Inside the Profession PR Training

Sustainability Cycles Create Sustainable Word-of-Mouth Movements

Geno Church, chief inspiration officer, Brains on Fire, discusses the sustainablity process BOF developed and the cycle model used for their not-for-profit client, Rage Against The Haze (South Carolina’s teen-led anti-tobacco use movement).

Spike Jones and I have had a running joke about circles after I posted the cycle of the fan diagram. This became a company-wide joke when I tried unsuccessfully to turn a financial graph into a circle on a recent project. Several good things came out of my sharing of a cycle of how a brand can interact with and move people along the steps of fandom. I have to admit I had many reservations about putting a visual thought process out in the blogosphere. But as David Armano told me, “Geno, posting your thoughts to the world in the form of a visual is daunting, but feedback you get in return that helps shape thinking is worth it all.”

So I’ve decided to open the kimono and post about sustainability and the cycle model we use for our not-for-profit client Rage Against The Haze (South Carolina’s teen-led anti-tobacco use movement). When BOF was awarded the contract for RAGE five years ago we made a decision to build a sustainable movement, not another anti-tobacco industry campaign. I don’t know if this was a case of brilliant thinking more than the fact that funding was limited and also limited in terms of commitment of funding. Believe it or not, our mantra for RAGE was “if BOF got hit by a bus tomorrow, RAGE will need to continue to live. ”

As we traveled around the state talking to adults and teens, one thing became obvious — the teenagers needed to lead the movement. What I mean by lead is with their words and actions, so they have true ownership. The major problem we faced with RAGE is similar to a college or high school coach. You only have your current players for a limited amount of time; they grow older, and leave high school for college or the next step in their lives. The RAGE demo is 13–18; this rather wide demo was really a blessing. It forced us to think in terms of a continuous evolution.

Our plan was the Cycle of Sustainability. Education became the central anchor. The education is a word-of-mouth and tobacco knowledge curriculum that is taught by teens to teens.
The cycle is made up of four groups:

a) Adults — helped identify and recruit 13-16-year-old activists.

b) These young activists (13–16) receive training and hands-on experience and are nurtured through the RAGE curriculum.

c) As they progress through school and age, they become the leaders of RAGE in the 16-18-year-old bracket, filling the slots of members that age out of the program and head to college. They teach the curriculum at training camps and summits. They also become team leaders for events and drive local mission initiatives.

d) And then there are the RAGE Veterans, who help with events and summits and instill a sense of empowerment and pride in the new leaders of the movement.

So you might be asking, has it worked? This summer we hit the second cycle; we have cycled through two groups of RAGE leaders and our current core of RAGE trainers range from 13 to 18. year-olds, and these RAGE teen trainers have trained over 500 teenagers in the RAGE curriculum.

By the way, I still think I could turn a square graph into a circle. Give me time.

Geno Church, chief inspiration officer, Brains on Fire, develops word of mouth, buzz, viral and evangelism strategies for the agency’s clients. In his 13+ years with Brains On Fire, Geno has helped build word-of-mouth into the identities of brands including Fiskars Brands, the American Booksellers Association, National Family Partnership and Rage Against The Haze (South Carolina’s youth-led anti-tobacco movement).


Join Geno, along with Spike Jones, for their co-presentations, “How to Grow Word-of-Mouth Movements: People Are the Killer App” and “How Sustainable Word-of-Mouth Marketing Can Help Boost Your Bottom Line: Strategies on How to Identify Buzz-building Opportunities for Your Brand.”

About the author

Geno Church