What is advertising for? Most people would say it’s for selling a product or a service but what about presenting an opportunity or even a trade? ‘Tools of the Trade’ started as a personal project to encourage the general public to volunteer, however, in the fast pace of modern life where everyone is trying to balance work and social commitments, who has spare time to give? I soon realised that while giving is good I really needed to engage the audience in a give and take relationship. I learned the importance of considering what they need rather than what we can sell.

When first writing my brief for this project I had missed out the most vital parameter – who was I trying to communicate with? Encouraging me to really consider my audience, my tutor prompted me to ask – who would gain from doing volunteer work, who has time and who would most value the emotional benefits? My answer – the unemployed.

The idea of volunteering to gain a good reference is far from an innovation, but it is often considered something we do if we are sixteen and need to start building a good C.V. In a time when competition for work is extremely fierce it is easy to see why many people become disheartened or feel inadequate, this is where organisations like the Volunteer Centre Edinburgh can help.

When reading case studies on their website I discovered that they provide a mentoring service where volunteers can receive one-to-one advice about interview skills and job applications. The vital ingredient in this service was not the practical advice being given but the empathy of a listening ear; at a time when their confidence was low these volunteers were given the boost they needed. This service became the ‘trade’ my campaign would offer – a few hours of volunteering in exchange for time with a mentor.

Often advertisers are not just selling a product, they are selling the dream of a lifestyle we think we will have if we buy the product. We subconsciously think that if we buy that shampoo we will look like the model in the advert. So should I have tried to make volunteering look trendy so people would think it’s was the ‘in’ thing to do? No.

Remember who I was trying to communicate with, the girl who never finished school or the man who was made redundant and feels he has nothing to offer, people who need reassurance that volunteering is a start; it’s something everyone can do. My answer only came when I embraced the preconceptions we all have about volunteering – that it’s mainly about making tea and listening. While this is far from the only work a volunteer could do, by breaking this act down into the most basic tools I was saying ‘it’s that easy’ and by relating it to something we all do everyday I was trying to empower the audience to say  ‘I get it’.

Reflecting on this project I can now recognise that an audience shouldn’t be defined by their gender or age bracket. We should see them as people who share common needs and points of reference. Maybe then we will begin to meet their needs and not just ours.


Written by Katelynne Kirk


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