The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation – Challenge Accepted



“Who is Pearl S. Buck?”  That was nearly everyone’s response to me when I mentioned that I’m doing my capstone for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation.

West Virginia University (WVU) gave us Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) graduates a unique choice between two clients for our final capstone course this particular semester: choose-your-own client or the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation.

Now, I’ve heard of Pearl S. Buck before.  Back in middle school, I read her Pulitzer prize winning novel, “The Good Earth,” with my entire class.  So when I started getting blank stares from friends and family when I mentioned Buck’s name, I was slightly baffled. I realized that I would have a challenge ahead of me.

As a former Peace Corps volunteer and nonprofit employee, I knew how challenging it could be for small, local nonprofits to get the resources they need to sustain themselves.  Choosing the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation capstone course seemed like an amazing opportunity for me to utilize my experience and knowledge of IMC to make a direct impact on a struggling nonprofit.  Plus, I thought that the course would be a slightly easier because the client already had clear goals they wanted us to accomplish. Let me tell you, this course was far from easy.

The Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation had some unique challenges that called for some creative marketing solutions. For example, the Foundation wanted to bring more visitors to the Birthplace, however, the Birthplace was located in a town with no restaurants, hotels or decent cellphone service.  Couple that with the fact that almost everyone I talked to hasn’t heard of Pearl S. Buck…and, oh yeah, you only have a $15,000 budget. Ladies and gentlemen, I now present you with your most challenging client!

Surprisingly, even after learning about all of these obstacles, I didn’t find myself stuck in a rut dreading the course. Instead, the challenges motivated me to find practical solutions that the Foundation could use in order to achieve their goals.

I spent a good twenty hours per week for eight weeks developing my IMC plan for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation while working full time as a communications consultant. I learned everything there was to know about Pearl S. Buck, the Birthplace Foundation, the tourist industry in West Virginia, the Foundation’s “competitors”, you name it.  While it was one of the hardest and most stressful points in my life (coming up second to my two-year stint with the Peace Corps), I learned two things:

  1. Challenges drive creativity, and
  2. Sometimes, all you need to do is apply common solutions to different problems.

For some of their goals, all the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation needed was a trifold brochure and more robust content on their social media platforms.  For others, it seemed that they could really benefit from strengthening partnerships they already had with specific organizations. Not everyone needs an app or interactive, mind-blowing website to be a successful.  If the WVU IMC graduate program has taught me anything, it’s that you need to put the right messages in front of the right audience at the right time in the right place.

More than one hundred pages later, I am finally finished with my IMC plan for the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation and have been invited to present my plan to the Foundation’s board members in the beginning of August.  The entire course has been a tough, yet wonderful learning experience that will, hopefully, help the Birthplace grow into a tourist hot-spot.  I can’t wait to go visit it one day.


Genevieve Williams is a recent graduate of the WVU IMC master’s program with a BFA in Advertising Photography from Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Her two-year Peace Corps service as an Education volunteer in Rwanda and experience working as the Marketing and Communications Specialist for the nonprofit, ForKids, has helped her develop a unique perspective that she carries with her into the marketing and communications field.  Genevieve currently works as a Communications Consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton out of Norfolk, VA, creating graphics, video, press releases and social media content for her corporate clients.



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