ACS helps fill slots at Chicago marathon

The 2009 Chicago Marathon, which occurred on October 11, sold all of its runner slots by the end of April, but various charity organizations had additional slots available.

Client: Illinois division of the American Cancer Society (Chicago
PR Agency: Cramer-Krasselt Public Relations (Chicago)
Campaign: American Cancer Society Chicago Marathon promotion
Duration: July 2009
Budget: pro-bono services with about $1,000 in hard costs, including a social media release

The 2009 Chicago Marathon, which occurred on October 11, sold all of its runner slots by the end of April, but various charity organizations had additional slots available. Cramer-Krasselt Public Relations (C-K PR) stepped up in July to help the Illinois division of the American Cancer Society (ACS) drive donations by raising awareness of its Charity Runner program and selling its available marathon slots.

“Many people don't know the charity slots exist,” Aimee Eichelberger, VP/account supervisor at C-K PR. “We felt social media was the best way to drive conversation about ACS, raise awareness of the Charity Runner program, and sell the slots.”

Steve Ford, VP of communications at the Illinois division of ACS, explains that his team encourages volunteers to use Facebook as a communications and fundraising tool, but this was the first time the organization itself would use social media “as far as enterprise driven communications” to connect directly with constituents.

Strategy
Eichelberger says the idea was to use Facebook and Twitter to directly reach athletes and influencers on local and national levels.

“Social media is cost effective,” Eichelberger adds. “Identifying key running groups and athletes through Facebook and Twitter would give us a strong base… [and] a vehicle to really engage people [during the campaign] and going forward.”

C-K PR would also target bloggers to drive online news coverage.

Tactics
The agency revitalized a Facebook page previously created for the Charity Runner program by posting videos, photos, running tips, training songs, and information on fundraising and donating. The team also created a Twitter account and used it to communicate the same information.

“ACS had great collateral, including images from past marathons and video testimonials from people who are part of ACS or who ran on behalf of ACS,” Eichelberger says. “We also provided things people could use while training for the marathon, such as running tips and songs. We wanted to provide value and reasons to befriend us.”

C-K PR informed key running and training bloggers about the available marathon slots and the Charity Runners program.

Results
The effort resulted in 127 marathon slots sold and more than $100,000 in total donations. By the end of July, Facebook fans grew from 23 to 242 and have since climbed to 346. To date, the Twitter account has 130 followers. Blog outreach resulted in more than eight million impressions in 91 outlets, including Reuters.com, Examiner.com, Forbes.com, Runnersmicroblog.com, Runohio.com, and Healthnewsdigest.com.

Ford notes C-K PR's approach “had a profound impact on the fight against cancer to allow us to connect with new constituents.” He adds that the organization will continue to find ways to use social media.

Future
The agency will continue as an active volunteer, helping the Illinois division of the ACS use social media to meet its goals. The Charity Runner program is expanding nationally and being rebranded as “DetermiNation.”

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