My First National Cause-Related Marketing Sponsorship Turns 10

Anatomy of a Multi-Phase Cause-Related Marketing Sponsorship

Last weekend, May 31 and June 1, the Children’s Miracle Network aired their 25th annual telethon, called ‘Celebration'. Now more than ever Celebration is a sponsorship vehicle and as it happens, I caught their recognition of Carmike Cinemas, a cause-related marketing sponsorship that even today is unusually well-rounded, if I say so myself.

Here were the elements back when I sold the sponsorship in 1998:

It was literally possible to walk into a Carmike, see the poster, be asked to donate and then see the movie trailer that explained in a compelling and emotional way how the donation would be used.

How did the sponsorship come about?

To be frank, it was partly luck and good timing.

Back then Carmike was the largest movie theater chain in terms of screens. They had something north of 500 locations and 2500 screens in more than 35 States. While Carmike has had some financial reversals in the intervening years their current count is 283 theaters with 2,427 screens in 37 States. Then as now their market niche was small and mid-sized communities with population of 100,000 people or less.

My boss came back from a meeting with executives at Columbus Regional Medical Center, CMN’s affiliated hospital in Columbus, Georgia. During the meeting one of the executives mentioned that he lived next door to an executive at Carmike in Columbus, where Carmike is headquartered. I worked in CMN's communications department at the time not marketing and it probably would have stopped there had I not recently read a favorable piece on Carmike in a business magazine. I called the hospital executive and asked if he could get me a meeting, which he did.

I worked up a proposal for Carmike that included all the elements above. We also asked for Carmike to pay for the movie trailer, too. But they ultimately declined. The meeting went well. The Carmike executive was very busy. But he was also the exact right guy to talk to because he drove the decision.

Several weeks later I want to Nashville to speak to a group of Carmike’s district managers to get their buy-off since they would be implementing the campaign. They were mostly enthusiastic. One of them said, “it’s about time we did something like this.”

With the approvals on Carmike’s side, I still needed to find some way to pay for the movie trailer. It was about a $70,000 commitment. CMN had only 45 employees or so back then, so I took it directly to the co-founder and CEO, Mick Shannon. We talked with him and Scott Burt, the CFO, for about 15 minutes and they agreed to pay for it. They were enthusiastic, too.

The trailer was produced by Bonneville Advertising, a local agency that specialized in warm and fuzzy nonprofit ad campaigns for a number of prominent national accounts. Bonneville Advertising no longer exists as such.

The format of the trailer was what’s called a ‘donut.’ In the first version, Steve offered some introductory narration in a stadium setting. In the donut hole was the story of the kid. Then to show that the kid had gotten better, it closed with Steve and the kid in the locker room together as though after a game. The call to action was to watch the telethon and support CMN with a donation.

I was there when they shot it of course and one of the things I remember best was all the smoke. Bonneville, whose alumni included people like James Gartner, who directed the 2006 movie Glory Road, specialized in atmospherics. Bonneville’s ads always had smoke.

The actual trailer changed several times and the final cut was very good. As the executive producer, I won a fairly prestigious award for it.

We also edited the trailer to be aired on television in 30 and 60 second versions. Both had space on them for local CMN hospitals to put their name and logo on them. We distributed both versions to CMN's 170 hospitals for local distribution and they saw plenty of airtime.

There were surprises of course. When Mick Shannon gave the OK, we knew that we were going to have to reproduce 2,500 actual 70-second film trailers. But we didn’t know all that that entailed. CMN has produced many thousands of hours of television programming over the years, so we knew all about that. But film is slightly different beast in important ways. For instance, Technicolor, which reproduced and distributed the trailers, charged by the foot of film.

The next year the trailer… which featured Olympic skater Michelle Kwan… was sponsored. Having learned our lessons, we also began the process of taking over the production of the trailer. The trailer above called, “The Greatest Comeback,” is from 2006 and CMN produced it basically entirely in-house.

How did the campaign do?

That first Carmike campaign generated $600,000 and viewership of the telethon was up just a tick over the year prior.

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