The Challenge

Getting beyond the brand to tell the broader story 

The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago (the Y) has tremendous name recognition throughout the Chicago area. However, while known for promoting healthy lifestyles, fitness and physical education for all ages, there is little awareness of the Y’s broader social service role. Marj Halperin and team were tasked with telling the rest of the Y’s story:  from its status as Chicago’s largest private provider of Head Start (second only to Chicago Public Schools) to its cutting-edge work in the area of youth safety and violence prevention.

The Solution

Multi-dimensional messaging that works 

Using our message mapping process and working closely with Y leadership, Marj and team developed messages that complement the agency reputation as a top fitness center, but also build upon this existing, positive reputation as the basis for strong, trusted brand recognition. Our new messages created a firm foundation for telling the stories that make the Y “more than swim-and-gym.” We elevated its multidimensional work and brought attention to other contributions such as violence prevention, academic readiness, and youth and veteran programming.


The Results

Turning a community center into a non-profit leader

Our media relations work has yielded local and national stories, amassing more than 48 million media impressions valued at nearly $4 million over two years. The Y’s programs have been featured on every Chicago-market TV station, radio news, and prominent print publications, including a major feature on the front page of the Sunday Chicago Tribune. For the Y’s creative mentor program that pairs military veterans with Chicago area teens fighting the pull of gangs, Marj Halperin and team landed a significant, 13-minute segment on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program, closely followed by a report on CBS Sunday Morning.

The team also worked with the Y to mobilize supporters for its Teen Reach afterschool programming and Child Care Assistance Program following funding cuts. Through a joint effort, Marj and team prepared messaging materials and identified pivotal legislators, connecting them with families in their home districts facing the effects of these cuts.

Through a strategic approach to public affairs, Marj Halperin and team were able to raise awareness of the Y as a non-profit leader in the city and the state, deepen relationships with community partners and government leaders, highlight its expertise in early childhood education, and promote the organization’s deep roots in communities throughout the Chicago area.