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You might not expect it, but the pro-Israel group at the University of California, Santa Cruz — a school with a decidedly liberal reputation — drew impressive numbers of attendees to its events throughout the past academic year. Approximately 150 people attended the Santa Cruz Israel Action Committee’s (SCIAC) big fall quarter event, a screening of the documentary film, U.N. Me. and the numbers remained impressive all the way through spring quarter.
SCIAC employed a strategy of publicizing its events widely. One of its final events of the year, a talk by the American-born Israeli entrepreneur Jonathan Medved, who was featured in the 2009 book Start-up Nation, drew 80 people. The event was cosponsored by the engineering department.
These numbers are impressive on their own, but SCIAC’s history casts them in a different light. The group’s events have not always been so popular.
“When I first joined, no one came to events,” said Lauren Kasner, a senior at UCSC and SCIAC vice president of programming who also serves as a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow.
During the summer of 2011, SCIAC members formed their first independent and fully functional student board, empowered by a unifying democratized decision-making process. Fortunately, this new SCIAC leadership realized the importance of good marketing, and the group focused on recruitment and event promotion, carefully strategizing to spread the word in ways that garner campus-wide attention.
“We realized that our outreach wasn’t very strong,” said senior Guy Herschmann, who is the StandWithUs Northern California campus coordinator. “So we decided to take a more proactive, visible approach.”
The shift in marketing has been no easy feat.
“We’ve had a lot of trouble publicizing SCIAC,” UCSC junior and SCIAC board chair Prescott Watson said. “We’re not a big group; our board is seven people, and we don’t have that many invested people coming to our general meetings. We’re dealing with a small group of people who are dedicated, and the rest of the campus is pretty apathetic.”
But this small group has poured tremendous thought and energy into tailoring their marketing tactics to the UCSC community.
“Our campus is really decentralized, so we have a hard time flyering,” Watson said.
To SCIAC members, this apparent roadblock is merely a logistical barrier that can be bypassed with thoughtful and innovative advertising tactics.
“We put a lot of effort into regular flyers and any means of advertising we can think of,” Kasner said. “We print big posters. We’re adamant about flyering bus stops multiple times a week. We put flyers all over libraries and classrooms and we make classroom announcements. We take a very ‘in-your-face,’ approach; you can’t really miss us.”
Herschmann also finds it helpful to take interest in individual underclassmen with high potential for interest and involvement in campus pro-Israel activities.
“I take them to coffee or lunch,” Herschmann said. “I don’t hesitate to call or text them. I don’t ask ‘if’,’ I ask ‘when.’”
To bolster attendance and support for the Medved lecture, SCIAC leaders turned to academic departments on their campus. After contacting various economics professors, the economics department, computer science professors and heads of development, SCIAC enlisted the Department of Engineering as event cosponsor.
“Cosponsoring the event with campus departments allowed us to draw out audiences that we never had before,” Herschmann said, “making the event all the more successful.”
Professors encouraged their students to attend the event, and some economics professors even offered extra credit, according to Herschmann.
“They want their students to learn from experts around the world—including Israel,” Herschmann said. “When you look at a country and how it’s transformed the world—you look at Israel, Israel is as good as it gets.”
In addition to aggressive marketing and cosponsorships, the SCIAC board members tap into a marketing aspect that no college student can resist: free food.
“We’ve been really lucky this year,” Kasner said. “We’ve been able to cater a lot of our events.”
SCIAC’s food-marketing strategy was especially effective in drawing attention to and bolstering attendance at the U.N. Me screening during fall quarter.
“I made sure that no one got falafel unless we got their name and email address and educated them about Israel, which we did with Israel pocket facts and StandWithUs brochures about Israel and the U.N.,” Herschmann said.