When Mark Stevens, director of PR at Marketing Event Partners (MVP) was brought on board to handle media relations for Arby's Charity Golf Tour, the first thing he did was search through the fast-food chain's archives for newspaper clippings to see how much attention the event had drawn during its four-year history. He couldn't find a single clipping.
This wasn't surprising, given that Stevens knew when he took the position that he was going to be the first PR pro to ever handle communications for the fast-food restaurant's signature nonprofit event. The Arby's Charity Tour (ACT) started out in 1996 as a series of golf tournaments and auctions to raise funds for local Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Boy & Girls Clubs, and other youth mentoring organizations. The ACT raised an impressive $4 million in donations before leaders at Arby's headquarters decided to raise the profile of the event.
"Arby's had been doing this great charity tour for four years, raising a lot of money. But nobody knew about it,
says Stevens. "In 2001, they decided to focus on PR to help raise awareness about the event on the community level."
Having a veritable blank PR slate to work with, Stevens decided that one way to heighten the golf tournament's profile was to create a series of events centered around children and Arby's Valuable Values, a series of child-friendly character-building principles that include "Work Hard," "Play Fair,
and "Dream Big."
Another area that Stevens decided to focus on was the community aspect of the event. The tournament was to take place in 15 cities, including Atlanta, Denver, Nashville, TN, Phoenix, and Tampa, FL. Stevens rolled out plans to involve local Arby's franchises, business and civic leaders, as well as people from Big Brothers Big Sisters, and other youth mentoring organizations. The goal, Stevens claims, was to "raise as much money as possible for the charity, and to also increase awareness of the event."
To generate local media interest, Stevens set up education initiatives where local mentoring leaders spoke at elementary schools about Arby's Valuable Values. The events were staged ahead of each golf tournament.
After each lecture, the children were able to go out to the ACT tournament bus, where they could play games, sing karaoke, or play in the sports cage. The bus was also used in charity recruiting drives and Valuable Values lessons.
In Georgia, Stevens hired Olympic gold- and silver-medal winners Courtney Shealy and Kristy Kowal to talk about what it takes to be a winner - and to mention the Arby's event. Two weeks before and after the event, a local Arby's sold "Make a difference
pin-ups for $1 and $5, which were then hung up in the store, giving people in the community the chance to support a local charity.
The 2001 golf tournament and auction event raised over $2 million - more than $400,000 over the year before. The ACT added two new national and gold sponsors to the event. Representatives of the tour also interviewed for over 100 TV morning shows and all 15 of the major papers in each city the tour visited.
While it only received four million impressions in 2000, the ACT received over 30 million impressions in the first six months of 2001. "The added emphasis on how people could help their communities was very influential in raising the profile for us,
The ACT has already booked itself for 20 cities in 2002 - five more than the previous year. The tournament hopes to raise contributions to $2.5 million. The first tournament was held in Fort Lauderdale, FL on March 24.