Latest update: June 18th, 2012
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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.
“The food was not really free,” Watson acknowledged. “People spent about 30 seconds talking to us about Israel and U.N. Me. It was really key to getting people in the door to the screening.”
Although the pre-U.N. Me event’s goal was to bring viewers to the documentary screening, SCIAC members felt that the food did more than merely put U.N. Me on the campus-wide radar.
“People had to walk away having talked to someone about SCIAC,” Watson said. “They walked away remembering SCIAC and remembering that we put on events on campus.”
SCIAC distributed a total of 225 falafel meals prior to U.N. Me, but that wasn’t the end of their food giveaways. The pro-Israel group also provided dinner at the screening, a tactic that, Herschmann claims, boosts attendance at any event.
“Food is a big deal,” Herschmann said. “It’s good for us and it’s good for the students; it helps them save a little bit of time. Hopefully, during that time, we can educate them about Israel.”
Indeed, it seems that the free food appealed to anyone with a mouth and a stomach, including students without passionate opinions about Israel. According to Herschmann, he’d never even seen most of the students who attended. Kasner estimated that about a quarter of the audience showed up for the food, a composition which works both for and against SCIAC’s goals.
“Sometimes it means that people aren’t there for the right reasons,” Kasner said. “But we get a lot of people at our events.”
Yet the opponents of Israel were certainly not absent from the U.N. Me screening either. Herschmann said that many of the new faces held anti-Israel views. Kasner estimated that they comprised ten percent of the audience.
“The U.N. Me screening definitely drew in some people that we wouldn’t have drawn in another way,” Kasner said.
The screening enhanced SCIAC membership and it served as a useful tool in Israel education and the dispersion of accurate information, according to Watson.
“Next time people see a report from the United Nations, they’ll think twice about it.”
Similarly, cosponsoring Medved’s talk with university departments allowed UCSC students to learn about Israel beyond the conflict.
“When Jon talked, people really listened,” Herschmann said. “He sparked a new interest within them about Israel’s economic interest.”
Herschmann feels that widespread, inclusive events like Medved’s talk and the U.N. Me screening were crucial to strengthening SCIAC during the 2011-12 school year, helping boost attendance at events and teach the greater campus community about the real Israel.
“By forming a cohesive board and working collaboratively to engage diverse campus communities, SCIAC successfully implemented dozens of programs that not only built important bridges between different campus groups, but aimed to provide a fair and balanced education to our peers about Israel’s countless accomplishments and challenges,” he concluded.Molly Cornfield, Israel Campus Beat
About the Author: Visit http://israelcampusbeat.org for the latest Israel trends and events on campus.
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