Pat O'Donnell

Pat O’Donnell

By Pat O’Donnell, Rotary Club of Olathe, Kansas, USA

The People of Action campaign is all about showing and telling the public who Rotary really is – a group of people that unites for good and actually roll up their sleeves and do meaningful projects that help their communities.

I know a little about getting the message out, having worked in broadcast journalism. So I naturally got excited when, as the public image chair for my district, I had the chance to coordinate a People of Action media buy covering four Rotary districts in my home region of Kansas and northwest Missouri, USA.  

The district governors wanted more exposure to Rotary – to tell the public what the clubs do and why they might consider joining us. And I was tasked with bringing it to life.

Like any worthwhile Rotary project, this one had its challenges. Our region spans vast rural areas but also includes urban Kansas City, which hadn’t covered Rotary much in the media. And we wanted to reach our audiences at peak times while adapting the People of Action campaign with local flair.

161 clubs working together

Rotarians all speak the same language when it comes to networking. I didn’t have to spend too much time convincing clubs of the importance of what we were trying to do. After a few phone calls, we soon had 17 clubs on board who had pledged $28,000 to purchase billboards, do paid social media, and place radio and television ads during the morning and evening drive.

We downloaded People of Action materials and ads from the Brand Center and tweaked them to include local information. And then I worked with the media, and we launched our campaign.

In two months, 161 clubs told a collective story, seen by 4.7 million people on billboards, Instagram, TV, radio, and on ballpark JumboTrons. We built awareness, and we got inquiries from the public. Clubs called me, too, saying this was best Rotary project that they had seen in years.

Lessons learned

We learned a few lessons along the way. To deliver our message of how Rotary connects and transforms communities to the public, we must first connect and communicate with each other as Rotarians. One Rotary club might put a People of Action billboard up in a community, but a different neighboring club might get the questions about it. All of a region’s clubs and its governors need to be talking to each other, so we’re all on the same page. And when you do a public campaign, each Rotarian has to be ready to respond when the public reacts and asks questions about Rotary.

It isn’t hard to get involved in the campaign. In fact, much of the work has already been done for us and is waiting in the Brand Center to be used by clubs. And you don’t have to be a media or marketing professional to get started.

All we have to do is get organized – just like when we unite to do community service projects – and tell the world what we already know about ourselves. That we are People of Action.

To me, it’s as important as any other project Rotary does, and it’s a story well worth telling.