Minus the Mighty Bat of Cause Marketing, “Run to Home Base” is Stranded on First

Massachusetts General Hospital and the Red Sox Foundation are doing a great thing: they’ve teamed up to put on a road race to help soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat stress disorders and/or traumatic brain injury.

But this isn't just any road race. The finish line of this 9K is one of the most hallowed places after the Tombs of the Unknown (at least for a New Englander): home plate at Fenway Park.

This event will be a huge success, flawlessly executed (Dave McGillvray is the race director. He organizes another little run in town called the Boston Marathon.), be a ton of fun and raise lots of money (runners have to raise a minimum of $1,000 to participate).

But it’s missing one glaring thing: yep, you guessed it, cause marketing.

There's a section on the Run for Home Base web site on becoming a corporate sponsor of the run. But really, could you find an event with better bones for a cause marketing pitch than this one?

  • Last time I checked it was still popular to wave the flag. And what better way for a company to share its patriotic values than supporting the mentally scarred troops that are fighting to protect us.
  • The event involves Boston’s beloved home town team and a hallowed shrine, Fenway Park.
  • Mass General is one of the greatest hospitals on the planet. If we’re judged by the company we keep, you couldn’t do better than hanging out with MGH.

So where are the cause marketing partnerships for Run to Home Base? I’m not sure, but this is what they’re missing out on.

Money. A simple point-of-sale or percentage-of-sale program with a retailer--like the one we just finished with Ocean State Job Lots--could bring in hundreds of thousand of additional dollars to support the cause.

Promotion. A popular run like this will probably sellout early anyway, but it's still a first year event and the recruitment of top fundraisers might have benefited from some in-store promotion. Pinups are a great way to promote a run, walk or ride. Our surveys for Halloween Town show that year after year many attendees learned about the event from a pinup they bought at iParty stores.

Education. This may be the real lost opportunity. Regardless of whether shoppers buy a pinup or sign-up for the race, in-store visibility of the Home Base Program increases the chances that someone who either needs its services or knows someone who does, will get the information he or she needs.

Virtual Success. A growing area of focus for run, walk, ride fundraisers is recruiting people who can't run, walk or ride the event but still want to participate beyond just making a donation. Cause marketing is a great way to recruit and activate these participants. Not to mention the crossover with location-based social media that could further enhance a program or inaugurate a "retail race."

Professional Sports Team Foundations & Cause Marketing

A good question I often get about cause marketing is that when dealing with the nonprofits arms of professional sports teams can causes expect to benefit from a sports team's many corporate sponsors.

Don't count on it.

In my experience, the sports teams won't go for it. (This might explain why Run to Home Base organizers don't have any cause marketing partners, or any corporate sponsors for that matter, despite having some easy targets in the Red Sox outfield.)

The reason is probably simple: sports teams don’t want nonprofits mucking up their lucrative corporate deals. Although I’ve argued--to deaf ears up to this point--that asking an existing corporate sponsor of the team to do a cause marketing program is something that's totally different from a corporate sponsorship.

No interference. Selling a cause marketing package doesn’t interfere with the corporate sponsorship because it doesn't supplant any existing benefits from the team. Cause marketing has different assets, benefits and outcomes.

Cause marketing offers something unique. I'm not a sports marketing expert but its seems like team sponsorships, among others things, deliver great visibility for a corporate sponsor. And while consumers undoubtedly feel positively about a company’s connection with a team like the Boston Celtics, sports sponsorships don't build the social capital cause marketing does. Again, cause marketing doesn't threaten a team's pact with a company. And it just might deepen a company's relationship with a sports team. That's what cause marketing does.

Cause marketing taps a separate pool of money. A company purchases a sports sponsorship with their checkbook, but cause marketing is executed at the register and ultimately comes from the generosity of customers. The company just handles the money. Moreover, cause marketing can only be executed in support of a cause, not for personal profit. In short, it’s not like the sports team could have used cause marketing to underwrite a company sponsorship of the jumbotron.

The Run for Home Base will almost certainly be a winner for those struggling with combat stress disorder. The event has lots of good hitters to ensure its success. But organizers have left a star hitter, cause marketing, sitting on the bench. And for that no will know how many more runs could have been scored for U. S. soldiers.

Halloween Town '09 by the Numbers

kiss photoHalloween Town was great last weekend! Here's a quick summary of the event "by the numbers." To compare them to last year's results, click here. We'll have the results on money in November when the rest of the pinup money comes in.

@ashleyzolenski is also working on a social media wrap-up that I think you'll find informative.

To see a few pictures I snapped at the event, go here. For video, here. More will follow!

Now the results of the big show!

1250 volunteers

8,000 cases of candy given away (how many cavities created no one knows!)

75,000 square feet of decorations, sets, activities, lighting, staging

35 acts performed on 4 stages, including 6 by our lead act Dan Zanes

14,000 attendees over two days

100,000 prizes distributed

3,300 free tickets distributed to organizations that serve poor families

38 corporate sponsors

3,000 pumpkins decorated

144,500 pinups printed

3,800 light sticks, balloons, trick-or-treat bags sold

1 in 5 tickets was sold online

1 alligator (in the petting zoo!)

Despite a challenging economy, this year's event was a great success! We really appreciate every one's support.

How You Can Be a Part of Halloween Town

jack-skellington-tim-burtons-nightmare-before-chrismas-posterLike Jack Skellington my cause marketing team lives in Halloween Town twelve months a year. No sooner is Halloween over and just like in the movie the Mayor of Halloween Town (aka Joanna MacDonald) is hustling through my door, arms full, with plans for next year's "big event."  This year is no different. But unlike Jack I haven't grown tired of the same old routine year in and year out. It's because every year Halloween Town has some new facet that keeps it interesting and challenging. This year it's the economy.

The good news is that we already have a number of great sponsors in place, including iParty, Valvoline Instant Oil Change, Zipcar, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Clif Bar, Hershey's, Energy Star, Uno's Chicago Grill and Citizen's Bank. We continue to work a number of solid leads, and just welcomed Fuddruckers aboard today!

But we're always brainstorming on how we can raise more money from Halloween Town. And that means involving YOU! Here's what we've come up with:

Nonprofit partnerships. We've taken the enlightened path of working with other nonprofits to raise money. It happened earlier this year when we worked with the nonprofit arm of the Boston Bruins, the Boston Bruins Foundation, on a point-of-sale program involving iParty and Fuddruckers. It raised $41,000, which will be presented to us by the Bruins Foundationduring a check presentation at the beginning of next season at the "Gahden."

We want to work with more nonprofits that have corporate and retail connections but are unsure how to leverage them--something we're really good at. Our team can create a cause marketing program, build-in benefits for the sponsor at Halloween Town and execute a flawless program. Then our two nonprofits can split the monies raised. Uneasy about splitting funds with another organization? We were too. But consider this. It's not money we would have been able to raise without each other. And, ultimately, 50% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

Host your fundraiser at Halloween Town. One thing we've always wanted to do at Halloween Town is have a Saturday night Halloween party that would use the sets we create each year for the event. But being a small team we're already stretched just organizing the two-day event. We're open to another nonprofit or group using Halloween Town after hours for their own wicked awesome Halloween Party. We have everything you need. You just need to supply the people, pay us a fee for using our space and you keep the rest having given folks a Halloween party they'll never forget.

For-profit partnerships. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Halloween Town just isn't for big sponsors and their "brandland" experience. Every year we have more and more sponsors starting at $1,000 and up participating the event. If you check out this link from last year, Halloween Town by the Numbers, you'll know why. Halloween Town offers an excellent demo of what I jokingly call the "four-legged, four-eye monster." Better known as mothers with kids. And with the average stay of the Halloween Town attendee around four hours, they are sure to connect with your product or service at some point. We've created a lot of layers to our sponsorships this year so there really is something for every business and every price point.

The colors of Halloween Town this year will be orange and GREEN! Of course, the traditional colors of Halloween are orange and black, but this year you'll see a lot of GREEN at Halloween Town. That's because as part of their Change the World Tour, Energy Star is bringing there super energy-efficient home exhibit to Halloween Town. But this just won't be any boring green home. Greeting you will be a haunted first family! It should be a lot fun and will encourage some additional sponsorship angles we couldn't explore in previous years.

So, what do you think of these ideas? I would appreciate your feedback on them and would love your input on other ideas that might work at Halloween Town. Also, if you have anything that might be of use to us at Halloween Town (e.g. a prop, a talent, an activity, an uncle who runs a candy factory or 3,000 pumpkins lying around your yard in October) let us know.

The foundation of Halloween Town is strong. Last year we had 41 sponsors and 15,000 attendees, up 15% from '07. It's an event that kids mark on their calendar and even moms and dads come dressed up!

But the challenges of the past year have made Halloween look a little more scary than it was. It's like trick-or-treating at the house on your street that everyone is afraid of. When you tip-toe up the stairs to ring the doorbell you want to make sure someone's got your back. There's strength in numbers. Who's going with me?

A few resources that will be helpful to you:

The 2009 Halloween Town Sponsorship Video

Halloween Town 2008 in Pictures

Halloween Town 2008 by the Numbers

Information on the Halloween Pin-Up Program

Interested in really talking turkey? Don't call me. Call Holt Murray, 617-414-2866, holt.murray@bmc.org. You can also find Holt on Twitter at @holtmurray. Be sure to tell him Jack Skellington sent you.

Halloween Town by the Numbers

I had thought of writing a long recap on the event, but I think this pretty much says it all about Halloween Town 2009. 850 volunteers

120,000 pieces of candy given away (5,000 pieces eaten by me)

6 zones of entertainment

70,000 square feet of decorations, sets, activities, lighting, staging

5,000,000 media impressions

100 entertainers

8 shows by musician Dan Zanes

15,000 attendees over two days

100,000 prizes distributed

6,000 free tickets distributed to organizations that serve poor families

5,000 pumpkins decorated

700 cornstalks and 30 bales of hay used for decorations.

500 pounds of sand for one of our most popular activities, The Gravedigger Game

41 corporate and media sponsors involved in the event

300,000pin-ups printed

500% growth in online ticket sales

1500 more attendees than last year

2500 light sticks and 800 balloons sold

400 R. I. P.'s (Really Important People) wooed for next year's event.

This year's event was a big success!  And planning for next year has already begun!

Countdown to Halloween Town: The Power of Pin-Ups

The 2008 version of the Halloween Town pin-up will hit some stores as early as next week.  Some retailers like iParty prefer to get a jump start on selling them in September because October is so busy .

Selling these pin-ups prior to Halloween Town will achieves two important goals.  First, they help us raise hundreds of thousands of dollars before a ticket is ever sold at the gate at Halloween Town.  It's a good feeling to open the event with the wind at our backs and money in our pockets.  Even if Boston were struck by a hurricane on Halloween Town weekend--we survived a strong nor'easter in '06--the event would make money.  How many events can say that?  All the other for-profit Halloween events in and around Boston have just one way to make money: tickets.  Being a nonprofit has certain advantages and the ability to sell pin-ups prior to the event and raise money is a big one.

A second important goal from the the pin-ups is promotion.  Getting them into the hands of consumers is a great opportunity to publicize Halloween Town.  In the past, as many as 1in 5 attendees have said they learned of the event from the pin-up they bought.

This year we're taking pin-up promotion seriously.  We've cut back on the number of coupons on the pin-up--easy with fewer retail partners--and doubled the amount of space for promotion.  We've included a plug for our main musical act, Disney and Noggin's crazy music man Dan Zanes.  We've also included a special incentive: a coupon for a free child admission when you purchase an adult ticket. 

Special promotions like this have been a hit in a bad economy at other New England attractions, according to the Boston Globe.  The "everyone pays the kid price" promotion has been working well all summer for Six Flags.  We also share their focus on catering to young families.  In short, discounting, incentives and family entertainment are working in this challenging economy.  You'll see all three at Halloween Town.

Your big takeaway from Halloween Town is that pin-up programs are a great event enhancer.  They can draw bigger crowds and boost the bottom-line.

How would this work for your event?  Say that you have a cause walk every year to benefit your organization. But this year you recruit a local supermarket chain to sell a pin-up to support the walk.  In addition to raising more money, you'll also recruit more walkers, because each pin-up has info on how shoppers can join the walk.  The pin-ups are better advertising than any of those free ads in newspapers you get that nobody reads or television PSA's that people aren't up to see in the middle of the night.

Plus, here's a pin-up bonus: they are a great way to recruit and thank sponsors.  If your walk sponsor knows they'll get extra exposure for a few weeks via a busy retailer, or can include a coupon on the pin-up, that can be a great selling point for them.  I know it is for the for sponsors we recruit.

So don't forget the power of pin-ups when you're planning your next event.  Special events are too much work and too expensive to run to just leave money in the checkout line at the supermarket down the street.