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Cause Marketing Lessons From Lord Stanley's Cup

As of today New York, Boston and Florida from the NHL’s Eastern Division have all clinched a spot in the playoffs, while Detroit, Vancouver, and San Jose from the Western Division are guaranteed a playoff berth. With 22 games remaining, my Phoenix Coyotes still have a distant shot at the Stanley Cup, the championship trophy now in its twelfth decade, that has four lessons for cause marketers.

The Stanley Cup is the most storied trophy in professional sport in North America, dating to 1893. Unlike other trophies it’s permanent. That is, a new trophy is not made for each championship. It’s also the only trophy that is engraved with the names of the players and management from each championship team.

How does the NHL manage that without making the trophy too ginormous to hoist?

Well the trophy itself stays the same size; about three-feet tall and 35 pounds. It features a cup at the top with graduated bands or rings below that. Beneath those are five larger bands of the same size. Each of those bands has space for 13 championships. As they fill, the band at the top is removed and displayed at Hockey Hall of Fame and a new blank band is added to the bottom. Using this method, the Stanley Cup trophy could still be around for another 120 years. Even longer.

In short, the Stanley Cup is built to scale up.

But this wasn’t always so. The modern shape of the Cup dates from 1958 or so and the decision to remove the topmost band as the trophy filled with names started only in 1991.

That raises some questions for cause marketers. Is your campaign built to scale up? And if not, what can you do to adjust on the fly, as the NHL has with the Stanley Cup Trophy?

Here’s four lessons from Lord Stanley’s trophy.

1). “Begin with the end in mind.” The original part of the Cup filled up quickly with engraved names and so the graduated bands were added beneath. As those filled, the first option considered was to continue to add graduated bands. But that would have eventually proved unwieldy. With the five large bands, they lit upon a system that could scale infinitely.

You can learn on the fly in your cause marketing too. But if you want your campaign to be able to grow you need to put in place systems that will enable that growth. Stephen R. Covey put it best, “begin with the end in mind.”

2). Give your campaign some personality. Babies have been baptized in the Cup. Dogs have taken their kibble from the Cup. By tradition winners of the Cup drink champagne from the bowl. The Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger hoisted the Cup high above his head in the classic style when the Anaheim Ducks won it back in 2007. So have countless other non-players. But professional hockey players have a superstition about even touching the trophy if their team didn’t win it.

Maybe you’ll invent the next great cause marketing promotion that will be copied forever after and maybe you won’t. But even if you’re just doing another label or paper icon campaign, you can and should give it some personality.

3). Pass on the lore. Lore is knowledge or teaching that’s passed on to succeeding generations. As it tours the Stanley Cup is accompanied by minders from the Hockey Hall of Fame. Their job is to protect the Cup, make travel arrangements, handle scheduling and the like. But of course they also are the ambassadors of the cup responsible for passing down the dos and don’ts. Charities and agencies both commonly suffer from horrendous turnover. But unless there’s a system for passing on the knowledge of how best to run your campaign, that knowledge could walk out the door forever when the key person leaves your firm.

4). Make your campaign transparent. Want to know who was on the Montreal Canadiens championship team with Henri Richard in 1970-71? It’s there on the Stanley Cup for all to see. Likewise your cause marketing campaign will scale better if it’s transparent. That is, if people easily and quickly understand the premise, if they know what will happen with the money and if they know the charity will be a good steward of the money, no matter the amount.

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