cheap) to complicated (and expensive). In fact, many marketing strategies do not take a lot of time and resources, and can be developed easily from existing materials. Most marketing brochures, for example, are public versions of an initiative's strategic plan, including a problem statement, the vision of the change needed, the goals and strategies to get there, and often a call-to-action or invitation to participate.

Consider that in order to effectively market what the partnership is about, some clarification of "what it is not" may be needed. This often takes shape in clarifying why the sector initiative is different from what already exists in the region and across systems. Helping partners (or potential partners) understand how your initiative is different from what they do everyday not only helps them market the initiative's activities to their peers, it also helps them understand their role in a more concrete way.

How your Initiative is different from related efforts

A Sector Initiative is different from a local workforce investment board because a sector iniative does not serve the needs of single employers as customers, which LWIBs and one-stop career centers are required to do by federal law (Workforce Investment Act). A sector initiative convenes multiple employers within the same industry, identifies their common needs, and designs a customized solution to those needs. The approach allows a deeper look into an industry’s workforce challenges, which in turn leads to industry-wide solutions. The approach uses state and local resources (including employer financial investments) efficiently and effectively. LWIBs, like other organizations, can often act as effective intermediaries of a sector initiative.

A Sector Initiative is different from a Chamber of Commerce because it is focused on one industry, allowing focused attention to be paid to common barriers to competitiveness across firms within that industry. It also focuses primarily if not exclusively on the workforce development elements of economic competitiveness. Chambers are more likely to focus on business regulatory environments, marketing, and other elements. Chambers, however, like LWIBs, can be excellent conveners of a sector initiative.

A sector initiative is different from an Economic Development Agency because it focuses on a single industry’s workforce development-related challenges. An EDA may address these issues, but is more likely working in the areas of business climate, business retention and recruitment. Cases exist where sector initiatives are used as part of the marketing package to new and expanding companies. Where sector initiatives can show results in increasing the skilled labor pool in a specific industry and region, they become a powerful tool for economic developers to offer as part of a package to support business location or expansion decisions.Just like lwibs and Chambers, although the daily work of an EDA is different from that of a sector initiative, an EDA can also effectively act in the intermediary role.

A sector initiative is different from a Community or Technical College (CTC) or its Workforce Development unit in that it focuses on one industry sector and designs workforce solutions directly related to the industry's needs. Although there are some exceptions around the country, CTC Workforce Development units often are more focused on serving the needs of individual businesses. Additionally, CTC Business Advisory Groups that have been in existence for many years do not meet the true definition of an effective sector partnership because they meet once or twice a year to generally provide feedback on curriculum. Sector partnerships typically exhibit a longer term and higher level of employer engagement than Business Advisory Groups. Sector initiatives often advocate for new or revised CTC courses and credentials that are designed by the partner employers (and therefore highly relevant to local jobs). These courses sometimes “break the mold” of traditional adult learning, as they are offered at non-traditional times, in short “chunked” modules, and in a format that integrates remedial and occupational training. Many community colleges effectively design new or revised curriculum in response to employer needs. This is why community colleges are critical partners in a sector initiative, and sometimes can also be effective intermediaries of sector initiatives.

A sector initiative is different from an Industry Association in that it draws together multiple public “systems” or otherwise “silo-ed” entities (such as education, workforce development and economic development), along with firms within the target industry, to identify barriers to competitiveness and their “root causes,” and to design joint solutions. Industry Associations are also conveners, but in a narrower sense. They convene just employers in their industry, and often address common challenges such as regulation, marketing, or other problems unrelated to a skilled workforce. Industry Association leaders are also very effective in "chairing" or leading the sector partnership group, with the convener or intermediary doing all of the other management functions required.

Marketing Leads to Sustainability

Sector initiatives have choices to make about when, to whom, and to what extent they market their activities. It is valuable to consider that “creating buzz” about the goals of the partnership and its activities can happen at all stages of development. Communicating the vision and the goals with leadership in relevant public systems and with private stakeholders, including their potential roles in the strategy, may serve as a way to build a coalition of early change agents. It may also prevent the tendency to internalize the work by any core group of individuals, yet another factor of the partnership that must be managed effectively by the intermediary. The public may also have a role in testing the validity of the goals of the initiative, and in building momentum for change.

Marketing the success of your initiative should be closely linked with how that success is measured. It is common for a sector initiative to approach marketing and evaluation as intrinsically linked together under the umbrella of long-term sustainability. Evaluating the progress (such as additional leveraged funding) and concrete success (such as a new training program) of your initiative should be strategically utilized to market and message to important stakeholders (such as other employers, legislators, and the public). If this is done successfully, the likelihood of long-term sustainability is increased.

Marketing Tips and Tricks

Your Best Marketing is Word of Mouth

It is no secret that individuals respond best to those they consider to be "like-minded." In sector initiatives, that means that employers listen to employers; educational institutions listen to educational institutions; workforce boards listen to workforce boards; economic developers to economic developers. This is why developing "champions" is so critical to success. Recall our discussion of "employer champions" in Chapter 3: Convening and Planning, and consider that this concept should be applied broadly to all partners.

Make an effort to identify and shape champions from:

  • Employer partners;
  • Education and training systems;
  • Economic development entities;
  • Workforce development organizations; and
  • Jobseekers, workers and members of the community.

Make Marketing Easy for all Members

Knowing that the best messengers for your initiative are members themselves, you will want to make it as easy as possible for them to get the word out. Strategies to encourage members to regularly market the initiative and their participation include:

  • Developing a standardized presentation that can be used by all members at various opportunities.
  • Writing up a short elevator speech that can be put on business cards or pocket cards. This way members will always have the what, who, why, and how on hand.
  • Helping members formulate their own testimonial by interviewing them, writing up their responses, and making the product available. The intermediary should either regularly keep track of quotes and testimonies from members, or should survey members on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. These can be turned into soundbytes and testimonies for brochures, websites, interviews or other marketing mediums.

Use Multiple Media to Get your Message Out

A marketing campaign that communicates the vision and goals of the initiative to the community should be considered in the early- to mid-stages of implementation, not only toward the end when activities are fully underway. Remember, you want to use marketing to build momentum and support along the way. As soon as your initiative can boast success, boast! Some mechanisms for sharing with the community might include:


Chapter 5 Review Questions

  1. To whom do you want to market your initiative? Consider multiple audiences and answer "what's in it for them" for each.
  2. How can you turn your goals statements, list of partners and your current activities into a short, catchy marketing tool?
  3. How can you help employer, education and training, economic development and other partners tell the story of the effort so the each become "champions" of the effort?