From the November 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

You don't have to be a Ben or Jerry to capitalize on community outreach. In fact, "civic marketing" can serve as a low-cost, high-impact marketing tool for almost any business.

Take Boston pawnshop Empire Loans, for example. Owner Michael Goldstein contributes to a variety of causes, including a nearby homeless shelter, a shelter for battered women and a local performing arts school.

Goldstein's motives are sincerely altruistic--and savvy. "Doing our part makes us a good neighbor and helps our image in the community," he says.

Concord, Massachusetts, marketing coach Nancy Michaels says that civic marketing can offer a host of benefits, including:

  • raising community awareness of your business
  • building customer and employee loyalty
  • differentiating your business from competitors
  • positioning your business as a leader

All this for minimum expense. "In fact," says Michaels, "you can donate your time or resources, or pay employees to volunteer on community-oriented projects, without involving [much] money at all."

To maximize your efforts, Michaels recommends selecting causes carefully. "Look for [causes] that are meaningful to your target market." Leverage your involvement with press coverage, promotional signs or in-store displays.

If your business doesn't draw from a geographical community, make a splash in your industry. New York City entrepreneur Terri Edelman, owner of advertising, marketing and design firm The Edelman Group, sponsors a $3,000 scholarship for students of her former high school who wish to study advertising and design.

Not only did Edelman win recognition in the trade publications read by her clients, but she strengthened key client relationships by asking clients to participate in the judging.

Tricks of the Trade

Show-Off Graphics

As a trade show exhibitor, you've got about five seconds to catch an attendee's eye before he or she passes your booth. Five seconds. With this kind of attention span, making the most of the graphics at your exhibit is not just smart marketing--it's do or die.

"There's [intense] competition for the eyeball at trade shows,' says Dr. Jerry Cahn, CEO of New York City-based Brilliant Image, a supplier of trade show graphics. The days of simply tacking up a sign with your company name on it are over. "That kind of display is fine if you're as recognizable as Nordstrom,' says Cahn. "But if you're Magnet Products Inc., for example, you'd better be prepared to tell people who you are and what you do.'

Cahn's suggestions for perking up your trade show graphics:

  • Develop a unique proposition, and use it as a headline. Example: "Sales automation software that increases selling time by 25 percent.'
  • Make your graphics bold and attractive so they command attention even from a distance.
  • Make sure your display addresses the commonly asked questions: "What does your company do?" and "What are you showing here?"
  • Build brand identity by coordinating display graphics with sales literature, including pre-show promotions and follow-up mailings.

Also, be sure to keep up with the latest technology in trade show displays. Computer-generated graphics and reusable, portable displays can improve your image and save you money.

New York City software company Financial Technologies International recently switched from rented booths to a custom-made model with a computer-generated display. Marketing manager Diane Wukitsch reports that the new booth is more eye-catching. "People have commented that they could see it from across the room,' she says. And it's less expensive than the old, rented models. "We were paying $7,000 to $10,000 per use for the rentals,' Wukitsch says. "The new booth, which is completely reusable, cost us only $8,000.'

Gayle Sato Stodder covers entrepreneurship for various publications. She lives and works in Redondo Beach, California.

Contact Sources

The Edelman Group, 420 Lexington Ave., #1706, New York, NY 10170, (212) 490-4800

Empire Loans, (800) 375-PAWN, fax: (617) 423-5579

Impression Impact, (508) 287-0718, fax: (508) 287-0410

Joe Vitale Agency/Awareness Publications,(281) 999-1110, http://www.mrfire.com

Private Label News, (215) 230-4400, plabelnews@aol.com

Sweet Charlottes, 1395 El Camino Real, Millbrae, CA 94030, (800) SWT-CHAR