Ford travels for autism awareness

For five years, Neighborhood Ford Store (NFS) has sponsored the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (PVGP), a 10-day event held July 6 to 15 that draws more than 100,000 attendees. The event raises money for the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley School, which serves the disabled in Pennsylvania.

For five years, Neighborhood Ford Store (NFS) has sponsored the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (PVGP), a 10-day event held July 6 to 15 that draws more than 100,000 attendees. The event raises money for the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley School, which serves the disabled in Pennsylvania.

Todd Lynch, VP and director of PR for St. John & Partners (SJ&P), says the cars tended to overshadow the charity. NFS asked SJ&P to elevate its visibility, drive awareness of the charities, and increase relevance to the Ford dealers that paid for the sponsorship.

Strategy
Lynch says researching past media coverage and shows helped determine that establishing a tie-in with the charities would best enhance NFS' sponsorship. “We wanted to give this thing legs... beyond [PVGP],” says Dan Taylor, special events chairman for NFS.

The team devised an art exhibit and contest called “Through Their Eyes” (TTE). Kids attending PVGP would draw their impressions of the event, which would be posted on NFS' Web site and go on a traveling exhibit to various Ford dealerships. People would vote online for their favorite piece, and NFS would donate $500 to each charity in the winning artist's name, Lynch says.

Tactics
Art supplies and space to create were provided in a tent at the PVGP. Lynch says SJ&P designed and created a crayon-themed TTE's Web site to host the art online. The site also included the traveling exhibit schedule, a news page, and information and links to the charities' sites.

The exhibit traveled to seven dealerships in four markets. The dealerships were selected based on location to ensure maximum media coverage in each market. Pamphlets from both charities were featured in the traveling exhibit, he adds.

Voting took place online from October 24 to December 15.

PVGP volunteers, Allegheny Valley School employees, and families of the kids who created the art helped spread the word to vote.

The team pitched local and regional media about the art activity, the contest, and the donation presentation, Lynch says. It also pitched local media when the exhibit traveled to various dealerships. All interviews focused on extending the charities' messages and emphasizing NFS' community involvement, he adds.

Results
About 400 children created artwork. Online page views totaled 4,422, and 295 votes were cast, exceeding NFS' goal by 47% and 18%, respectively. Media coverage included the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

“[TTE] brings Ford and Ford dealers into a really good light during very bad times,” Taylor says.
He adds that the campaign boosted internal morale, and he was “thrilled” with the results.

Future
NFS and SJ&P will continue to work together on a number of projects. TTE is in progress again this year. Taylor notes that bad weather hurt one day of attendance at PVGP this year, but Lynch adds that art entries aren't significantly down from last year.

PRWeek's View

This was a great idea that covered so many bases. Lynch points out that because car dealerships have a lot of open space, they're ideal for showing art. The traveling exhibit was brilliant in terms of visibility, tie-ins to dealerships, and media opportunities.

Engaging kids in this way for such a good cause at a huge public event was a great way to engender goodwill from parents. The effort benefitted both NFS and the charities. This team really understood the power of creating a win-win situation.


PR team: Neighborhood Ford Store (Pittsburgh, PA) and St. John & Partners (Jacksonville, FL)
Campaign: Through Their Eyes Art Exhibit to Benefit Autism
Duration: July 2007-January 2008
Budget: about $7,500

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