Cause Marketing the Marathon '08

Patriot's Day Monday is always a big deal here in Boston.  There are the reenactments of the battles at Lexington and Concord that started the American Revolution.  The Red Sox always play at Fenway.  But, of course, the big event is the annual running of the Boston Marathon.  Among the thousands of runners clogging the streets from Hopkinton to Boston are the many charity runners who run to raise money for mainly Boston-based causes. As a fundraiser it's a pretty simple one.  You start in September by hoarding all the "charity waivers" you can get, which are each worth at least $3,000 to your organization (one waiver on our team was worth $20k!).  You assemble your team, teach them how to raise money and train them to run 26 miles without ending up in an ambulance.  We rely on Boston-based Fitcorp for the latter. 

This year, we collected 35 waivers and to-date have raised $155,000.  This isn't as much as some of the bigger teams in Boston that had a lot more waivers, but we were happy with what we raised, and it really didn't require a lot of work.

Of course, my line of work is cause marketing, not event marketing, so I'm always looking for ways to get more companies involved in our Boston Marathon program.  Here's what has worked so far.

Selling companies blocks of waivers.  In a lot of programs you get one person from this company, another from that company and so on.  What we've tried is to give a bunch of numbers to one company so that they really get behind the program.  It worked the best a couple years ago when Jordan's Furniture took around a dozen.  Eliot's two sons ran on the team and Jordan's even toyed with the idea of putting their furniture out on the course as part of their "cheering" section.  How cool would that have been?  Anyway, we've raised more money and had better programs because we've bundled our numbers and focused our recruitment on a few specific companies.  You may not have a marathon program in your area, but the same idea would work with a cause walk.

Selling companies access to the marathon course.  Companies are a bit challenged when it comes to marketing themselves along the Boston Marathon course.  Unless they're an official sponsor, which is pretty expensive, they're not really suppose to be hawking their goods and wares along the course.  One way around this is to be with someone who should and can be out on the course, like a charity partner.

Let me give you an example.  Toyota of New England partnered with us for this year's marathon.  For a five-figure investment, they got their name on our running Jerseys, all promotional materials, including our popular bam-bams, which we distributed by the hundreds on marathon day.  We also promised them a spot right next to our tent along Commonwealth Avenue where they could pitch their own and park a brand new Toyota. 

But it almost didn't happen because they showed up before we did and just as they pulled their car along the course a cop told them to move it.  "You not on the list," he said.  After we showed up and spoke to the cop, Toyota had its spot back on the marathon course and us alongside them.  It wasn't because the hospital was on the map, because we weren't.  We got on the course because we explained we were a charity (who served helpless, poor, needy children) cheering on our runners and Toyota was a kind supporter.  I also think it helped that the cop knew were were a hospital and while we had no medical personnel with us, it gave us some legitimacy to be on the course.  Fortunately, our tent was right next to the American Red Cross who really were there to help runners!

Thanks to corporate sponsors of this year's marathon program, we raised an additional $20,000.  With Patriot's Day behinds us, the Boston Marathon program goes back into the cause marketing tool box of different programs my team uses to address the varying marketing needs of our clients and potential clients.  We can't forget that marathon is just one tool with a specific function.  It's nice to know you have a screwdriver, but not when you need a hammer.  That's why like any other trade, cause marketing should be plied with a variety tools.