Zig When They Zag to Punch Up Marketing Impact, ala Olympic Speed Skater Joey Cheek

OK, so if you’ve watched the Olympics much, or even read the highlights, you know that US speed skater Joey Cheek showed the world his generous and strategic soul when he won the gold medal in the 500 meter competition. Rather than focusing on personal pride and thanks (which is typical, and so the zag), Cheek focused his acceptance speech on his passion for Right to Play, a humanitarian organization that helps disadvantaged children worldwide gain physical benefits and develop life skills and strong values through play and sports.

But that’s not all. Cheek went on to announce that he was donating his entire $25,000 bonus from the US Olympic Committee to Right to Play, and did so again with his $10,000 bonus when he won the silver in the 1,000 meter race. And he challenged his Olympic sponsors and other advertisers to do the same:

" I’ve always felt that if I ever did something big like this I wanted to be prepared to give something back. So … I’m going to be donating the entire sum the USOC gives to me, which is $25,000."   

"In the Darfur region of Sudan, there have been tens of thousands of people killed," Cheek continued. "My government has labeled it a genocide. I will be donating it specifically to a program to help refugees in Chad, where there are over 60,000 children who have been displaced from their homes."

Way to go, Joey. And I don’t mean the medals. Of course he could have donated his winnings without telling anyone. But in a radio interview, Cheek discussed his pre-race thinking on how to respond to the bonus, if he got one. He realized the great impact he could make by talking about Right to Play, its good work and his giving, rather than the standard thanks.

"I’ve learned how news cycles work," Cheek said, "and I’ve learned that there is a gold medal tonight, and tomorrow there’s another gold medalist. So I could take the time and discuss how wonderful I feel, or I could use it for something productive."

In doing so, he generated a flood of interest in the organization (shown in a huge upswing in website hits), and a total (as of today) of $300,000 in donations (including his and those from sponsors Nike, Gap, Jet Set and Leveno to date).

So Joey zigged while others zagged. Here’s how he made this tremendous impact:

  • Strategized how to draw the most attention to a cause that is personally meaningful (and showed great personal generosity in doing so), rather than just making the personal donation.
  • Did the unexpected in talking about Right to Play, donating his bonuses, and challenging sponsors to join him.
  • Established himself as credible–in sharing the story of his personal experience with Right to Play–a model of citizenship, and intelligence (particularly significant in this cadre of what the Times calls "showboating, self-absorbed" Olympians). Cheek is now a credible philanthropist, following the model of Right to Play founder Johann Koss (a former speed skater himself). who has motivated fellow athletes to join him through his personal credibility and understanding of what’s important to them.
  • Detailed a clear and specific call to action, in challenging Olympic sponsors to join him in supporting the organization.
  • Inspired others to do the same, as is evidenced by the upsurge in donations and visits to the Right to Play website.

It’s likely that Cheek’s impact will spill over into motivating athletes, Olympic and otherwise, who are Olympic fans, to volunteer with Right to Play. And Right to Play is ready to capture that interest, with its kiosk in the Olympic Athlete’s Village, photo exhibit in Torino, and well-designed, user-friendly website with clear points of entry for prospective donors and volunteers.

And talk about viral marketing power. What’s better to pass down the lane than the Joey Cheek story. Not only has his strategy generated huge recognition and dollars for Right to Play, it’s done the same for Joey himself. As an example, Monday’s New York Times featured a lengthy article on Joey’s actions, deeming him the the "good-will ambassador" of the Olympics.  Joey. I’d say you’re platinum.

Read more about Joey Cheek’s philanthropic victory in this interview.

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Nancy Schwartz on February 23, 2006 in Branding and Messages, Fundraising: Innovations & Research, Nonprofit Communications, Unique Approaches, Viral Marketing | 2 comments
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