CAMPAIGNS: NON-PROFIT PR - Kids take Santas to school for VOA

Client: Volunteers of America - Greater New York

Client: Volunteers of America - Greater New York

Client: Volunteers of America - Greater New York

PR Team: Amster-Young Public Relations (New York)

Campaign: Sidewalk Santa Program

Time Frame: October to December 1999

Budget: dollars 55,000

Putting a new spin on a 97-year-old tradition isn’t easy.

That was the challenge for Volunteers of America (VOA) and its Sidewalk

Santa program. The group wanted to freshen the program and ’brand’ it as

its own. VOA wanted to drive home the point that the Santas ringing the

bells with their trademarked red brick chimneys and white belts are with

VOA, which provides a range of human services.


The group had to deliver message points that would help it throughout

the year. ’We wanted every photo caption, every story, even when any of

the Santas were interviewed, to deliver messages about the

organization’s goals,’ says Karen Amster-Young, president of

Amster-Young PR, the agency VOA brought on board this season for the

first time.

To achieve success, VOA needed new sponsors that would offer tie-ins to

add spark to traditional festivities, including the Fifth Avenue Parade

Kick-off event the day after Thanksgiving.


For the first time in years, VOA had a celebrity for the parade - Barry

Bostwick, the mayor on ABC’s Spin City. The Plaza Hotel helped the

Santas get ready for the season by hosting Santa School and Kids on

Broadway, during which professional child actors role-played with Santa


To drum up sponsorship, as early as April of last year dozens of letters

were mailed and listings announcing sponsorship opportunities ran in

trade publications.

Brooks Brothers, the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council,

Procter & Gamble and Reebok came on board as sponsors. Brooks Brothers

hosted the kick-off event at its flagship Fifth Avenue store. The Santas

participated in promotions for the other sponsors - for example, they

cheered the holiday season with a ’milk toast.’

The agency launched an assault on the media with hundreds of pitch

letters to local, national and international media throughout the



The aggressive early outreach paid off for VOA. The number of sponsors

doubled from two to four - all of whom were new. The increase translated

into a 100% jump in funds raised from sponsors - dollars 36,000.

As for the press, the events generated more than 50 television and radio

placements in New York and some 36 television segments in markets like

Atlanta, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. On kick-off day, there were live

remotes from several shows.

Print coverage included stories on the front page of the Metro section

of The New York Times and the front page of the Queens edition of

Newsday, as well as international coverage.

’I believe we did boost awareness that the Sidewalk Santa is VOA,’ says

Linda McNeil, director of development and communications at VOA. ’We

haven’t done any marketing surveys, but we heard a lot anecdotally, from

our board members in particular. The quality of press was better. This

time we got our message points out.’


This year, look for a celebrity dishing out advice about the dos and

don’ts of being a Santa at the Santa School, and expect an increase in


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