People of Action Public Image Campaign Launch at the Rotary International Assembly 2017

A couple of years ago we decided to put together a video on the history of our district, for our annual conference. For this it turned out that we needed some historical footage, which we knew we could get from the National Museums of Kenya, in Nairobi. So a couple of us went to see the director of the museum. We explained who we were and what we wanted, and he asked us a lot of questions about what it was we were doing.

He wanted to know, what is Rotary, what do they do, what are the meetings like, who are the members, and so on. He’d heard of Rotary but didn’t know very much about it. So he asked us all of these questions, which we answered, and finally there was a bit of a silence, during which my friend and I were thinking, well, are you going to give us this footage or not?

But instead of giving us an answer, he asked another question. What he wanted to know was, “How can I join?” That is how the director of the National Museums became a Rotarian. It is just one story, but it is also the object lesson that I want to start with today.

You just heard from Sharon, who talked about how strong brands behave – how they effectively control and set expectations for the way consumers perceive and engage with them. That is right – consumers, those people who want to buy what WE are selling – and that is “the Rotary experience.”

I enjoyed hearing her immensely because, to be honest, what she said is exactly what I and many other Rotarians who are experts in the dynamic and often maddening world of marketing have long thought we needed to do to tell our Rotary story, and to tell it effectively.

Unfortunately, that is something that we have not always done very consistently – or very well. But as you heard we are turning a corner.  There has never been a more exciting time to be a Rotarian and we have incredible stories to tell. By investing in talent, resources and initiatives, we are poised now more than ever to help Rotary clubs bring their stories to life- in ever more consistent, compelling and effective ways.

We’ve started with research, those kernels of data and information by which strong brands live and die.   Last year Rotary commissioned a very large public opinion survey, in 16 Rotary countries, to gauge the degree of awareness that people have of Rotary, and the kinds of perceptions that people have about our organization.

There is good news in this survey.  First, many people are aware of Rotary.  Most people surveyed were aware of Rotary—anywhere from half, to nearly 100%, depending on the country. And the people who were aware of Rotary mostly had positive impressions—again, this varied by country, but about 75% overall.

Second, we are making progress.  From when we first conducted research in 2012-2013, general awareness has risen from 60% to 75% in 2015. We have made progress.  And we also have work to do.  Unfortunately, even many of the people who have heard of Rotary, and have a generally positive impression of Rotary, don’t really understand what Rotary is.

They haven’t heard of any Rotary programs. They don’t know about our effort to end polio forever, they don’t know about Youth Exchange, our Areas of Focus and at least 40% of respondents in most countries surveyed did not even know about Rotary clubs.

In most countries, Rotary is associated with men. In nearly all countries, the overwhelming majority of respondents did not think that Rotary was welcoming of new members. They didn’t see themselves in our picture. Two of the top reasons that respondents gave for not volunteering with Rotary was that they’d never been asked—and that they didn’t know how to get involved.

We can’t expect people to support Rotary, become involved, become a member or partner with Rotary, if they don’t even know what Rotary is, or what we do.

However, we know who we are and that has never wavered.  For more than a century, we have been people with integrity and influence who build the personal and professional relationships that allow us to share a vision and – importantly – take action to create change in our communities. That is the message that we need to put out there. And we must be consistent – another of the hallmark behaviors of strong brands that Sharon mentioned.   Consistent in our messaging and consistent in the way we show our brand.

As you know by now, you and your teams have access to a robust set of guidelines and tools for brand development located in the Rotary Brand Center in My Rotary. And in just a few moments I have the great pleasure of sharing the exciting debut of a new global advertising campaign called, “People of Action.” This will be accompanied by a toolkit for use in your districts and clubs to help with the consistency and continuity we have discussed. I’m very excited for you to see this Public Service Announcement.

We are also pleased that a refresh of site launched two weeks ago and feedback has been incredibly positive.

For many people, our website is their introduction to the great work that Rotary members do to improve lives around the world. It’s meant to create an emotional connection that inspires potential members, donors, and partners to get involved.

The latest changes to the public site do that, and more. Some of the updates are obvious: a modern design, increased use of imagery and graphics to tell our stories, and better organization of content to help readers find out who we are and what we’re doing. Other changes, like the improved readability and speed of the site, are a welcome change and one that you asked for and we heard you loud and clear. Similar changes will be coming as we shift to refreshing the My Rotary segment of the site.

This all begins with clarifying how we showcase ourselves visually and how we use our messaging to support our brand. This also extends to developing and using resources that all Rotary clubs can use to tell our story on a grander scale. Because we aren’t all going to get the opportunity that we had in that museum office, with every potential Rotarian.

But if we are going to grow in the way that we want to grow… if we want to reach all of the potential great Rotarians out there with this message, we have to get that message out to all of those potential Rotarians.  Until now, any Rotary clubs or districts who wanted to go to the next step in reaching potential members—who wanted to advertise Rotary in their communities–were pretty much on their own in terms of developing their materials. The last time we developed materials for clubs outside of the This Close campaign was more than five years ago.

It’s very clear that the time is right, for developing new global materials for clubs and districts that is shaped by research and aimed at helping us tell a consistent, compelling story about our brand so that all of those people who have heard of Rotary, but don’t yet know Rotary, will have a chance to connect personally and understand the impact Rotary makes.  So they can see us for who we are:  we are “People of Action.”


What you’ve just seen is a first look at our People of Action public image campaign, which will be formally launched at our International Convention in Atlanta this June. In addition to the video,  we’ll be developing  print advertisements, online and social media ads, radio and outdoor advertising.  In addition to the one we just screened, there will be ads about the relationships and connections you make through Rotary, the value you can gain from the Rotary club experience, and ads highlighting the work we do within our areas of focus.

Many of these pieces will be available at the start of your year in July, the remaining will be made available over the following 12-18  months, in all Rotary languages. All will be customizable, into local languages; and with local contact information, so that there is a clear call to action, and a way to find out more.

These are exciting tools and one of the most important things you can focus on is ensuring you have a strong District Public Image team to help you implement these tools in your newsletters, websites, advertisements and the area where we can get our most bang for our buck – through social media. The best part is – you don’t need to be an expert – you simply need to surround yourself with other Rotarians who have these skills. Work with them to coordinate training and information sessions on the campaign.

Give serious thought to your appointments for communications posts. Who has the kind of experience and connections in the marketing, advertising or other communications fields to help drive the campaign?

Who can help arrange to get the ads placed as public service announcements or create strategies for pooling and leveraging joint funding or in-kind media support benefitting the entire district?  Who can develop relationships with local media to gain free publicity for our work and the value we bring to our communities? Importantly — who is going to drive your social media effort?

The ongoing investments made in our brand – from our brand strengthening effort, to the recent website update to this new campaign — are all exciting and so needed.  But they will only be effective when we, as leaders within Rotary, prioritize these investments and encourage clubs and districts to use them so we maximize their returns.

Remember- strong brands champion brand all the way from the top. For this campaign to work, for us to truly get our Rotary story out into the world, we need every Rotarian, in every district, in every part of the world, to be brand ambassadors—starting with those of us in this room.

The goal here, the goal of all of this, is building understanding of who we are and what we do.  It’s about creating an emotional connection, because we all know that our own connection with Rotary is very much a connection of the heart. We want people who to feel what we feel in Rotary—and then to come to a Rotary club themselves, to feel it even more.

We know our stories. We are our brand.  WE are People of Action.


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