INTERVIEW: 4-H Execs on the Brand’s Renewed Focus on Youth Empowerment

And yes, I can still recite the pledge with my head, heart, hands, and health.

Maybe in the big city it’s not a popular conversation starter, but growing up in Texas, everyone knew about 4-H youth development and mentoring programs.

However, after a century, the paint starts to fade on the barn and a touch-up is necessary to maintain that curb appeal. That’s why 4-H is about to undergo a serious rebrand. While its partnership with the USDA and focus on young people will always be a crucial link to its foundation, 4-H is now reaching out to rural, suburban and even urban America.

Sure, the agrarian ways of life may not be that popular in a concrete jungle, but a love to mentor children is something everyone can connect with and appreciate doing. That was the focus of our exclusive interview with Artis Stevens, senior vice president, CMO, at National 4-H Council and Jennifer Sirangelo, 4-H president and CEO.

4H_social_quote_2b(twitter)Today, 4-H is unveiling its national “Grow True Leaders” campaign to reintroduce the organization to young people everywhere and galvanize the brand across the country for higher interaction, organization and participation. Here’s what Stevens and Sirangelo had to say:

Q. 4-H has a rich history but is a fragmented brand in the minds of its audiences. How is the rebrand going to reinvigorate brand awareness and galvanize it as a whole? 

A. That was the exciting challenge of this campaign: Landing on a singular brand value proposition that would reflect the rich heritage of 4-H that still means so much to the more than 25 million 4-H alumni across America; as well as resonate as true and compelling across the 4-H Field (a community of 110 land-grant universities that deliver 4-H programming to every county and parish across America, with programming that varies from state to state.)

We feel confident that the approach we landed on will work. Our brand value proposition is that we empower youth with the skills to lead for a lifetime. We are honing in on the life skills that are the common thread of the 4-H experience – whether it involves a hands-on experience focused on agriculture, healthy living, STEM or citizenship.

With roots in an agrarian society, which is not where America finds itself today, how will 4-H strike a chord of relevance with today’s millennial and their Gen-X and Y parents who may or may not have been aware of 4-H growing up?

AStevens Headshot
Artis Stevens (Source: 4-H)

We get this question a lot. We started in agriculture, we’re still in agriculture and it’s still important – especially given the great emphasis we put on our food. This campaign will reinforce 4-H’s continued relevance by focusing on what 4-H is at its core: a youth empowerment organization. In its beginnings, 4-H programming focused on agriculture, with youth leading in introducing new technologies to the adults who were reluctant to embrace something new. Fast forward 100 years, and 4-H is still rooted in youth empowerment – with youth leading positive solutions for the diverse issues our country faces today.

Now, 4-H has evolved into an organization that has global reach and teaches kids essential life skills that empower them for life today and for all kinds of careers tomorrow. Our research shows that this is a message that is absolutely relevant for today’s millennials and Gen-X and Y parents.

A focus on citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills: Those are needs that have never been more important. Is that fueling the rebrand? If not, is there a place in the roll out to address those original youth developmental needs? 

This need to equip more youth with life skills is definitely a significant part of the brand campaign – it’s at the core of the problem that our brand value proposition addresses.  With impact numbers that are second to none, 4-H has been the best kept secret for far too long. Ours has always been a very humble brand. We work in concert with schools and other youth development organizations to provide a research-based experience that is proven to grow life skills, but we have not been intentional about telling that story and showcasing our work.