“Brand in Action” is a series of interviews with 4-H leaders in states nationwide who are investing in the 4-H Grows Engagement Campaign to elevate the 4-H brand, raise resources to help grow the 4-H program and positively impact more kids in the future. This month, we feature Michael Martin, Extension Specialist at Virginia Tech.
Describe your role as Extension Specialist at Virginia Tech? How long have you served in this position?
Michael Martin (MM): I have served as an Extension Specialist in the 4-H Department at Virginia Tech for four years. Prior to my current role, I served as a District Director for nine years and prior to that, a county 4-H Agent for 10 years. Currently, I provide leadership for Emergency Response and Preparedness for Virginia Cooperative Extension and also give leadership to the Virginia 4-H Military Partnership and also the National 4-H Mentoring Grant program for Virginia in addition to numerous 4-H support roles. I also co-serve as the 4-H marketing liaison with Lori Greiner, Communications Manager, for Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Why is it important to Virginia Tech to grow awareness of Cooperative Extension’s 4-H programs in counties across the state of Virginia?
MM: 4-H Youth Development Programming is a signature program of Virginia Cooperative Extension. There are numerous opportunities for youth to participate in 4-H, and participation levels are good. However, there are places in Virginia where families still indicate that they are either not familiar with 4-H or do not know how their children can participate. It is important that we effectively tell the story of 4-H in every county and city and encourage both youth and adults to get involved.
Can you describe your recent efforts to align your state’s 4-H marketing efforts with the national 4-H Grows Engagement Campaign?
MM: Our social media efforts have increased substantially in partnership with the 4-H Grows Campaign. In addition, a steering committee has been created that includes 4-H agents, specialists, communication and marketing staff, and foundation staff who partner to help direct the campaign. We also utilized the campaign materials and videos at our State 4-H Congress, State Fair, Virginia Tech Athletic events, and the Virginia 4-H Symposium and 4-H Volunteer Leaders Conference. At this year’s state fair, we asked fairgoers if they had been involved with 4-H and encouraged them to get connected. We gathered more than 170 contacts, including that of 4-H alumnus and the new Secretary of Agriculture for Virginia, Dr. Basil Gooden, who completed the 4-H Alumni form on our iPad.
Virginia Tech is one of 28 universities that is making a long-term investment in the 4-H Grows Engagement Campaign to build the brand and raise resources to help grow the 4-H program and positively impact more kids in the future. Can you tell us more about your marketing and alumni engagement plans in the coming months?
MM: We look forward to partnering with National 4-H Council in the coming weeks to implement the “Give-A-4-H” online fundraising campaign. Funds raised through this campaign will be helpful to the state in providing quality 4-H curriculum and programs to Virginia youth. In addition, we will continue to gather names and contact information of 4-H alumni so that follow-up and engagement efforts can take place.
Are you satisfied with the progress of this 4-H partnership and work to date?
MM: The progress has taken some time to get going, but is beginning to take shape. With the assistance of our newly assigned National 4-H Council Field Marketing Director, we can begin to shape how the campaign will proceed in the months to come.
What are you most excited about as it pertains to this new 4-H campaign?
MM: The campaign will bring a consistent brand message to 4-H that will help in recognition and awareness of the program nationally and at the state and local levels. Connecting and re-connecting with 4-H alumni will increase the opportunities for growth through volunteers and also opportunities to increase funding levels available to grow 4-H.