WaMu Photo Contest Fosters Community Engagement - Event Marketer

WaMu Photo Contest Fosters Community Engagement

DB_EX_Washington Mutual_2003 Ex
Year: 2003

If the community considers you an outsider, they won’t acknowledge the brand—let alone hand over their financial nest eggs.

Washington Mutual didn’t want to look like a stranger when it invaded the New York City metro (as a result of its acquisition of Dime Savings Bank). So the company tapped Sausalito, CA-based OPTS to help weave the bank into the fabric of the Big Apple community last fall.

Capitalizing on its reputation for “positive community involvement,” WaMu went after hundreds of middle schools (often an overlooked target) with a photojournalism contest challenging students to capture public servants making a difference. A contest curriculum that met both state and national educational standards was developed.

“The program helped teachers connect with students who were often hard to reach,” says Cheryl Di Re, Washington Mutual’s senior vp-marketing. “Although an idea may engage the heart and soul of the community, it still needs to highlight our commitment to education.”

In conjunction with The New York Historical Society charity and Pulitzer prize-winning photographer David Hume Kennerly, Home of the Free sent digital cameras to schools with packets explaining the contest and $500 stipends for expenses. Schools were instructed to choose a lead teacher and five students for project teams. Local neighborhood newspapers were recruited as mentors. “New York City is the noisiest market in the country,” says OPTS partner Lisa Holland. “We had to rise above that noise in a way that would resonate.”

A kick-off event was held at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan with students and teachers joined by WaMu branch employees and local television anchors. Students had two weeks to comb the streets and submit their photos. And they did, photographing mayors, legislators, senators, city council presidents and more. The branded twist? To enter, the kids and teachers had to drop entries off at the new WaMu branches, forcing a smooth introduction between the community and the branch staffs.

Kennerly led a judging, then led an exhibition of “a visual exploration of American government and community in action.” The opening night exhibition was attended by more than 700 students. The portfolio was later carved up, with photos from each area put on display at the local branches.

Hundreds of entries came in from more than 100 schools, and WaMu officially became a friend of the community. New accounts, free publicity and millions of impressions got the word out about the bank. The company has since expanded the Free effort nationally.

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