Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 8, Issue 1 - June, 2015


What’s in a Name: Updating Extension Programs as Part of a Marketing Strategy

Kushla, J.D., Associate Extension Professor & Associate Research Professor, Mississippi State University
Gordon, J.S., Assistant Professor of Extension, Mississippi State University
Londo, A.J., Professor and Assistant Director of Agriculture & Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension


Historically, forest landowner associations have been the primary target audience for Historically, forest landowner associations have been the primary target audience for Extension Forestry programs in Mississippi.  As is the case across the United States, these organizations have experienced significant changes over the last decade. Change is associated with membership retention and recruitment, landowner characteristics, and decreasing property size. In response, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry has consolidated delivery methods and updated programmatic curricula.  Technological enhancements, such as interactive video broadcasts, and aggressive pursuit of external funding for travel expenses and program meal costs have also contributed to improved effectiveness. Clientele survey results have confirmed strong, positive impacts from Extension Forestry programs. 


Mississippi is primarily rural, with commercial forests comprising 19.7 million acres of the state (Dahal & others, 2013).   Over two-thirds of the forested land (13.9 million acres) is owned by 350,000 non-industrial private landowners (Morgan, 2012).  This is higher than the national average since private ownership dominates in Mississippi (Cushing & Straka, 2011).

Beginning more than three decades ago, Mississippi State University Extension Forestry began organizing its clientele base into landowner organizations, also known as county forestry associations (Londo & Monaghan, 2002; Londo, 2004).  Over time, a county Forestry Association (CFA) represented nearly every county in the state (for a total of 79 CFAs, not including a few counties of the Mississippi Delta characterized by extremely limited forest cover). The MSU Extension Forestry program could always count on a CFA audience for educational delivery. In turn, Extension Forestry programs were developed through periodic needs assessments and by analyzing post session evaluation responses from courses and workshops. 

Reflecting Extension Forestry trends across the United States, MSU Extension Forestry specialists have observed declining participation in CFA events (Sagar & others 2014). Although empirical data is not available, this decline can be attributed to phenomena reported in the forest landowner literature. For example, aging CFA memberships are failing to recruit new members and replenish leadership positions (Butler & Leatherberry, 2004).  Furthermore, a mix of low timber prices, forestland parcelization, and changing social values have resulted in a new generation of landowners who do not have the same level of participation and interest in learning about forestry as previous generations (Downing, Kays, & Finley, 2008).  Small forested tracts resulting from parcelization and fragmentation limit landowners’ capacity and willingness to engage in forest management and learn about forestry because traditional management practices can be cost prohibitive on a small scale (Vanderford & others, 2014). Clearly, Extension Forestry needed to introduce programmatic changes in light of the changing clientele base, while maintaining and strengthening the statewide network of CFAs.

The purpose of this article is to underscore the necessity of revising program material according to changing clientele characteristics and needs. To this end, we share our experiences and “tools of the trade” with this challenge.  Data used in this paper comprise a history of short courses done in the northeastern quadrant of Mississippi (nearly two dozen counties). As such, this manuscript provides a description of some of the important changes we have made in our approach to Extension education, including program revision, renaming courses, and changing delivery methods. For illustration, we present clientele survey results of programmatic impacts. Notably, we do not present information such as forest landowner characteristics or per capita costs of program delivery, which are beyond the scope of this paper.

Updating the Approach—A Continual Process

Since the beginning of our CFA system, the program delivery method consisted of presentations to live audiences at local CFA events.  These programs included a variety of educational formats from one hour evening programs, evening short courses, or half-day workshops. Many of these Extension Forestry programs were taught for over 20 years.

CFA members tended to dominate attendance in the single-county evening short courses (Londo & Monaghan, 2002). These programs were conducted over a series of several nights. Over time, and despite aggressive advertising using county-wide mailing lists (Londo, Kushla, & Smallidge, 2008), many single-county courses were cancelled for lack of interest.  As shown in Table 1, between 2004 and 2014, the face to face, single county short courses had the lowest average attendance per course compared to the other delivery methods. 


Table 1: Summary for Short Courses to Forest Landowners in Northeastern Mississippi by Presentation Method 2004 - 2014

Delivery Method

# Courses

# Counties

Total Attendance

Attendance per Course

Single county audience of older courses with face-to-face delivery





Multi-county audience of older courses with face-to-face delivery





Multi-county audience of new or revised courses with face-to-face delivery





Multi-county audiences with Interactive Video Broadcast (IVB) delivery






Our Extension Forestry program responded to this problem by updating courses, including revising curricula and changing our marketing approach.  In addition, we consolidated delivery to multiple counties, used new delivery technologies (e.g., video), aggressively sought grant funding, and revised and renamed short courses. Altogether, these updating approaches improved attendance from an average of 19 participants per face-to-face, single county courses developed prior to 2008 to averages of 30 per multi-county older courses, 36 per multi-county revised courses, and 134 for interactive video broadcasts.  Moreover, although statistics are not available, instructors uniformly noticed many new faces in the audience with different clientele attracted to the short courses despite depressed timber prices. These new participants seemed to differ from our traditional CFA members in that they appeared younger and more diverse by gender and race. The following sections provide a detailed description of the changes we made to increase attendance.

Program Consolidation

Traditionally, course material was presented in small portions during one evening per week over several weeks.  Given lower attendance and subsequent reductions in travel funds, Extension Forestry adapted in a number of ways. 

First, short courses were consolidated to single-day programs, conducted during the workday instead of the evening.  Conducting face-to-face courses in one day, particularly before a multi-county audience successfully improved average attendance per course (Table 1).  Yet we noticed that different clientele attended daytime classes than the regular CFA members in the evenings; daytime attendees could take off from work.  In response, Extension Forestry continued conducting evening programs to CFAs across the state in order to continue serving our traditional clientele who primarily attended evening events.

New Delivery Technologies

Second, Extension Forestry was aggressive in adapting the new technology of interactive video broadcasts or IVB (Londo & Gaddis, 2003).  In Mississippi, all county Extension offices as well as Research and Extension Centers were connected to the internal, statewide IVB network.  

From 2005-2009, Extension Forestry conducted eight short courses statewide using IVB media.  Such courses included ‘Profitable Marketing and Harvesting of Timber’, ‘Introduction to Hardwood Management’, and ‘Biomass/Bioenergy’ from MSU and the ‘Master Tree Farmer’ series from Clemson University.  This delivery method produced the highest average attendance per course, and was very effective in reducing travel costs. Through this delivery method, educational programs were broadcast to participating county Extension offices across the state.

Yet, our educational delivery efforts were not without difficulties.  In 2009, Extension Forestry conducted the ‘US Carbon Market’ course via IVB.  Participants included 230 clients from 17 counties across the state.  Storms that day interfered with the audio and video broadcast in many counties.  In addition, registration difficulties delayed delivery of course reference materials.  Not surprisingly, post-session course evaluations rated the learning experience poorly.  Powell & others (2008) found that when using this technology, broadcasting must be optimal for an effective learning experience.  Consequently, Extension Forestry has relied primarily on face-to-face presentations advertised in multiple counties.

Soft Funding Sources

Third, Extension Forestry increased grant seeking activities to generate funding for targeted face-to-face programs.  Since 2006, Extension Forestry received over $2 million for educational outreach on forest health through its Southern Pine Beetle (SPB) Prevention Project (Kushla & others, 2012).  Soft funding for travel expenses has been vital to Extension Forestry maintaining its effectiveness in presenting traditional programs.  The most significant benefit of the SPB Project funding was that it supported already existing Extension Forestry programs.  Grants have enabled Extension Forestry to continue conducting face-to-face programs to multi-county audiences which have generated improved attendance over single-county programs. 

What’s in a Name: Revising Courses

Fourth, in an effort to generate new interest in Extension Forestry programs, we revised many of the old course curricula and titles (Table 2).  Miller (2011) had similar success in attracting more clients using marketing at Iowa State University. 


Table 2. List of Old and New/Revised Short Course Titles from MSU Extension Forestry.

Old Short Course Title

New or Revised Short Course Title


Prescribed Burning


Management Succession “Ties to the Land”

Analyzing Your Forest Investments

Understanding Forest Management as an Investment


Bioenergy: Fuels of the Future

Forest and Wildlife Management for Fun and Profit

Having Your Timber and Wildlife Too!

How to Manage your Conservation Reserve Program Pine Plantation

Managing Your Pine Plantation

Introduction to Hardwood Management

Hardwoods for Timber and Wildlife

Introduction to Woodland Management

Managing the Family Forest in Mississippi

Timber Tax Fundamentals

Income Taxes and the Family Forest


The success of updating curricula was particularly noticeable with an entirely revised course entitled ‘Managing the Family Forest in Mississippi’ (Gordon, Kushla, & Londo, 2013).  One of the consequences of conducting daytime courses had been reaching clientele that do not typically attend evening programs.  While some regular CFA members attended daytime courses, many participants were non-CFA members, as shown in Table 3.  Programmatic improvements and changes appealed to different clientele needs and/or different demographic groups (Chappell 1994; Munsell & others, 2009). 


Table 3.  Short Course Attendance* by Residence 2010-2014.

Short Courses

Total Attendance

CFA Members

Absentee Landowners Within Mississippi

Absentee Landowners Outside Mississippi






* Sampling from half the courses offered in northeast Mississippi since 2010, for which this data was available.


Particularly noticeable among new clientele were absentee landowners. From Table 3, absentee landowners comprised 23% of our audience, on average.  Over half of these absentee landowners were even willing to travel from out-of-state to attend courses. Out-of-state residences included neighboring states like Alabama, Louisiana, and Tennessee, but also distant states such as Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Texas, and California.  

Follow up for Real Results: A Long-term Program Impact Survey

In order to assess programmatic impacts of our outreach efforts since making the changes described above, we began collecting email address from clients participating in our short courses on a voluntary basis. Between May and June of 2014, we used the list of contacts collected from the northeast Mississippi Extension District (21 counties) to conduct a programmatic survey regarding participant impacts from programs offered since 2011.  A synopsis of survey results is shown in Table 4.


Table 4. Summary of Survey on Participant Impacts from Extension Forestry Programs Conducted in Northeastern Mississippi within the last 3 Years*.


Please indicate your agreement with the following statements about the program: (Strongly Disagree = 1, Disagree = 2, Neither Agree nor Disagree = 3, Agree = 4, Strongly Agree = 5)

Average Score

Standard Deviation

Helped me better understand the issue:



Provided information I used to attain my goals and objectives:



Were implemented immediately following the program:



Were implemented between one and three years:



Motivated me to ask more questions:



Made me feel more able to attain my objectives related to the topic:



Helped me improve my planning to achieve my objectives:



* Survey Email addresses = 224, responses = 97, response rate = 43%


Course participants expressed a strongly favorable view regarding impacts from Extension Forestry programs they attended.  Clientele have used the information from these classes to seek professional forestry help, develop written forest management plans, and/or implement improved forestry practices.  Consequently, clientele responses demonstrated strongly positive impacts for the programs we have been offering.

Implications and Future Directions

As forest land ownership becomes increasingly diverse (Butler & Leatherberry, 2004), Extension must adapt its approach to attract this clientele while remaining cost effective.  A similar situation exists with family farms and ranches across the country.

MSU Extension Forestry has accomplished this through consolidating delivery methods and marketing programs more effectively, thereby rebranding our overall program.  Advances in using IVB technology have been effective, but we also found the limits of using this technology. Grant funding for program support has been especially helpful when state budgets for Extension declined.  Updating programs with an eye toward marketing could be effective for other areas in Extension.  

Furthermore, while old courses were once successful, revamping these classes and re-naming them have attracted younger clientele along with traditional CFA members.  Such adaptability will keep Extension Forestry relevant to new clients, and help landowners become more effective in the management of their natural resources. Similar approaches should be helpful to natural resource outreach efforts throughout the United States.

As a whole, marketing and updating programs are an important part of branding the Extension product, which cannot be ignored in today’s society. With countless information resources at clientele disposal, Extension must be able to access and teach our clients according to their varied needs and preferences. Additional marketing research, such as focus groups to assess clientele needs can also be useful in updating education (Downing, Kays, & Finley, 2008; Vanderford & others, 2014), and in branding Extension programming.

Furthermore, adapting programs toward new delivery approaches with changing technology could be useful in expanding our clientele.  Programmatic impact surveys conducted periodically could be useful tools to evaluate the future need for updating Extension programs. 


Extension Forestry, impacts survey, interactive video broadcast, marketing programs, short courses, updating curricula

References Cited

Butler, B.J. & Leatherberry, E.C. 2004. America’s family forest owners. Journal of Forestry 102 (7): 4-9.

Chappell, V.G. 1994. Marketing planning for Extension systems. Journal of Extension, 32(2), Article 2FEA5,

Cushing, T.L. & Straka, T.J. 2011. Extension forestry and family forest owners: A data source. Journal of Extension, 49(2), Article 2TOT6,

Dahal, R.P., Munn, I.A., & Henderson, J.E. 2013. Forestry in Mississippi: The impact of the industry on the Mississippi economy—an input-output analysis. Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Research Bulletin FO 438, Mississippi State University. 22 p.

Downing, A.K., Kays, J.S., & Finley, J.C. 2008. Backyard woodlot owners: A growing issue and a new approach.  Journal of the National Association of County Agriculture Agents, 1(1).

Gordon, J., Kushla, J., &  Londo, A.  2013.  Managing the Family Forest Landowner Short Course: A Case Study in Mississippi.  Journal of the National Association of County Agricultural Agents 6(1). Online at

Kushla, J., Henderson, J., Londo, A., Dicke, S., Gordon, J., Hughes, G., Bales, D., Bailey, B., Floyd, J., Riggins, J., Chapin, R., & Meeker, J.  2012. Mississippi’s Comprehensive Program for Southern Pine Beetle Prevention: Extension Forestry’s Role and the Economic Contribution.  In:  S. Moore and R. Bardon (eds.) Association of Natural Resource Extension Professionals 8th Biennial Conference Proceedings, Natural Resources Programs and Partnerships at Work.  May 18-23, 2012.  Hendersonville, NC.  North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC (abstract, refereed).

Londo, A.J., Kushla, J.D., & Smallidge, P. 2008. Use of county tax rolls for the creation of mailing lists for Extension programming. Journal of Extension,  46(6), Article 6FEA6,

Londo, A. J. 2004. Forest landowner workshops—Combining traditional forestry field days and short courses. Journal of Extension, 42(5), Article 5TOT6,

Londo, A.J., & Gaddis, D.A. 2003. Evaluating Mississippi non-industrial private forest landowners acceptance of an interactive video short course. Journal of Extension, 41(5), Article 5RIB4,

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Morgan, C. 2012. Mississippi Forestry Commission Annual Report 2012. Jackson, MS.  20p.

Munsell, J.F., Hamilton, R., & Downing, A.K. 2009. Prospective Scope of Forest Management Education at James Madison’s Montpelier.  Journal of Natural Resources & Life Sciences Education 38:198-203.

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