How this recruitment project pivoted on a dime

by Anh Nguyen

Debbie Arrington has been a reporter and editor for more than 40 years. Now the Editor at Large for N&R Publications, she has handled a wide range of communication projects. One that particularly stands out is ‘We Transform Lives,’ a special publication that Arrington and her team produced for the California Conservation Corps during the COVID-19 shutdown. Despite the pandemic, the state-wide program was still providing young adults with job training, education, and work experience in fields related to conservation and natural resources. And these jobs were more necessary than ever.

Originally the Conservation Corps had hoped to create a recruitment publication tied to a beach cleanup event in Los Angeles County that was inspired by Earth Day, but it was canceled because of the pandemic. So N&R Publications helped pivot the message of the project and its distribution.

Q: When did you start working on this publication? What was the focus?

A: We started working on it in November 2019 and were still working on it in March 2020. Because of the pandemic, the focus of the publication shifted from promoting special events to promoting careers tied to the environment and working outdoors, specifically in forestry and firefighting. The pandemic caused many people to reevaluate their career choices and seek alternative options. Additionally, there was a need for more firefighters due to the bad wildfire season at that time, which was also highlighted in the publication.

Q: What was the distribution challenge?

A: Originally, the publication was just going to be handed out, but they needed something that they could either mail to people or send to them digitally. We had to figure out how to reach the audience in a different way, considering the pandemic.

Q: How did the team pivot to meet the needs of the client when the whole world changed?

A: The team redid the entire publication, taking out the special event and focusing more on the long-term benefits of being part of the California Conservation Corps. We also interviewed more people and redid some interviews to include information about other ways to get involved in the Conservation Corps.

Q: Who do you feel deserves credit for the final outcome?

A: Anne Stokes did a wonderful job. She is a writer and photographer for N&R, and she has been with us for more than five years. She coordinated the publication’s visual aspects and also wrote three of the stories in the publication.

Q: How was the experience of creating the publication during a time of remote work and what has been its lasting impact?

A: The experience of creating the publication during a time of remote work was challenging but ultimately rewarding. It was creative on both ends, on both the editorial and production end. We were all working remotely. All of a sudden, we went from having a fully staffed office where everybody was working together, to people being spread out and working from their kitchen tables. The team had to adapt to working from home and using online tools like Zoom. However, the result was a strong publication with evergreen content that is still relevant years later. The publication is three years old and still very useful. The focus on people and their stories made the publication more compelling and informative. Despite the obstacles faced, the experience ultimately led to a stronger and more impactful publication.

32,000 copies of ‘We Transform Lives’ were mailed, targeting residential households with an average income below $64,500, as well as targeted routes with a majority of residents age 54 and younger. Through this type of targeted mailing distribution, the publication had a wide and successful reach.

Related: How a unique program made a digital publication work