When a longtime client, friend and mentor asks for help with a pro-bono project, it’s nearly impossible to say no. This was the case when Bob Troyer, Public Relations Chairman for the All-American Soap Box Derby asked me to help promote, publicize, broadcast and digitize one of the longest-running sporting events in U.S. history.
The first All-American Soap Box Derby ran in 1934. To say the world has changed since then would be an epic understatement.
At the height of its popularity, the Soap Box Derby attracted high profile film stars such as Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Stewart and big name sponsors like Chevrolet. As many as 50,000 spectators would gather each summer at the world-famous Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio to watch kids race downhill in homemade Soap Box Derby cars.
As the new millennium began in 2000, media interest in the Soap Box Derby was waning and the organization struggled financially. In a digital world, the story of kids unplugging and competing in gravity-powered cars wasn’t resonating, and the future of the non-profit organization was uncertain.
I recognized a golden opportunity to showcase our company’s skills while helping to revitalize the Soap Box Derby by raising awareness and increasing exposure to national brand sponsors. Knowing the Soap Box Derby could benefit from the services AKA provides and applying staff time and resources, the project has evolved over five years, providing tremendous returns to both organizations.
We established goals for our pro-bono efforts…
Reignite Media Interest:
Improving media awareness and interest in the Soap Box Derby and its community of dedicated fans would increase visibility and exposure to sponsors.
Digitize the Derby:
By digitizing the Soap Box Derby to make it more visual and visible, AKA could help connect grass roots communities of local racing organizations and influencers worldwide with dynamic content for sharing. Available, sharable, dynamic content would improve exposure to national brands and sponsors.
Professional Development for Staff:
Working with the Soap Box Derby provides AKA with an opportunity to explore best practices and experiment with new technologies and strategies. AKA staffers get a professional development opportunity to gain experience in the field, try new things and develop new skills, making contributions to a project where they know they are affecting real change. By tweaking techniques and experimenting with new ones, the company identifies best practices to share with paying clients.
AKA started working with the Soap Box Derby in 2010. It was a big year as Hollywood came to town in the form of Corbin Bernsen, who produced, directed and starred in 25 Hill, his fictional film about the All-American Soap Box Derby. With a compelling media hook, the AKA team applied media relations expertise and pitching skills to distribute behind-the-scenes footage from the set of the movie and b-roll footage from the race resulting in national coverage including ESPN Sportscenter.
Although girls did not race in the Soap Box Derby until 1971, the sport evolved and girls excelled. In 2010 five of the six world champions were girls, prompting a tweet from racecar driver Danica Patrick who tweeted, “The girls show the boys how it’s done at this year’s All-American Soap Box Derby!”
Celebrity involvement, once a critical component to the Soap Box Derby’s visibility is still extremely important. Hollywood came to town again with the release of the Box Trolls movie in September. The film features animated characters who tinker and create vehicles made of boxes to travel through their underground network, aligning with Soap Box Derby families consisting of future engineers, designers and tinkerers.
Exposure to brands wanting to connect with children interested in math, science and technology would help re-brand the organization’s future. In 2012, the All-American Soap Box Derby created a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curriculum for schools where teams of students build racecars, tune them for maximum efficiency and race them against other schools.
What began as a small project to shoot video of the race and distribute it to TV stations, has evolved over five years to include in 2014, live satellite TV interviews, live Skype interviews with racers from all over the world, a six-camera live webcast, web video production and distribution of all content with a Social Media News Release.
Just like working with any client, AKA’s goal is to go vertical and showcase the company’s full capabilities. The definition of pro bono literally means money is no object in brainstorming and ideation sessions. Pro bono demonstrates how the company can perform when unrestricted by budget.
Basic Media Relations and Broadcast Exposure:
By applying media relations staff expertise, AKA identified local race communities with active local organizations and now distributes pre-race b-roll to those markets prior to the race each year.
Stations publicize the idea that a local viewer family is competing for chance at a world championship. AKA shoots and distributes broadcast b-roll on race day so that media outlets like ESPN have footage to cover the race and its results on race day. This same-day sharing of footage is critical and gives the Soap Box Derby a chance at national exposure that was previously not possible.
In 2014, AKA negotiated with a satellite truck vendor to donate equipment and staff time. With that, AKA was able to conduct live TV interviews with national TV outlets, such as FOX News and The Weather Channel. While continuing to conduct live TV Skype interviews with racers, connecting racers with their hometown TV news stations.
AKA produced a live radio media tour as well, which provides an opportunity for the CEO of the Soap Box Derby to share the story with national sports radio outlets.
Social Media Video Content:
In order to gain national exposure for the Soap Box Derby, AKA strategized new ways to build the organization’s presence among the local Soap Box Derby organizations in communities and cities, both nationwide and globally. It wasn’t easy. When AKA started working with the Soap Box Derby, there was no Internet connectivity at Derby Downs. Rather than give-up, the company found a local Ohio company, Skycasters, willing to provide Internet connectivity via a small satellite trailer. Now AKA had the infrastructure to allow a video webcast over a high-speed connection.
In 2014 AKA produced a six-camera, six-hour live webcast with over 10,000 viewers tuning in from as far away as Japan, Germany and New Zealand. This allowed AKA to engage with influencers, racers and fans in real time by sharing race videos, results and updates as they happened.
With regular clients, AKA is consistently advancing the concept that any content worth producing is worth promoting. AKA publicizes the webcast each year with a promo web video, and Social Media News Release pitched to news and sports media, bloggers, influencers, Soap Box Derby enthusiasts and online outlets. The pre-race promotion of the webcast is an example of successful content marketing as a dedicated audience is connected with authentic content.
Following the race, a recap web video contributes to influencer engagement and provides another content sharing opportunity while giving the organization additional visibility with sponsors.
“The All-American Soap Box Derby is a non-profit organization powered by thousands of volunteers. The pro bono contributions of AKA expertise, time and services help us elevate our exposure nationwide,” according to Bob Troyer, Public Relations Chairman for the All-American Soap Box Derby.
The All-American Soap Box Derby is now the First Energy All-American Soap Box Derby as the energy company has signed on as the multi-year title sponsor. Other sponsors are participating in the STEM curriculum programs nationwide.
In 2014, AKA secured 144 broadcast TV airings including national coverage on ESPN Sportscenter, Fox News and The Weather Channel.
- 144 broadcast airings reaching 18.5 million impressions via live satellite interviews, live radio interviews, live Skype interviews and b-roll distribution before and after the race.
- 134 websites, blogs and influencers sharing content from AKA’s Social Media News Release resulting in more than 100,000,000 online impressions.
- A six-hour, six camera live webcast reaching more than 10,000 viewers
- Dramatic increase in social engagement with Twitter and Facebook
Online exposure to the Soap Box Derby is trending in the right direction with more than 10,000 webcast views and dramatic increases in social sharing of video content and overall engagement with influencer communities.
With AKA’s Social Media News Release, pitching and community outreach, 134 websites, blogs and influencers shared content resulting in more than 100,000,000 online impressions.
Getting Involved for the Right Reasons:
By connecting with your mentor network and identifying a project where you can affect real change, your staff won’t feel like you are adding more work to their plate. Instead they’ll be grateful for the opportunity to support an organization where they feel they are making valuable contributions.
Showcase Your Company’s Skills:
Working with paying clients, AKA’s goal is to go vertical and showcase the company’s full capabilities. A pro bono assignment is an opportunity to experiment and explore new ground where money is no object in brainstorming and ideation sessions. Your paying clients will benefit as you identify new best practices and prove your concepts. Whether it’s promoting viral video, traditional media relations, or a convergence of video content, AKA shares it’s pro bono experiences with paying clients showcasing results worthy of national brands.
The AKA relationship with the Soap Box Derby spans many years and goes far beyond Race Week. Each year, the company engages the whole team, including interns, giving everyone a chance to participate. Junior level staffers are given assignments above their pay grade with a chance to shine. By leveraging staff experience and offering professional development opportunities for junior staff the team feels good about making contributions.