The marketing (and other) rewards of good deeds

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the ride
The Ride has raised more than $8.8 million for cancer research in the past five years. Total raised will likely exceed $10 million this ear.
the ride
The Ride has raised more than $8.8 million for cancer research in the past five years. Total raised will likely exceed $10 million this ear.

I certainly cannot claim a leadership role in The Ride, a fund-raising initiative for cancer research at The Ottawa Hospital. However, there are elements to this five-year initiative worthy of review for marketing value, and the demonstration of how community leadership can lead to tremendous spin-off and success.

The event has raised more than $8.8 million, “making it the most successful cancer fund-raiser in eastern Ontario”, and a sizeable percentage of the fund raised below have been generated from the architectural, engineering and construction communities.

This is in part because relevant associations (such as the Ottawa Construction Association) have bought into the project, along with local suppliers/distributors including, Merkley Supply Ltd. (MSL), Boone Plumbing and Heating Supply Ltd. and Mattamy Homes (the title sponsor).

I'm a member of  Robert Merkley's MSL "Brick Peddlers" team, the largest in the initiative.
I’m a member of Robert Merkley’s MSL “Brick Peddlers” team, the largest in the initiative.

MSL president Robert Merkley used the power of client persuasion to connect me to the ride when he helped initiate the project in 2010, seeking (and offering to pay for) substantial marketing and promotion within our regional construction industry publication, Ottawa Construction News.

I’ve always granted free publicity to community and non-profit initiatives, but Merkley doesn’t like to do things half-baked. He wanted multiple pages, pull-out sections and lots of coverage. I priced the additional publicity on a cost-recovery basis and extended it with additional free advertising and a cycle of monthly editorial support.

The first year, I had a conflict which meant I could not participate in the actual event so I simply made a cash contribution of $500. I had no excuse on the second ride, in 2011. The rules are that individual riders are expected to raise $1,500 each (or contribute to a team aggregate that would result in that level of individual contributions.) In year two, I set out to do my bit, and after some effort, collected the requisite funds. (Merkley, in contrast, has contributed over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.)

I had a twenty-year old bike, and despite being in reasonably good physical shape, certainly finished the event with sore body parts and a riding speed that put me near the end of the pack.

Last year, there was a tragedy. As the ride grew and route evolved, there were more conflicts between the hundreds of cyclists and other vehicles on the lengthy route, and one of the riders was killed when she was hit by a garbage truck. Police determined it to be an accident (there were no charges laid), but the death certainly put the damper on what had been a growing life-saving event. Would it continue?

Organizers decided it should — though they changed the route and have built-in additional safety measures this year.

Meanwhile, I’ve noticed some changes in my personal health. On spring, summer and fall days when the weather isn’t wet, I now prefer to commute by bicycle rather than car to my office — a 15 km (about 7.5 million) distance. It’s vigorous exercise. Previously I had signs of pre-diabetes. Now, even after eating plenty of “bad” food, my blood sugar is entirely within the normal level. Fund-raising has become easy, as well. A brief note sent to previous contributors has quickly raised the minimum funds required, and there will probably be many additional contributions, bringing the totals well above previous levels.

Although I claim only a limited role in the project, the relationships, connections and community service opportunities by offering publicity and recognition to the other industry leaders and participants in the business have certainly helped our own brand. So, of course — and importantly — has the marketing value extended to the initiative’s leaders.

Note that the contributions here are genuine, come from the heart, and have no self-serving marketing interests underneath them. Yet that is why they are so effective from a marketing perspective. Genuine community service and leadership help to build trust, a positive reputation, and undoubtedly results in meaningful marketing advantage for the businesses and individuals who elect to do their part.

So, the question for you is: Can you lead a community project (it doesn’t need to be obviously related to AEC interests) where you can make a difference, and then marshal your supply chain and associations behind the initiative? You must do this without self-serving marketing objectives in mind.

However, when you do, you’ll undoubtedly reap the rewards. In the case of The Ride, for me it has been improved physical health. The value to the hospital, cancer victims and the individuals who took the lead in developing this project, however, reaches a much higher order of magnitude.

If you would like to make a contribution (tax-deductible in Canada) you can do it at this link.

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