Brand Connection: Your Story Can Inspire The Perfect Sponsorship
For much of his life, Patrick Downey was the perfect personification of the Converse brand. He was an artist who had developed his own unique, personal style—the crown jewel of which was his uniform of dark pants, flannel tops and Chuck Taylors. He wore it every day. And this is exactly how his family and friends remember him.
Patrick passed away in 2007 from a “secret” form of cancer—one that, unless you know someone afflicted with the disease, you rarely hear about: esophageal. During his fight, his sister Shannon Downey was training for a race to benefit breast cancer research. She admits that while Patrick was supportive of her efforts, “he was frustrated that there was so much awareness of breast cancer but not much for esophageal cancer.” So Shannon promised Patrick that she would help raise awareness about this disease and suggested that maybe, one day, there would be a "Patrick Downey 5K."
This coming Mother’s Day marks the Second Annual Patrick Downey 5K in Peabody, Mass. Runners are encouraged to wear flannel and Chuck Taylors (I’ll be wearing my flannel Chucks and a plaid running skirt). The suggested attire caught the eye of one runner: after she registered for the race she found Patrick and Shannon’s story and also became intrigued by the race’s official logo, which features a sneaker reminiscent of a Chuck Taylor. As it turns out, she works for Converse. And here begins the brand connection.
The runner contacted Shannon via the PD5K Facebook page to inquire about Converse sponsoring the race. She also connected Shannon with the VP of Finance at Converse. (I’d like to stop and give a shout-out to Converse here, because it obviously has a culture where an employee feels empowered to get the company involved in the community.) This all happened within days last week, and the folks at Converse already feel connected to this race. They’re inspired by Patrick’s connection to their brand, and the fact that his memory and this race are celebrations of individuality.
Converse’s involvement goes beyond the check ($5K for the 5K — which is an enormous amount for this small race with big goals); they are sending reps to the race with Chucks, and talking with Shannon about how they can contribute long-term to her important work of educating people about esophageal cancer.
Converse is their biggest sponsor to date; second is Belmont Springs, which is donating water for the race.
There are a few cause-marketing lessons here:
- People can’t help your cause if they can’t find it. In this case, the PD5K Web site and Facebook page were major factors; people are always online looking for things to do, causes to volunteer for, races to run for charity. Be vocal, get out there, and think about how search engines work (SEO). What might the people you want to attract be searching for when they find you?
- Compelling storytelling is a must. Patrick and Shannon’s story, and Patrick’s love of a brand, moved an employee to act. Always think about your mission, your story, and how to inspire people to help. Storytelling creates emotional connections in ways traditional advertising just can’t.
- One person can make a difference. Patrick inspired his sister to start a race and fulfill a promise to educate people about esophageal cancer. Shannon inspired a Converse employee, who inspired the company, which will help them all inspire the masses. Now I’m writing about it, and you are reading about it.
- Word of Mouth (WOM) works. Converse will reach around 200 of its core audience members in person at this race, and these folks will walk away with a great story to share with their audience members.
- Brand connections can help charity efforts, especially if they’re meaningful. Which brands do you love, and is there a relationship opportunity between them and your cause?
Last year, 160 runners ran the PD5K and Shannon raised $3,200 for the Esophageal Cancer Awareness Association. This year and beyond, the possibilities are endless, thanks to the help of Converse and its perfect sponsorship.