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Nonprofit supports diversity in business

Client: Northwest Center
Agency: Matter Inc.
To bust preconceptions about disability and employment and to show hiring managers that an inclusive workplace is good for business

The Offer: A billboard by the Fremont Bridge in Seattle features Preston, a young man with developmental disabilities, wearing a blue work shirt and a black smock. He smiles out at the street next to the words, “Bet you thought you’d be the one helping me.”

Created by Matter Inc., the billboard is part of a multichannel campaign—which includes direct mail—for Northwest Center (NWC), a 50-year-old nonprofit that promotes employment equality for people with special needs at businesses in the Puget Sound area. NWC also owns and operates a number of local businesses that employ hundreds of adults with disabilities, including a janitorial service, an industrial laundry, and a document destruction company. In addition to placing hundreds of clients in businesses across the Seattle area, NWC itself employs more than 400 adults with developmental disabilities.

A diverse workplace is a happier, more dynamic workplace. It’s been proven time and again by NWC’s work in the community, says Frank Way, EVP and executive creative director at Matter, the marketing arm of public relations firm Edelman. The goal of the nonprofit’s campaign is to make sure business leaders are fully aware of what they might be missing out on if they don’t open their minds, and to tell the NWC story in a way that doesn’t make it all about the nonprofit center and take attention away from the people it serves.

“When a [NWC] client is invited into a workplace, not only does productivity elevate, but people rally around each other and there’s a greater sense of community that wouldn’t exist if that client wasn’t present in the workforce,” Way says. “The challenge for us was how do we tell this great story in a compelling way without being schmaltzy?”

The Data: As part of the more than $1 million campaign, NWC updated its logo and changed its tagline to “People of All Abilities.” But as recently as about 15 years ago, NWC officially went by another name: Northwest Center for the Retarded. Language often lags behind how the public actually feels, says Northwest Center CEO Tom Everill.

“Even the word disability is a word I don’t really like because it’s pejorative and it implies that we have ‘able people’ and ‘disabled people,” Everill says. “‘Disabled’ tends to mean ‘not like me,’ but if you met [any of our clients], you’d see that they’re people of amazing value and that that very difference is part of their value.”

Thus far, Matter’s refresh of the NWC brand has generated a 225% increase in donations over previous years. The United Way in particular doubled the organization’s financial relationship with NWC.

More donations also mean a larger budget for 2013 and more funding for NWC’s marketing efforts. Part of the beauty of NWC, and its uniqueness in the nonprofit world, is that the organization considers itself to be a brand with for-profit concerns.

“We’re a social enterprise, which means we’re a nonprofit organization that owns and operates businesses, so we have the same branding issues any business would have that wants to sell products and services,” Everill says. “But we’re also a business with a purpose and our purpose isn’t to make money for shareholders, but to promote inclusion, involvement, respect, and justice for people with developmental disabilities.”

The Channel: The “Good for Business” campaign includes outdoor, a PR effort, and television and radio spots, all of which are presented from the first-person perspective of Preston and Diana, both NWC clients, who work at a grocery store and a cafeteria, respectively. Additionally, a direct mail piece featuring Preston—with the copy “Hiring someone with a disability is good for business. And the bottom line.”—was sent to NWC donors, corporate partners, and community employers, as well as other business and community contacts.

Two 30-second television spots, which portray a day in the working life of Preston and Diana, were shot and edited in-house, and a local professional photographer shot the outdoor portion of the campaign pro bono.

“If the message was all about the Northwest Center, then it sort of loses its effectiveness,” Everill says of the campaign. “This wasn’t a chest-beating exercise about what a wonderful organization we are. We’re just the container for this message of human value.”

The Creative: Way says the biggest challenge his creative team faced was communicating what NWC does while still making it all about NWC’s clients.

“It’s more engaging to hear a personal story to humanize an organization as opposed to thinking about a business as some kind of anonymous entity,” Way says.

Brand storytelling is “a rich way of packing an explanation into a very quick moment, like poetry,” Everill explains. “With the Preston and Diana stories, it’s not people in the system talking to each other or about them, it’s about including them.”

The Strategy: Although Preston and Diana are the stars of the campaign, their personal stories are emblematic. They have universal appeal, Way says.

“It’s more immediate for me to connect with an organization through emotions than through intellect,” he says. “‘Emotional’ and ‘rational’ are both critical value sets for [NWC], but it’s the emotional aspect of the brand that really connected me to it.”

Down the line, Everill says he hopes to circulate more stories from other perspectives to reinforce the campaign and make it “even richer.”

“We want this campaign to be persistent,” he says. “It’s not just going to be a flash and then blow away.”

The Results: The response from the local community has been overwhelming. Everill says that NWC is being inundated with calls and emails with feedback on how powerful the ads are.

Everill himself was approached by woman at a recent local autism organization’s luncheon who says she was blown away by the billboards. “And everyone in the room was buzzing, ‘Did you see the billboard? The tagline was so cool.’” he says.

Way has experienced a similar reaction.

“There’s been quite a lot of local storytelling about the campaign in the Seattle area,” he says. “And when we presented the PSAs at a luncheon in October we got a standing ovation.”

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