Challenging marketing problem? Call in a student team |

Challenging marketing problem? Call in a student team

John Seelmeyer

It’s a marketer’s nightmare:

An eight-word name that no one can remember.

An acronym that’s only marginally better.

Widespread confusion with another organization a couple of blocks away.

And a substantial lack of understanding in the community about the role that the thriving 77-year-old organization plays in the region’s economy.

A perfect project, in other words, for a group of third-year marketing communications students to sort out.

Trustees of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges — there’s that eight-word name — will be hearing on Tuesday from a group of five students at the University of Nevada, Reno, who’ve taken on the task of developing a marketing communications strategy for the organization.

The NCJFCJ — that’s the acronym that doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue — is headquartered on the UNR campus, where it works on a national stage to improve the juvenile and family justice system.

The organization plays a role as an economic driver for the region’s economy — generating an estimated $16.6 million a year for the Nevada economy.

Its 75 employees in Reno, more than half of them with advanced degrees, develop and deliver training for judges and providers of social services.

In 2012, it ran 379 programs in Reno and elsewhere around the nation, training about 12,000 professionals.

The nonprofit’s staff members research best practices for the judges who handle difficult juvenile and family-law cases. They work with state and national lawmakers to develop effective — and cost-effective — legal codes.

Mari Kay Bickett, the chief executive officer of NCJFCJ, calls the nation’s family courts “the emergency rooms for families in crisis” and says the Reno-based organization’s mission is improvement of the skills of the people who treat those families.

Outside of the organization’s 1,950 members — judges, court administrators, probation officers and the like — NCJFCJ isn’t well-known, least of all in its home town.

And Bickett acknowledges lots of people get NCJFCJ confused with the National Judicial College — also located on the UNR campus — whose exclusive focus is the training of all sorts of judges.

That’s the situation she laid out in September to students in an Advanced Strategic Communications class at UNR’s Reynolds School of Journalism.

Teacher Bob Felten looks for real-world projects — “Our philosophy is to challenge the students with real work,” he says — and five students signed on to develop a re-branding and communications plan for NCJFCJ.

The five students — Maddie Poore, Anne Conway, Jordan Ornellas, Kaitlin Haugen and Spenser Blank — surveyed members and staff of NCJFCJ, learned everything they could about the organization’s mission and researched possible names.

“It’s definitely crunch time,” says Haugen, who notes that her experience as a journalism student helped her deal with last-minute deadlines and heavy workloads.

Blank says the student team has tried to address the full gamut of issues facing NCJFCJ — everything from a positioning statement about its role nationally and locally to the colors the organization uses in its branding.

Development of a suggested new name, Haugen says, was particularly challenging.

“We wanted something that was descriptive without spelling out everything that they do,” she says.

The students’ are keeping their suggestions as a closely guarded secret before Tuesday’s meeting of the 29-member board of trustees of NCJFCJ.

But Bickett says she has her fingers crossed that the new marketing campaign will help UNR and the wider community understand more about an organization that she calls “an under-discovered gold mine.”