ANALYSIS <b>The Agency Business</b>: Ketchum offers Atlanta charities 'mental marathon' session

Looking to provide pro-bono assistance to Atlanta-based nonprofits, Ketchum South will sit down with seven groups for a full 24 hours in hopes of handing each a sound PR strategy.

Looking to provide pro-bono assistance to Atlanta-based nonprofits, Ketchum South will sit down with seven groups for a full 24 hours in hopes of handing each a sound PR strategy.

The Olympic fever that has gripped Ketchum since it began work on the Summer Games torch relay may have some unexpected beneficiaries: nonprofits in the Atlanta area. Inspired by the epic run, Ketchum South and its clients are organizing a "mental marathon," a 24-hour brainstorming session to help generate some creative ideas for a wide variety of organizations that don't have the resources to spend on such counsel. The session will take place on Aug. 24 - the same day the Olympic marathon will be held in Athens. Until Friday, the agency will accept applications from charitable groups that want the agency's help in shaping PR strategies. Then it will select seven to take part in the session, based on a number of criteria. "We'll weigh their needs in the community, the reach of the programs they have, and how we can match our talents with some of the initiatives that are out there in the community and come up with good ideas that will help take them to the next level," says Barri Rafferty, managing director of Ketchum South. A number of clients - including Kodak, Cingular Wireless, Delta, and Home Depot - will take part. This is the first time Ketchum has done a full-day session aimed at a number of organizations. However, it has done one-off consultations in the past. One of those was with the Georgia chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, on whose board sits Clay Owen, media relations director for Cingular Wireless, one of the participants. "We found within the leukemia society that there's a lot of cross-pollination," Owen says. "There are a lot of companies represented on the board, and getting them all together in the same room to exchange ideas for a common purpose provides networking, creativity, and just an overall positive experience." The 24/7 brainstorm will feature seven three-hour segments, each with three parts, according to Rafferty. First, there will be a communications strategy brief in which research and strategy will be discussed and goals will be established. Then, the team will brainstorm and harvest the best ideas. Finally, the team will develop a written report for the organization. The brainstorm teams will be chosen based on the nonprofit's need and interest and the talent available. For instance, Rafferty says, for a children's charity, the organizers might try to get several mothers on the team. The groups chosen will each have a liaison to the agency and clients. "We'll tailor this to get the best results," Rafferty says. The organizations chosen will range across nonprofit sectors: animal funds, arts and culture, children's charities, education, environment, health and human welfare, and parks and recreation. As part of the criteria for selection, the group must fall into one of these areas. It also has to demonstrate a few other qualifications. Size, however, isn't one of them. There is no minimum or maximum requirement in terms of budget or staff. Applications can be directed to "We're looking for greatest need where we can make a difference," says Rafferty. "Size isn't really an issue. Obviously we hope they have a size that can make an impact in a local area." Just over a week after the brainstorm was covered in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Ketchum had received more than 30 applications. Beyond the obvious benefits to the organization, there are also some rewards for the agency and clients. "PR is about building relations," says Rafferty. "Not only does this allow us to build relationships in the community, but it strengthens our relationships with clients." She adds that it's also a morale booster for the entire staff. Says Owen, "Corporate involvement in a nonprofit is always a plus for any corporation that's concerned with reputation, and that should be every corporation - whether you're a wireless firm or a PR firm." But more than that, the session will be about ideas - and, of course, a lot of caffeine. "I'm hoping not to get the night shift," Owen says with a laugh. "I haven't seen anything like this in concept in terms of scope. It's going to be very interesting to see what those ideas are at two in the morning."

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