Reflecting on Communications Department Growth
Note from Andy: This month, in place of my regular column, I invited Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, Federation Executive Director, Community Relations/Government Affairs, to share her thoughts.
It’s that time of year again! As we approach the end of a calendar year and look toward what we hope will be a bright, and in the current case, a COVID-free future in the coming new year, we often take stock of things from the previous 12 months.
So, as I began to think about 2021, I was struck by the many changes for the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation and its agencies; changes related to staffing, programs, community opportunities and partnerships, and in overall growth.
And I would bet that you know all about what’s new and exciting for our regional Jewish community because you have read about it in the media, heard about it on television and the radio, seen it on billboards, read your Facebook feed (or for my 20-something children, their Instagram and Twitter feeds), or simply kept up with your email.
All this is a result of the Federation’s initial creation and now, expansion, of our Communications/Marketing department.
In 2018, we began to recognize that we had great services and programs, had important messages to share and had the need to advocate on critical issues to the Jewish community, but that we were not sufficiently telling our stories or getting stakeholders and supporters engaged. Event attendance was not always as good as we would have wanted, our revenue-generating programs and services were not at maximum capacity, and many in the community still did not know exactly about everything we do.
I lost count of how many times I heard from someone, “Wow, I didn’t know you did that,” or, “I never thought about the Jewish community to help me fulfill this need.” “That” and “this need” were variable, but the sentiments and results were the same. We were like the proverbial tree that falls in the forest. Is there really a sound if nobody hears?
That had to change, and so the Federation leadership wisely created a new senior staff position, Director of Communications, who would oversee and enhance our public relations and marketing, increase the local content of the Jewish Journal, and oversee the development and deployment of sound communications strategies, either in a crisis or based on extensive planning. The goal was to make sure that whenever the Federation or any of our agencies was mentioned in public, the automatic reaction was not ignorance but rather acknowledgment of our great work.
Since then, the Federation Communications/Marketing Department, under the direction of Director of Communications Elise Skolnick, has successfully communicated the stories about the great work of the JCC, Heritage Manor, Levy Gardens, JFCS, and Akiva Academy and helped to turn them into household names.
This past year, our upgraded communications strategies have resulted in a banner year for community recognition of our agencies’ services. The presence on social media for all agencies has increased multifold. The JCC Facebook pages, both for the entire agency and individual, targeted pages for various departments, continue to get the word out about all our quality JCC services and activities that go far beyond the quality of what any other small Jewish community can achieve. The uptick in followers and interaction on the JCC Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram feeds has been palpable. Heritage Manor, Levy Gardens, JFCS, and Adult Day Services have also all benefitted from an increased social media presence. Clearly, the word is getting out there.
The marketing team has made deliberate and strategic decisions regarding purchased and earned media. Highlights include extensive coverage of the JCC Winter Campus ribbon cutting/opening, extensive coverage of the JFCS new name and increased outreach programs, and regular coverage of the Heritage Manor Veteran’s program. And, we have benefitted from hundreds of media mentions this year, across all the agencies, because of our regular communications and relationship-building with those who work in media, something we previously did not do well. Our agencies are now so well known that the media now actually calls us, looking for something on which to report when written or on-air filler is needed.
All this only scratches the surface. While it is not always easy to see and understand day-to-day communications work, it is certainly very easy to appreciate the results. As “The Best Small Jewish Community in North America,” a moniker that is neither immodest nor untrue, we have so much of which to be proud.
As we approach the year 2022, my hope for all of us is to continue to proudly support and tell the stories about the growth of our Federation agencies, something that will enhance and sustain our Jewish community for many years to come.
My best wishes for a Happy Hanukkah, a joyous holiday season, and a happy and healthy new year.
Bonnie Deutsch Burdman
Federation Executive Director, Community Relations/Government Affairs