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Case Study: How a Nonprofit Used Member Resources to Increase Brand Awareness Across Multiple Markets

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Company: Oregon Sports Authority
Contact: Meyer Freeman, Chief Operating Officer
Location: Portland, OR
Industry: Nonprofit
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 4

Quick Read:

The nonprofit Oregon Sports Authority (OSA) was striving to bring new sporting events, teams, and tourist dollars to the state. At the same time, it wanted to become the official sports resource for state residents and use its clout to muster additional community support. Its existing collateral, however, was not effectively conveying the benefits it offered to these markets; as a result, the organization was not fully performing its mission. OSA decided that it needed to overhaul its promotions and communicate its brand in a more compelling manner—an ambitious feat for a nonprofit that employed only four full-time staff. Turning to the support of its capable member base, which included the likes of Nike and OregonLive.com, OSA proved that with a little creativity and good use of partner relationships even a small nonprofit can produce well-targeted, sophisticated marketing tools and generate the recognition it deserves.

The Challenge:

The Oregon Sports Authority (OSA) had a noble nonprofit mission: "To position the state of Oregon as the preferred location for select amateur and professional sports events, franchises and related activities in order to enhance the quality of life of Oregonians and to stimulate the state's economy." But few people—in or outside the state—had ever heard of the organization, and those who were familiar with it had a difficult time comprehending exactly what it did.


The authority realized that it needed to better explain its brand, said Meyer Freeman, OSA's chief operating officer. The challenge lay not only in developing the right promotions with the resources available but also in effectively relaying its message to multiple, perse audiences.

In addition to Oregon residents, for whom OSA wanted to establish itself as a true state-wide sports authority, the organization needed to target event promoters and sports franchises, out-of-state tourists, and state corporations, because their financial support was crucial for OSA to continue its mission.

The Campaign:

With the assistance of some of its 60 Board members, OSA set out to upgrade its brand and drive home its message via various marketing media, including the following:

1. Hardcopy materials

OSA solicited the help of one of its members in 2005 to revise its written collateral, which included...

  • A brand book used as an introduction to the organization for attracting new members, events, and sports franchises.
  • A mailed newsletter that became the OSA's annual report to members, detailing the organization's accomplishments and future plans.

2. Video

In August 2006, OSA was a proud host of NBC's Dew Action Sports Tour in Portland; with the help of Nike, an OSA member, it produced a 30-second spot that aired on NBC's broadcast of the event.

The ad was designed to promote Oregon as a sports and recreation destination, and its narration spoke of the state's persity, world-class events, and friendly hospitality, while a montage of video clips pointed to idyllic settings and the broad assortment of sporting activities available. The video concluded with the tag line "We love dreamers" and displayed OSA's Web address.

A similar 60-second DVD was also produced by OSA and Nike and was used for the organization's own presentations in recruiting new members, events, and franchises.

3. Web site

Understanding that its Web site was a chief component of its branding strategy, OSA added the complete overhaul of the site to its 2006 agenda and turned to eROI, a local e-marketing firm and board member, to lend a hand.

The new site launched in February 2007 and included striking visuals that communicated what the organization was about, along with expanded interactive content that positioned the Web site as a one-stop resource for residents and visitors alike.

Drawing on the strategy of its video presentation, OSA again relied on visual images to effectively explain its mission and purpose. eROI incorporated the images into a flash presentation that anchored the new site. A recently produced 60-second video was added as a feature element to many of the site's pages, and static images were used throughout the editorial segments of the site.

eROI built the site around a blog back end that enabled OSA to easily manage content on all pages and add new information to the various linked segments simultaneously.

Those segments included the following:

  • A sports directory of 1,500 sports associations, teams, and venues throughout the state, searchable by sport.
  • An improved events calendar that prominently displayed feature events and enabled users to search events by region, sport, and date. Enhanced interaction allowed users to submit new events and post feedback about specific events.
  • Relevant sporting news that again allowed users to post comments.
  • Region-specific information that provided area-specific recreation, sports teams, venues and events, as well as a slide show showcasing each region's highlights and general tourism information, including visitor associations and lodging facilities.

The Web site also promoted member organizations at the bottom of each page and encouraged new membership enrollment on a separate, dedicated segment of the site.

4. e-newsletter

On each page of the Web site, users were prompted to sign up for a monthly newsletter that mirrored the Web site design and offered timely news and event information, as well as exclusive ticket discounts.

5. Banner advertising

OSA created banner ads targeting Oregon residents with the taglines "Connect to the Oregon sports landscape" and "View Oregon's most complete sports events calendar and get access to exclusive ticket events," along with its own tag, "Enhancing the state though sport." The banners were regularly displayed on OregonLive.com, one of OSA's champion members; it was also offered on the OSA Web site for others to add to their own sites.

6. Promotional handouts

Sporting images and the "Connect to the Oregon sports landscape" message were again used to design a mouse pad that was given out to members and to attendees at OSA-hosted events.

The Results:

The increase in public awareness can largely be seen in the surge of OSA's Web site traffic, which has doubled to about 300 visits a day since the new site and other initiatives were implemented, according to Freeman. The expanded content helped to improve the site's position on search engines, and the interactive events calendar feature has become a resource that users consistently return to the site to use. It also helped that The Oregonian, the state's principal newspaper, spotlighted OSA as its "Web Site of the Week" in May.

Subscriptions to the e-newsletter have increased as well, with over 100 new recipients since February, more than the organization had achieved in any year prior. And users are recommending new events in greater frequency, which has improved the site's offerings and helped to build a personal connection with these inpiduals.

As awareness continues to grow, so do membership and sponsorship inquiries, and current members are pleased with the level of promotion their own brands are receiving on the Web site.

The new messaging is helping to bring new events and sports teams to Oregon. While it is impossible to directly attribute any specific event to the newly branded materials, they have definitely bolstered OSA's pitch and may have contributed to the organization's landing the 2009 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament and US Figure Skating Championships, among others.

Lessons Learned:

  • Leverage your membership base. OSA's lean team was able to cost-effectively accomplish a great deal within a reasonable timeframe by taking advantage of its members' resources, skills, and generosity.
  • Tell your story visually. Through dynamic pictures and footage, OSA was able to explain itself to perse audiences in a way that words had not achieved. "It was difficult to communicate what our organization does...the ability to show people what we do through images is something that we have recognized as very effective," said Freeman.
  • Encourage interaction and a personal connection. OSA has received a good amount of positive feedback from users who appreciate the region-specific information and interactive elements of the Web site. Freeman advises approving user messages before they are posted and using a spam blocker to limit undesirable posts.

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.

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