How to master Rotary’s public image campaign

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.

12 thoughts on “How to master Rotary’s public image campaign

  1. Pingback: Rotary eClub One – Rotary Club of Ginninderra

  2. Would like to see the graphic artist at the District level. Perhaps some of the messaging was missed, but we didn’t see a lot of uptake from the clubs that didn’t have a graphic designer on hand to build them at a local level. The material was useful but still needed a skilled Rotarian to implement, there was also the added costs of each club individually purchasing fonts for this campaign
    Loved the imagery – just see an opportunity for more people to get involved if there was a contact that could have assembled them for the clubs in the districts. Still local, lots of time and money saving.


    • Christy, If I read your comments right, I agree and feel there could be better support from the Brand Center for Clubs with limited creative ability/tech knowledge. I am suggesting more internal communication from RI/PR to District and Club PI people on what is available and how to use it.


  3. Dear Pat,
    Excellent the job developed to promote Rotary everywhere there are Rotary Clubs.
    So, my questions are: how many new members are coming to Rotary and how much of donation to TRF is being made?
    I don’t know if you have this data. But, I think that we need to measure to encourage the Rotarians from worldwide to invest with this in RPI.


    • Chico,
      Thanks for your comments. We planned this based on the Rotary Trinity Theory–No Image, No Foundation or Membership. They must all be working together to get us where we need to be. One of the key elements for Image is the Internal Audience…Rotarians need to see and understand how they fit into the big picture. How their Club stands alone, yet part of the International Organization. Once we do a better job at Communicating with Rotarians, TRF and Membership will naturally follow. Peace


  4. Thanks, great points-we all need to be in the same boat going the same way. EVERY Member.
    Bill Boards are almost extinct in our area. The ones left are electronic-the message changes after a very short time. Do you have experience with this type?
    Can’t wait to hear more?


    • Mark, the billboards we used were also electronic. While they do change, they are less expensive. Some outdoor companies will even comp them as public service. Nontheless, you don’t have the expense of printing paper for billboards. WE will probably use again. Good luck.


  5. Great Message – please allow this “between the lines” comment….Zones and Districts are well served to appoint PR/Communications Professionals to drive our message – look for Pat O’Donnell clones! – PDG Richard Ray D7570


    • Districts are monolithic self serving enterprises that are draining the resources of clubs – funds and people’s energy. It is time to get the monster out of the middle and focus on clubs serving their communities.


    • Jim, our primary purpose was awareness. We did receive 18 solid membership leads. However I feel the real benefit was member retention and pride in the fact that their organization was receiving some public attention. I can’t attribute my clubs increase to the campaign, but we have 56 new members, 5 of which are women under 45.


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