Yesterday, I joined about 100 other guests at a surprise party for Robert Merkley of Merkley Supply Ltd. at The Ottawa Hospital. The hospital’s charitable foundation had decided some extra recognition was due for Merkley, who has led a multi-year initiative through the Ride the Rideau campaign to raise millions of dollars for cancer research there.
Hospital foundation administrators concocted the surprise event — the unveiling of a plaque commemorating MSL’s contributions in the actual locked-door secure cancer research area, followed by a linen-cloth, china plate BBQ outside on the hospital grounds — with some help from Merkley’s family and MSL colleagues. I was surprised everyone could keep the secret — especially since I and other invited guests had received emails announcing the event several weeks in advance and all that would be needed to blow the cover would be for one of us to have forwarded the email to Merkley, perhaps accidentally.)
There’s something special and heart-warming in seeing the reaction of someone who has contributed to the community to be recognized this way. There are also powerful marketing lessons here. You can’t buy with conventional marketing and advertising the goodwill Merkley and his company have received from this process. Sure, the commemorative plaque will only be seen by researchers, not the general public, but the ongoing connection between Merkley and the good cause has not gone unnoticed.
I realize not everyone can put the same dedication and effort into activities that, on the surface, seem to be remote from MSL’s primary business — selling brick, masonry supplies and other building materials. But I can say that allocating significant resources in time (and, if you have it, money) for community service will pay off in time with welcome positive recognition, powerful branding, and really enhanced relationships.
Merkely has touched the nerve with his support for cancer research, of course. We all know people with cancer, and our chances of sometime in our lives being caught by this disease are high. You may find other causes you can support or advocate.
Of course, he isn’t supporting cancer research with the goal of enhancing his marketing. That would be cynical, and ultimately, ineffective. However, undoubtedly there are marketing advantages through community service/support. What would work for you?