The Marsh Foundation case study

AAI’s work with The Marsh Foundation, a child and family services agency in Van Wert, OH, may be understood best as a three-step process. The original contract called for AAI to conduct an organizational audit with surveillance of internal processes and relationships, the internal communication system, institutional morale, external communication, public relations and marketing.

AAI Principal Becky Drumm became acquainted with Kim Mullins, an executive director at The Marsh Foundation, through her work with the nationally regarded Teaching-Family Association (TFA). This association has provided a widely used model for the care and treatment of emotionally disturbed adolescents.

Becky collaborated with Associate Dan Hess; the pair first conducted the audit through questionnaires, interviews, study of all publications and website, and first-hand observation.

Communication audits are one of Dan’s specialties. He says, “The audit provides a most useful management tool for the executive who depends not only on her own eyes and ears, but also on outside, objective perspectives.”

While AAI found extremely high regard for The Marsh Foundation and noted the effectiveness of its program, it made two major suggestions — to create a new staff position in public relations and marketing and to update the organization’s website and literature.

Step two began, then, when Marsh’s trustees and executives accepted both recommendations. Becky began to guide the agency in setting up an office in public relations and marketing. Because the Foundation was established by an estate fund in 1922, it does not engage in systematic fundraising. Further, because it was a local agency, communication with the public has been largely personal. However, the systems for child and family services today reach county and statewide, requiring a variety of means for keeping in contact.

Becky helped the agency as it prepared a job description for a public relations and marketing specialist, released the call for applications, reviewed about 50 applications, and interviewed applicants. Eventually The Marsh Foundation hired Dawn Berryman whose personality, training and previous experience in public communication commended her.

Meanwhile, step three was taken by Dan. His task was to help Marsh update its print and electronic materials. He called together the executives and key staff members and showed them the complete package of communication products that an agency such as Marsh could reasonably use in its external communication. The group determined which items from that larger package suited Marsh’s mission, strategies and budget.

Their response:

a. create a new logo

b. review the foundation’s slogan

c. update the stationery

d. update the business cards

e. create a 12-page viewbook

f. create a brochure template

g. create a reports template

h. update the portable exhibit

i. create notecards

j. update the website

k. write a manual of usage

Dan then gathered a team of independent contractors with proven success in their specialties. Justin Wiard, an Indiana photographer, spent a day on the Marsh campus taking individual, group, activities and campus shots, all of which became an immediate resource in the making of the new products. Alison Sties (Sties Design) was brought in for graphic design. Dawn selected Matthew Sawmiller (MS Design) for web design. Dan and Dawn collaborated in the writing.

Alison, upon asking many questions about the foundation’s mission, history, program, culture, strategies and sense of itself, created three tentative logo styles. After learning which of the three the Marsh executives and staff preferred, she made versions of that selected design which Marsh again studied. By the fourth exchange, the shape and colors were finalized. A similar process of creation / response led to the selection of a slogan: “Serving children and families since 1922.”

AAI created and Marsh responded until each final product pleased Marsh. All of the print projects were completed in about nine months. The finished website can be viewed at www.marshfoundation.org.

Kim Mullins later wrote to Dan, “The Marsh Foundation has learned so much about the field of communications from you, Becky and Dawn. It was a neglected area at Marsh until we got involved with you and Becky. We are very pleased with outcome our work together. Thanks so much.”

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