Sometimes your greatest asset can be your greatest challenge.
The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) rests on a proud history. It has 114 years of success which has built a strong network of passionate supporters – 50,000+ students, nearly 3,000 volunteers, 2,000 tutors and 10,000 members across England and Scotland. But there hasn’t been a comprehensive marketing structure in place since its founding in 1903. To engage the next generation of supporters, we know we need to have a clearer understanding of our brand and how it should work for us.
I joined the organisation as its first-ever head of marketing. My task was to refresh and modernise the WEA brand, to ensure its relevance for today while remaining authentic and aligned with our heritage. In addition, there was the need to make the case for marketing to our stakeholders – the very people who serve our community. Getting buy-in for marketing was a crucial step on our journey to modernise our brand. And of course, this had to be done on a shoestring budget.
From day one, it had to be a collaborative effort. Working closely with a small team comprised of our chief executive, members of the newly established senior management team and a trusted designer, we harnessed one of the organisation’s greatest assets – our network of fantastic people.
Education and inspiration
Our supporters, tutors and volunteers are passionate and motivated. However, in the past, some have seen marketing as a distraction from the necessary job of putting ‘education first’. We needed their support or this would never work, so the project started with a carefully planned consultation and review process. We wanted to plant the importance of brand, marketing and comms within every branch we work with. This is important because it ensures we’re all working together in a unified, coherent way, but also helps us maximise our capacity. After all, with a small team in HQ, it would be impossible for us to create marketing materials for everyone. We needed teams across the UK to feel empowered, confident and most of all, trust us to lead them down the right path while getting involved and contributing.
We developed inspiring and accessible training presentations, with examples of best practice brand work from across our industry along with initial ideas on how we wanted to reposition the WEA through a rebrand. Supported by the senior management team, I travelled the country to meet people face-to-face and to engage with our teams and answer questions.
During the rollout, we discussed the importance of brand and what it meant for the WEA with a series of examples. Holding these sessions face-to-face was a crucial part of the process as it enabled healthy and honest discussion around the WEA brand. I was also able to gather insight directly from individuals, while developing relationships with each team. We put the benefits into the context of their own work, articulating how it will support their own objectives, and help reach even more people.
As part of the overall project, we worked with the senior management team to secure marketing officers in each of our nine regions and Scotland, the first time the WEA had dedicated professionals within all its regional offices.
Turning feedback into function
Once we had buy-in, we started listening. We carried out a thorough review process and learned our teams found simply publishing marketing materials, especially brochures and posters, a challenge.
This feedback helped us develop of a bespoke solution that would help empower teams to create marketing materials quickly, coherently and without fuss. We’re building a web-to-print platform which will enable every region to print out these materials more easily, featuring a range of templates for posters and newsletters. As we build this platform, a key criterion is that it is easily accessibile – so there is no need to log in and it can be accessed on phones, laptops and computers.
We took inspiration for this web-to-print approach from the likes of Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research. Instead of building our own platform, we used a tailored, cost-effective, off-the-shelf provider called PageEngine. The new system will make producing marketing materials easier for every region but it also means as a brand we are consistent.
A coalition of the willing
Aside from functional support, making every region feel involved and engaged was key to the success of the roll-out. This won’t happen overnight for us. Limited resources mean staging the roll-out, from digital all the way through to print.
One of the solutions to manage the process has been the creation of both the local marketing officers and regional brand champions – staff from all departments recruited across the organisation to help support the roll-out as “local brand cheerleaders”.
These people will be the local mechanism to support everyone in regions. The reality is that people in our network work very hard, time is precious and we need to make this evolution for the WEA something exciting to be part of, not simply another piece of paperwork.
Inspiration is our end goal, and that starts with the people closest to us. Ours was not a top down approach but a new way to work together to promote the work of the WEA. We want to empower people to get the word out about the WEA and we hope with the rebrand we’re giving them the confidence and the tools to do that more effectively than ever.