Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 14, Issue 1 - June, 2021

Utilizing "Teaser" Promotions to Gauge Interest in Extension Programs

Mills, R. , Extension Educator, University of Idaho Extension
Agenbroad, A., Area Extension Educator, University of Idaho Extension
Ball, S., Extension Educator, University of Idaho Extension
Boone, K, Extension Educator, University of Idaho Extension
Ridout, M., Extension Educator, University of Idaho Extension

ABSTRACT

Extension Educators in Southwest Idaho implemented two "teaser" marketing strategies in three different program areas to gauge clientele interests in multi-week courses and day camps. The strategies included hosting smaller-scale, pre-course events and distributing targeted promotional materials. These approaches helped generate interest and reduced risks associated with extensively planning for unknown attendance rates. The programs marketed using these methods drew full capacity enrollments prior to registration deadlines. These innovative ideas can be replicated widely across any Extension program area with a few simple steps and a little forward thinking. 


Introduction

Extension Educators can feel particularly defeated when financial resources, effort, and hours of time are invested in an educational program, and very few people show up.  Despite best efforts in planning and marketing, poor turnout just happens sometimes. Some extension educators may have heard that “FAIL” stands for “first attempt in learning”, which is what those moments can be.

As noted by Chappell (1994), there are “no magical formulas or secrets to marketing” yet “marketing must be planned, organized, and controlled. It involves designing Extension programs to meet the needs and desires of target clients and using effective pricing, communication, and distribution to inform, motivate, and service clients.” Chappell continues, “the only way Extension can achieve its own goals is by satisfying the needs of its clients.”

There are a variety of ways to assess the needs of clients including phone surveys (Ferry & Kiernan, 1989), reviewing census data, and conducting key informant interviews (Caravella, 2006). Such formal needs assessments aim to understand what types of extension education programs would be of interest, preferred communication channels, and the optimal timing of extension programs and events (Marrison, 2020). These methods help form a broad assessment of gaps in services being provided in a community. The question remains: once needs or interests are identified, will people attend (Malmsheimer & Germain, 2002)? 

 

Methods

Extension Educators in Southwest Idaho developed and implemented two “teaser” marketing strategies: a smaller-scale, pre-course event and targeted promotional materials. In general, the strategies sought to answer the question: are there enough people willing to commit to multi-week or multi-day events to justify the time and effort it will take to provide such an offering?

The smaller-scale, pre-course event method was used as a “teaser” to multi-week courses. Two to three months prior to the scheduled start date of the course, marketing materials were released via digital, social, and print media outlets advertising a short, two- or three-hour event. The shorter pre-course event offered similar content to what would be offered in the longer course, but just enough to make sure the participants took something away from the event and were left wanting more. Door prizes (including partial scholarships to the full course) and snacks were available to maintain a relaxed and interactive atmosphere. For one pre-course event, the audience was surveyed regarding content, level of learning, and program timing. Fees to attend pre-course events ranged from $0-$10. Pre-course event attendees had access to registration for the full course before it opened to the general public.

The targeted promotional materials method was a “teaser” for shorter programming, such as a three-day youth camp. At least six weeks prior to the proposed event, marketing materials were released through social media that included the subject, cost, ages and general dates and times of a potential camp. Families were asked to express interest by a certain date via email. An RSVP was not requested as the language on the flyer clearly stated the camp would not happen unless enough interest was generated. After a two-week window, staff would make the call on whether to move forward with event planning or move onto another subject depending on interest generated during the promotional period. If enough interest was generated during the promotion, interested families would receive the registration link.

 

Results

The marketing strategies discussed above were applied in three different program areas with similar successes. The methods measured interest prior to investing extensive logistical planning and allowed for tailoring future programming to community and clientele needs.

Small Acreage programming:

The smaller-scale, pre-course event method was used in November 2019 and November 2020 as a “teaser” to a 14-15 week “Living on the Land: Stewardship for Small Acreages” (LOTL) course held the following January-April in each respective year. Registration for the full course is counted by “unit” which means one or two people can sign up for the price of a single registration and share course materials. The facility where the course is hosted has a capacity of 15 units (10 units with COVID-19 restrictions). In 2019, 9 units registered for the LOTL Intro Night. Of those, 7 units registered for the full course. In 2020, 11 units registered for the LOTL Intro Night and 5 of those units registered for the full course. As a result of the pre-course event, the course was 47% of capacity in 2020 and 50% in 2021 with several of those registrations coming prior to registration being open to the general public.

Master Gardener programming:

A multi-county University of Idaho Extension Master Gardener program used a pre-course event and survey to assess needs and interest in the program. Promotion started mid-October for an evening event in early November two months prior to the start of the course in mid-January. The pre-course event and survey results indicated scheduling preferences and adequate interest in offering full certification courses for Trainees and Advanced Master Gardeners. Of the 29 individuals who attended the pre-course event, 11 signed up for the Master Gardener training course and 4 signed up for the Advanced Master Gardener course. These individuals represented 71% of final attendance in those courses (65% and 80% respectively), indicating that the pre-course event and survey combination was a highly effective resource for attracting participants and tailoring full training programs to clientele preferences.

4-H Youth Development programming:

The targeted promotional materials method was used as part of a new grant-funded project in a county. The staff wanted to hold a series of day camps to reach a new audience outside the traditional club program. Previous day camp efforts in the county had mixed amounts of success often resulting in low or no participation. After one failed day-camp with no registration or interest, staff used the marketing material method to gauge interest and make the most efficient use of time. As a result, three day-camps successfully filled to capacity (10 youth) in December 2019-March 2020.

 

Conclusions

Delivering quality educational programs is at the heart of Extension work and a key to successful programming is good attendance. Innovative educators in Southwest Idaho used two methods that help gauge participant interest and needs prior to extensive program planning. By hosting smaller-scale, pre-course events and releasing intentionally designed and timely promotional materials, adequate registration numbers have resulted in successful programs. These innovative ideas can be replicated easily across any Extension program area (Table 1).

 

Table 1. Recommended Implementation Strategies for Extension

Step Pre-Course Event Method Marketing Materials Method
Develop the basic program or event idea (topic, audience, event structure) Timing: at least 3-4 months before a long course-type offering Timing: at least 3 months prior
Develop a flyer or marketing element Include information about the stand-alone “teaser” event as well as a small amount of information about the longer course offering Clearly communicate on the flyer that the event is contingent upon interest. This can be done by including a deadline to express interest instead of an RSVP to attend.
Distribute marketing materials  Timing: at least 1 month before event, minimum of 2 months before longer course Timing: 6-8 weeks prior; have interest period open for 2-4 weeks then make decision on whether to move forward with further planning leaving at least 4 weeks for dedicated promotion and event preparation.
Communicate with clientele who respond to marketing strategies

This is a very important step to establish a relationship with potential attendees. Times to communicate include:

  1. Say thank you for registering for event.
  2. Communicate if the program will or will not be happening based on interest.
  3. Send out program reminders and news media event advertising.
  4. Keep contact information for direct promotion of future events.

This is a very important step to establish a relationship with potential attendees. Times to communicate include:

  1. Say thank you for expressing interest in potential camp.
  2. Communicate if the program will or will not be happening based on interest.
  3. Send out program reminders and news media event advertising.
  4. Keep contact information for direct promotion of future events.

 

 

Literature Cited

Caravella, J. (2006, February). A Needs Assessment Method for Extension Educators. Journal of Extension, (44)1. Retrieved from: https://archives.joe.org/joe/2006february/tt2.php

Chappell, V.G. (1994, August). Marketing Planning for Extension Systems. Journal of Extension, (32)2. Retrieved from: https://archives.joe.org/joe/1994august/a5.php

Ferry, N. M., & Kiernan, N. E. (1989, Winter). Beyond Traditional County Programs. Journal of Extension, (27)4. Retrieved from: https://archives.joe.org/joe/1989winter/a1.php

Malmsheimer, R. W., & Germain, R. H. (2002, August). Needs Assessment Surveys: Do They Predict Attendance at Continuing Education Workshops? Journal of Extension, (40)4. Retrieved from: https://archives.joe.org/joe/2002august/a4.php

Marrison, D. L. (2020). Assessing the Needs of the Agriculture & Natural Resources Industry in Coshocton County, Ohio. Journal of the NACAA, 13(2). Retrieved from https://www.nacaa.com/journal/index.php?jid=1143