Great Lakes Protection Fund

Low Visibility × Strategic Design = Questions and Actions

Formed in 1989, The Great Lakes Protection Fund is a private, not-for-profit corporation. Its $81 million permanent endowment—contributed by seven of the Great Lakes states and now grown to more than $100 million—generates income to support activities complementary to its mission: to identify, demonstrate, and promote regional action to protect and restore the health of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem. An incubator of collaborative experiments in science and policy that seeks to protect, restore and foster the health of the water and surrounding land of the Great Lakes, its ultimate goal is to see its sponsored projects inspire businesses or governments to apply the results on a larger scale.

The Challenge

As the Fund’s low profile outside of its immediate circle made it increasingly difficult to attract the kind of talented and committed people needed to achieve its objectives, it turned to us for help on a number of levels:

  • Develop and establish a clearly defined brand presence.
  • Increase the Fund’s profile among key audiences.
  • Increase understanding of the Fund’s goals and activities.
  • Optimize its internet presence to better connect people and foster the sharing of ideas.

Diving in.

To gain a deeper understanding of the Fund’s mandate, scope and activities, its complex political make-up and the challenges it faced, we began by conducting extensive interviews with key stakeholders including former Wisconsin Governor and Fund founder Tony Earl, former and active Board members, grant recipients and grant team leaders, and Fund staff members.

We were also able to access and synthesize existing third-party research focused around the Fund’s brand perception and social media/marketing efforts.

Factoring in the Fund’s desire to make meaningful connections with a broad range of audiences including scientists, engineers and researchers, government, business, non-government organizations, news and other media and the general public, we developed a brand strategy centered around specific problems / desired outcome / solutions and solidified a simple set of guiding principles for developing effective communications:

  • The Great Lakes Protection Fund is essentially an angel investor that provides seed funding to try out great ideas founded on sound research and careful project design.
  • It is not a ‘think tank.’ It is a  ‘do tank’ that proposes and/or funds solutions for Great Lakes-related problems that no other organization, company or policy group is addressing.


Articulation and Execution

Focusing on the Fund’s core reason for being, we established a brand communication strategy centered on clearly and succinctly articulating its mission, vision, objectives, promise, values and essence. Simple but provocative messaging and positioning—Questions and Actions—provides an accessible and understandable framework that helps the Fund clearly and succinctly communicate its  activities, successes and challenges.

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Expressed across a range of assets including collateral, website and social media, the Fund’s brand communication program has resulted in a significant increase in overall perception levels, awareness and activity, including year-over-year unique website visit increases of 11% in 2010, 20% in 2011, and 29% in 2012.





Great Lakes Protection Fund

This visualization illustrates the full extent of our engagement with this particular client, broken down by the percentage of specific capabilities we provided during the relationship.

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  • General
  • Individual
  1. I Understanding / strategy
    1. A Research
    2. B Data visualization
    3. C Brand strategy
  2. II Conceptualization / articulation
    1. D Naming / nomenclature
    2. E Positioning / message development
    3. F Copywriting / content development
  3. III Communication design / execution
    1. G Corporate identity
    2. H Video / motion graphics
    3. I Web design / development
    4. J Physical spaces
    5. K Collateral / publications
    6. L Events / experiences
    7. M Digital media / marketing
    8. N Social media
    9. O Packaging
  4. IV Measurement / consulting
    1. P Search engine marketing
    2. Q Creative consultation
    3. R Innovation workshops