Ad agencies are certainly not new to the world of charitable causes. The larger organizations we all know, such as American Heart Association, are brands like any other and require professional marketing services just as much as for-profit corporations. But it is rare when an agency can partner with a new cause and truly help birth an organization, watch it grow and make a difference in our world.
Last April, Fathom Communications received a cold call from a brand new charity, the Max Cure Foundation, that needed help. The organization, created by David and Ann-Marie Plotkin -- whose son Max had a rare form of cancer and was treated successfully at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center -- and David's dad, Richard Plotkin, wanted to fund a new pediatric center at Sloan-Kettering and needed to raise $500,000 as initial seed funding. Having already raised money from friends and family, it now needed to take its campaign to a new level, which would center around a family-themed carnival event in the Hamptons.
When we heard about Max and the foundation's quest, we said yes on the spot, and the Max Cure Roar for a Cure Carnival was born.
At the time, the Max Cure Foundation had no infrastructure, no staff and no experience in either fundraising or event production. What it did have was a determined family with a mission to find a cure for pediatric cancer. We were just a few months away from the event date -- in August to capitalize on the heavy summer traffic in the Hamptons -- with nothing but an empty field donated by a friend at the East Hampton Tennis Club.
In our minds, though, the big challenge was ensuring a successful event. Even with donated services, an event of our imagined magnitude could cost as much as $100,000, so we had to bring in at least that much. Early on, David Plotkin and I discussed the challenges of raising enough money for the first year of what we envisioned to be an annual event, especially given the soft economic climate, and I told him that drawing 250 people and raising $150,000 would be a great benchmark for year one.
For Fathom, producing the event was fairly easy—rallying the vendors (catering, tents, security, amassments, staging, parking) and booking a high-profile band, Push Play. The hard part was developing the infrastructure to raise the funds, so our next step was to create all the solicitation material (presentation decks, invites and e-vites) and establish pricing tiers, corporate donation packages and online payment systems, as well as tracking and reporting mechanisms. We also set up the infrastructure for an auction, which we held on eBay prior to the event and at the event itself.
The night before the event, Fathom staff drove three hours to Amagansett, nervous about the dismal weather report of rain during our outdoor carnival. Sure enough, as we arrived at 6 a.m. to set up, a massive storm moved in and the beaches closed. We ordered more tents, a stage cover and ponchos, and then looked up to the heavens and prayed. Miraculously, the rain never came, but with the beaches closed, we were the hot item in town and attracted droves of attendees -- almost 1,000 -- who opened their checkbooks and their hearts.
We had some celebrity friends on hand, too. Christie Brinkley came with a smile, as did Aida Turturro from "The Sopranos." It was one of those days that was magic. For example, we tried to give Push Play a check for their expenses, and they promptly ripped it up, making a check out to the foundation instead. We were happy to be proved wrong in our projections about attendance and funds raised: Our final tally reached $350,000.
It was an exhausting endeavor, but knowing we helped seed a new pediatric center at Sloan-Kettering that would save more children like Max was worth every minute of effort. Don't get me wrong -- I love my day job at Fathom -- but helping launch a brand that can save lives simply has no equal. We are now planning the encore event for next summer, and we are so proud to count the Max Cure Foundation as a new client and the Plotkins as our friends.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Marcus Peterzell is managing director, engagement & entertainment marketing, for Fathom Communications.