Tips for training your marketing outreach team

It was my first day on the job and one of the strangest assignments I’d ever received.

“Is it a beaver?” I asked, examining a detailed artist’s sketch.

“A sea otter,” replied my boss, Jackie. “It’s a keystone species in our region. And he needs a brand,” she added, with the cool confidence that can only come from a seasoned marketing professional (she was) who had really done her homework on our latest strategic effort (she had).

a woman and a man in red shirts stand next to a sea otter mascot

It was 2016. The sea otter was the new mascot for United Way of BC. As an incoming marketing strategist, part of my role was to liaise with the mascot maker to ensure the larger-than-life cuddly creature was fabricated on time, as designed, and to write the plan to introduce him to the world. Eventually, we would dub him Seymour. (That’s me to the left of Seymour, making his debut at Car-Free Day on Commercial Drive).

When we welcomed our next cohort of annual temporary staff—energetic seasonal fundraisers and brand ambassadors for United Way—I became the unofficial Maven of Marketing with the Mascot. In other words, I was the person who trained you how to put on the gawky mascot suit, survive the epic temperatures once inside, and use it as an effective tool to engage almost anyone. Slowly but surely, this annual training module came to comprise a fairly robust community outreach training program at United Way.

Fast forward several years and designing and facilitating trainings is now one of my favourite parts of my new job as principal & co-founder at Spur Communication. Thanks Seymour!

tips for training your marketing team

Every year, many high-impact organizations staff up to support community marketing and outreach activities in their areas. It’s old school, and it works. In the age of endless scrolling, sending an energetic team out into the world to have face-to-face interactions with real human beings in your community—well there’s nothing better. That’s what a meaningful brand encounter looks like.

In the years since Seymour, I’ve trained a diverse array of teams on marketing and community outreach best practices—with a mascot, or without. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Close Up Of Team Having Creative Design Meeting Around Wooden Table In Office

1. Get in their shoes

When you’re training a marketing outreach team, context is key. What kinds of events will they be attending? Where specifically, with what kind of atmosphere? It’s a very different thing to strategize a team’s interactions at a trade show vs. a summer festival with hundreds of thousands of public attendees. When our team leads a training, we consider the particular environments your team will be in, while they work, and pull those details directly into your training. It allows your team to imagine the real scenarios they will be in, soon, and to practice how they can show up as effective ambassadors.

2. Refine – and repeat – your messages

Key messages are, well, key! Any community outreach team should have clear direction on what narratives they are supposed to be seeding. While they should absolutely receive a crash course on everything your company does and why it matters, they should never be expected to recite all of these details, in the field. Resist the urge to turn them into encyclopedias! Instead, consider your objectives for your community marketing program and identify short list of key messages you want your team to remember and use. They will repeat these messages again and again, all season long—and that’s entirely the point.

During your training program, make sure you go over key messages you want them to use, and most importantly: practice them. Make sure your team knows what to say, and how to say it. Use role-playing exercises to let the words sink in, with plenty of time to debrief and try again.

3. Practice the tough stuff

Depending on your brand, it’s likely that over 90% of your team’s interactions in the world will be positive. Most people are kind and conflict-avoidant, especially if they’re with their family or friends at a public event. But some folks really like the stir the pot.

Part of equipping your team is helping them identify when a situation is escalating, and critically, how to de-escalate it. This can include everything from active listening and empathetic responses to redirection, and even ending a conversation confidently and safely, when you need to. These skills are so important for community outreach teams, especially if they are fairly junior in their careers. Marketing and community relations managers have an obligation to ensure their teams are equipped to carry out their jobs as safely as possible.

A group of young volunteers in grey sweatshirts work at an event table

invest in your street crew

Working on a summer marketing outreach team is a rite of passing for many folks who pursue careers in communication and engagement. With the right support and training, it can be a wonderful experience, creating countless opportunities to connect with people face to face, out in community.

Skimp on this training, however, and you may find yourself doing damage control way more than you’d like, and the consequences are real. No one should be treated like an unprotected sounding board. By investing in training at the start of the season, you can increase your team’s chances of doing a great job—and having fun while doing it.

Are you training a seasonal team of community engagement or marketing outreach specialists? Contact Natalie to learn how we can help.

Caucasian woman sitting with legs crossed smiling at the camera
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Natalie has over a decade of experience in strategic communication. She is passionate about powerful stories that inspire positive action.

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