117 km, one pedal push at a time — A real construction marketing exercise

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The ride group shot
About 600 cyclists start the Ride in Ottawa Sept. 9. Many (including the leading fund-raisers) are from the city's architectural, engineering and construction community.

On Sunday Sept. 9, I pushed through 117 km (about 72 miles) on a hybrid exercise bike, requiring about four hours (with breaks) and close to 4,000 calories of energy. The goal: to raise money for cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital — but underlying the feat are long-standing business and marketing relationships.

This story in Ottawa Construction News/Ontario Construction Report explains the business and marketing element. The Ride (as it is now known) started nine years ago when a major local real estate developer (Roger Greenberg of Minto Communities) teamed up with Robert Merkley from masonry supplier Merkley Supply Ltd. to pitch the idea of a 100 km cycling event locally similar to one they had participated in Toronto.

The idea took hold, and despite problems including a tragic accidental death on the ride route one year, they persevered, creating a fund-raiser that has generated more than $12.5 million for the hospital.

Fair enough. You may be wondering, though what this initiative has to do with architectural, engineering and construction marketing.

The answer, in one respect, is none. In another, it reflects one of the most effective marketing/branding campaigns imaginable for Merkley and other sponsors/participants in the fund-raising initiative.

To explain the contradiction, it is important to note that selfless community service and charitable leadership/support is just that. If anyone starts a project like this with the aim to build brand/reputation and business, the cynical mis-use of community good-will will soon come to the surface, and defeat the idea. (I’ve seen several examples of businesses “blowing their horn” for effectively minor community projects over the year; and I cringe at the phoniness of the whole thing — and expect that the community and potential clients see the same thing.)

On the other hand, if the contributions are genuine and the individuals are leading the project without worrying about a cent in personal gain/revenue, wonderful things happen.

Relationships forged while working on the community projects turn into business connections; and because the good-will spreads through the community, the business enjoys an enhanced brand reputation — reducing sales resistance and bringing in additional revenues. Sure, some money (and plenty of sweat effort) are required, but the cumulative business-gaining results more than offsets the costs.

mark buckshon the ride
A selfie as I begin the 117 km endurance exercise

So you have the paradox. Charitable leadership and community support (and a willingness to pound the pedals in this case) have tangible branding/business development value — if you go at the work with the right attitude — that is, with genuine community spirit in mind.

(For me, there is an added reward: Fitness and health, especially since I’ve been able to put pre-diabetes at bay. Merkley told me that he has discovered that about a third of the hundreds of people he has recruited for the fundraiser have reported similar results.)

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