Membership Part 3: A Comprehensive Rotary Marketing Campaign (Including Advertising!)


I’m certain that the biggest complaint that I’ve heard from Rotary clubs in my twenty-plus years in Rotary is, “why can’t Rotary advertise for new members?”  The short answer has been it’s too expensive, and Rotary is diversified across so many countries that developing a message that works in every market is impossible.  Last week’s blog, Overcoming the 14% Attrition Hurdle,  makes the case that the status quo of growing through  person- to- person selling strategies has failed because it doesn’t scale to numbers large enough to offset the 14% of Rotarians who leave Rotary every year.

Why not explore using the newest advertising techniques to help solve Rotary’s membership development issues?  I asked advertising expert,  Darren Easton, Vice President/Creative Director of Cyphers Agency in Crofton, Md., to help me pull together some numbers on what an advertising campaign for Rotary might look like.  I think you might be surprised.

NOTE:  This is a blog post is meant to entertain, educate, and inspire. The ideas explored below are meant to open a conversation about Rotary advertising and does not constitute a formal proposal.  Some settling of contents may occur during shipping.  Past performance does not guarantee future returns, etc., etc., etc.

In our hypothetical membership campaign, advertising would be coordinated with event marketing and public image marketing to drive prospects to our Rotary sales force (our clubs and members.)  Think of marketing as filling a funnel of prospective members that eventually drip out of the bottom of the funnel as qualified prospective members.  The elephant in the room when discussing advertising, is that unlike event marketing (holding membership events like Happy Hours) or social media-based public image campaigns, advertising requires a significant upfront investment both in experts to design the campaign and to make media buys.  Therefore, you have to look at evaluating the success of an advertising campaign through the lens  of what it costs to acquire a new member.  And that raises an interesting question….what is a new member worth?

The campaign would consist of using a new twist on traditional advertising combined with  digital programmatic advertising, along with Rotary clubs and members using social media and their rotary club websites, to significantly increase brand awareness for Rotary membership.  The advertising campaign would direct prospective members to Rotary clubs that schedule marketing events like Happy Hours or other events where prospects can meet Rotarians and learn about specific Rotary clubs.  Or, of course, prospects could be directed to visit participating rotary clubs.  In any event, the equation is advertising + social media = increased brand awareness = filling a marketing funnel of qualified and interested Rotary prospects being directed to our Rotary salesforce of Rotary clubs and members = significant increase in rotary membership.

A New Twist on a Traditional Advertising Campaign

Check out this recent ad for the Maryland Masons.  It’s been running on cable TV in Maryland for a long time, or at least long enough that I recognize it and so do most of my Rotary club members.  According to Darren Easton it probably cost the Masons more than $250,000 for the campaign….too expensive for us! Needless to say it is still very expensive to advertise on TV.  In addition to the media buy, Darren estimates it would cost $15 – $20,000 to produce a similar quality ad promoting Rotary membership.  The Masons produced several different ads for this campaign and you can find them on YouTube if you are interested.

Admit it…after watching this ad aren’t you at least a little curious to find out more about being a Maryland Mason?

Darren recommends Rotary consider a new twist on traditional TV advertising.  A new way to approach TV ads is to place an Over-The-Top (OTT) media buy that allows you to advertise on multiple streaming networks and can be highly targeted to our potential Rotary  audience of 40 – 60 year olds.  (or whatever demographic we are most interested in.)  Streaming content is found on smart TV’s and streaming devices like Apple TV and Roku, streaming networks like Amazon Prime and Hulu, and apps offered by traditional networks such as ESPN, AMC, TBS, etc.  Here’s a recent buy Darren’s firm just completed for an actual client:

Spot length: 30 seconds

Targeting: Ages 35-54 in the Baltimore market

Timeline: 9 weeks (November to December)

Impressions: 436,000 (how many individual viewers saw the ad)

Budget: $20,000

Distribution: AMC, TNT, Hulu, A&E, NatGeo, FX, local network and “a bunch more included in this package.”

Needless to say, $20,000 to reach 436,000 viewers is a different conversation than spending a quarter of a million for traditional cable TV advertising.

Programmatic and Facebook Advertising Campaign

At the same time Rotary runs the OTT ads on streaming TV, it would launch a digital advertising campaign that supports the brand awareness we create with our OTT  advertising.  You would recognize these ads as the pop-up ads you see while you are on the internet.  You are likely to see them because digital advertising is very advanced in terms of targeting the demographic and geographic location of internet users.  Programmatic ads could be coupled with ads on Facebook to create a comprehensive digital campaign.  All of our advertising would direct prospective members to what is called a landing page that would give prospects more information about Rotary and link them to individual Rotary clubs in the prospect’s geographic area.  Here are some sample costs to run a digital campaign:

Time: September through November

Placement Type: Targeted Facebook Advertising

Total Impressions: 98,000

Clicks assuming a 1% click through rate: 980 (Click through rate is the number of people who click on the ad to find out more about it.)

Hard Cost: $503

Cost per Click: $0.49

Time: September through November

Placement Type: Programmatic Banner Ads

Total Impressions: 3,200,000

Clicks assuming a 0.03% click through rate: 960

Hard Cost: $16,000

Cost per Click: $16.66

Hypothetical Result of Advertising Alone:  This campaign sends a Rotary message to approx. 3.7 million people and theoretically gets close to 2,500 prospects to click through to our landing page.  Assuming 3% of these prospects ultimately become Rotarians, we would have spent $36,500 in media buys to recruit 75 new Rotarians so our cost of acquisition would be $486 per Rotarian, not including $25 – $35,000 of one-time production costs and agency costs.  I am using very conservative assumptions here.  With such large numbers the number of new members from the campaign alone could be much higher.  In a perfect world, Rotary International could pick up the development costs for the ads and local Districts could pick up the media buys.

This  hypothetical campaign would cost a 2,000 member District a one-time assessment of $18 per member to fund the campaign and a 3,000 member District could ask $12 of each member.  Asking members to contribute gets them to have some “skin in the game” and perhaps a different level of “ownership” in the membership campaign.  And of course, the campaign could be scaled based on each District’s enthusiasm for the media buys and based on their financial strength.  If Rotary International helped to fund content creation, the cost to acquire new members would fall to very low dollar amounts.

Social Media and Club Support

We could expect that Rotarians and Rotary clubs would enthusiastically support this campaign at the club level.  In fact, I believe that Rotary leaders at the District and Zone level who implement this campaign would inspire and motivate Rotary clubs to a much higher level of engagement with membership than we have seen in the past.  Clubs would be encouraged to use the same social media tools we have been teaching for years to reach out to their personal networks with the same brand message we develop for the ad campaign.  Rotary club websites would also be encouraged to either embed the video for the OTT TV ad or the art for the digital ad campaign.  Ironically, inspiring clubs to actually use these marketing tools would increase membership with or without the ad campaign.

It’s not hard to imagine all of this content residing on Rotary Brand Central at  Clubs would also be asked to schedule membership events during the campaign so prospective members would have a “mid-funnel” method of developing a relationship with local clubs.

Assessing the Comprehensive Campaign

You could make the case that a Rotarians have never rallied around a membership campaign in the way I’ve suggested above.  When members see advertisements about joining Rotary while watching streaming TV and when they see pop up advertisements while surfing the internet, they will be excited to see that Rotary is finally doing something to help them.  It is not hard to imagine a different focus on membership at the club level and a far better close rate of prospective members joining clubs based on this new focus on membership.  Since we’ve already established that a typical 2,000 member district needs to come up with an additional 1% of members, (20 or more) to move to positive membership growth, the bar for success in this new campaign would be relatively low.

It is also difficult to quantify the results of millions of people learning about Rotary through the ad campaign.  What is the value of Rotary’s enhanced brand recognition to a small club when they do their next fundraiser after the campaign runs?  It’s not hard to imagine ticket sales would dramatically increase as more members of the community recognize what Rotary is and what we stand for.

It all sounds great, doesn’t it?  Well….I can think of lots of reasons why it wouldn’t work.  I’ll get into all of that in my next and (mercifully) last post on the subject of “why can’t Rotary advertise for new members?”

This blog post is brought to you by Dare to Dream, How Rotary Became the Heart and Soul of Polio Eradication. This documentary is one of the best marketing tools your club can use to increase Rotary awareness in your community.  Learn more about it at 

Read Part 1 of this series of posts about Rotary membership, Complacency and Low Performance Expectations.

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