Experiential Education: A 5 Step approach to building better CSR

What’s the most effective and efficient way to optimize your CSR efforts? While opinions could go on forever, there is something new to consider: It’s called Experiential Education, and it’s being embraced across both the private and pubic sector with much zeal.

What is Experiential Education?  It is a marketing approach that uniquely connects people with a brand, service or cause in a way that is meaningful, motivating, memorable and measurable.  Importantly, Experiential Education creates dialogue about a proposition that further enhances an emotional connection. This is a key advantage versus traditional one-sided “monologue” approaches, which, while appropriate at times, are finding it more difficult to create meaning in a cluttered media environment.

One group that does this very well is the National Speaking of Womens’ Health Foundation. (SWH).  SWH’s mission is to empower women about their health, and their lives, while simultaneously building awareness and funding local organizations that do the same. SWH gets its message delivered in an “active, dialogue” approach, i.e. Experiential Education, through a series of one-day “female only” conferences that partner with major health clinics and organizations – including Wal-Mart and brands like L’Oreal. The conferences combine education with a day of fun and camaraderie, for an inspiring dialogue between attendees, lecturers and sponsors.  The result? The program sells out over 50 programs per year, for the past 12 years. And millions of dollars have been raised for local women health and empowerment initiatives.

What are the five key steps to building a great Experiential Education program? Power Marketing Partners, calls it the 5 M approach:

Step 1:  Make it Meaningful: Make sure any CSR program creates a relevant and meaningful message to your audience. Build your program with a target audience in mind that you know will, or should have interest in your initiative. Consider all elements from picking the right partnership and spokesperson to choosing the right forum.

Step 2: Motivate Action Give people a reason to interact with your initiative, as they are inundated with messages vying for their attention. Just as SWH motivates its audience with meaningful education, they promote it as a “fun filled day of camaraderie,” and price it accordingly. If it were a simple lecture invitation, it would likely be placed in the “might consider” pile.

Step 3: If it’s not Memorable, Why do it? There is nothing better than someone remembering an “experience” they had. It not only instills action, but it fosters advocacy as they tell friends. When the American College of Cardiology (ACC) planned its 2007 conference, it had a special message about the future of cardiology. Instead of having the CEO of the ACC deliver it, they wanted to be sure that everyone walked away from the conference with a memory of the message that would foster natural discussion. The answer? Invite Larry King to conduct a Larry King Live event that motivated both key opinion leaders and conference attendees to participate in a discussion forum. The result was Experiential Education that was talked about throughout the conference, generating radio, TV, Internet and print coverage, and facilitating more dialogue after the conference.

Step 4:  Set Measurements: A program becomes a campaign when data shows its success. A program continues to be funded when all participating parties see the value in it. For these reasons alone, specific measurements need to be planned. Using the ACC event as the example, the program was tied to fundraising. The donations exceeded the goal. With SWH, the number of hospitals and corporations vying to partner with the conferences, the number of participants and the type of not-for-profits receiving grants from SWH, are all measurements that help continue its 12-year tenure

Step 5: Keep in Mind Mutual Benefits for all Parties:  Most Experiential Education programs involve partnerships of some sort, generally between public and private sector. Public sector sees a means to further its mission and help raise much needed funding as long as the integrity of their association/foundation is strengthened and not jeopardized. The private sector sees a means to communicate its mission and brand benefits through association with a respected third party. Not only is this social responsibility, it’s simply good business. Obviously there are many other mutual benefits, but the key is that a win-win needs to be attained for an Experiential Education effort to become an ongoing program

In conclusion, Experiential Education offers an exciting way to deliver CSR in a way that is meaningful, motivating, memorable, measurable and mutually beneficial. As traditional marketing tactics become more difficult to deliver results, these Five Steps create a starting point for leveraging the new way of approaching, and evaluating initiatives.

This article was written by John Hopper, managing partner for Power Marketing Partners in Stamford, Connecticut. It was excerpted from the PR News Guide to Best Practices in Corporate Social Responsibility, Volume 2. To order a copy, visit the http://www.prnewsonline.com/store/.