Build a strong and creative brand

There’s a saying here that if you can be cool in Bridgeport, you can be cool anywhere. We knew from the start that we couldn’t reach Bridgeport middle schoolers with any old public awareness campaign—with a boring slogan and a generic curriculum. We knew that in order to be successful in our efforts to build healthy relationships, and save and improve lives, we had to think of ourselves as salespeople and our students as “consumers.”

We had to develop a brand for our Start Strong program that would instantly catch these busy teens’ attention and then earn their loyalty—in the same way that companies like Apple and Nike do. We started by giving our program a catchy name (MYO, which stands for Mine, Yours, Ours) and a fresh look and feel (colors, logo, etc). Then, we marketed the heck out of it—everywhere, in every way, at all times.

To build interest from middle schoolers, we engaged high school students as “ambassadors” for our program, which was essential. Decked out in shirts branded with our logo and talking about the program’s merits to their younger peers, they made our program cool and gave it credibility. They also kept it fun, doing everything from wearing full-body spandex suits around campus in our program’s colors to sharing fun photos from our events on Facebook.

Only after we had established a very strong and engaging campaign, did we begin to draw kids to our events and programming efforts. We always led with our fun, cool side, then wove in the more serious and educational content. Students remain much more engaged when they’re excited to be somewhere and a part of something.