Community involvement and public service promotions can make good business sense, many small companies discover.
When the Mad Anthonys, a group of business and professional people in Fort Wayne, Ind., asked Instant Copy of Indiana Inc. for $750 to help sponsor the Hoosier Celebrities Golf Tournament, Jack Caffray said no. Caffray, president of the $3.5 million printing company with 10 stores in northern Indiana, had a better idea: He offered a $10,000 prize to any golfer who hit a hole in one on the ninth hole. In the event of the perfect shot, $5,000 would go to the golfer and $5,000 to the three local hospitals that the event supported.
Caffray then paid $500 for a premium from Lloyd's of London to insure himself against a potential $10,000 loss. Thus, Caffray's total expenses were $250 less than if he had been a regular sponsor. The prize was announced repeatedly by the local newspapers, television stations, and radio stations, which treated the event and the prize as news. On the day of the tournament, a sign depicting a $10,000 check was erected behind the ninth hole, a target for the television cameras during the event. The biggest winner of the day was Jack Caffray, who received a tremendous amount of free publicity despite the fact that no one won the prize.
Ever since Jack Caffray and his wife, Joan, founded Instant Copy in 1969, they have looked for opportunities that not only will help the community, but also will increase their company's sales. Altruism, Caffray feels, makes good business sense, generating support and positive exposure in the marketplace.
AIthough many companies can't afford large cash contributions to public causes, they can donate products or services. When Cookies Cook'n Inc., a Massachusetts chain of retail cookie shops, contacted the Muscular Dystrophy Association and offered to contribute its employees' time for the charity's annual telethon, the MDA was more interested in getting products with which to reward its legions of volunteer fund raisers. By the end of the weekend, Cookies Cook'n had given away well over 100 pounds of cookies and brownies -- a $440 tax deduction. And several giant chocolate-chip cookies were auctioned off on TV. Bruce H. Elkin, president of the six-store chain, appeared on camera presenting a donation from his company. "Most small companies can't afford to give for the sheer fact of giving," says Jeanne Sklarz, a field representative for the MDA. "But by donating time, goods, or services, they can often reach a population through the media that they couldn't get to otherwise."
Robert F. Picheny, chairman of Act Now Real Estate Inc., with offices in Winter Park and AItamonte Springs, Fla., raised $1,500 for the MDA with a garage sale in the large parking lot in front of his Winter Park office. The sale cast the company in a good light with former clients, who were asked to donate merchandise. And, says Picheny, the sale generated free media publicity for Act Now. In addition, people attending the sale got a chance to see the Act Now office, as well as meet company personnel.
While tying in with a nonprofit organization, a small company can sometimes set up a worthwhile alliance with a newspaper or a television or radio station. When the Dedham Racquet Time Sports and HeaIth Club in Dedham, Mass., decided to expand its business from tennis and racquetball to a full-service heaIth and fitness club, it supplemented regular advertising in local newspapers and on the radio with a promotion, a HeaIth and Fitness Fair. The fair, co-sponsored by WEEI-FM in Boston, raised more than $5,000 for Ronald McDonald House, the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute's inn for both children who have cancer and their parents. By keeping the number of sponsors down to two, the companies received wide exposure. Sharing the spotlight with more than two sponsors can help cut costs, but it can also dilute the promotional value for each company involved.
As part of the program, the Dedham club contributed its courts and gym for a day's event in which the public was invited to use its facilities free of charge and to participate in fund-raising sweepstakes and events. The club and radio station got volunteer support and donations from suppliers, employees, sports and news media personalities, and other businesses. Among the items contributed were a $1,500 stereo system, a Maine ski weekend, 3,000 cookies from Cookies Cook'n, and 2,000 hot dogs from a local distributor. For one month, WEEI-FM announced the event hundreds of times on the air, and then it broadcast the event live.
"Instead of getting involved with a lot of small charities, we chose to organize one large project that would promote our goals: health and recreation," says Dedham club manager Joan Stewart, who emphasizes that weeks of hard work are generally a prerequisite for any well-run public service campaign.
"Ideally, the public service campaign you choose to work on should be related to who you are and what you do," says Jerry Wishnow, president of Wishnow Group Inc., a Marblehead, Mass., company that specializes in public affairs promotions. For example, ALA Auto & Travel Club, of Wellesley, Mass., worked with Wishnow and WBZ-AM radio to develop several campaigns that focused on motorists' problems. The campaigns included Rush Hour Rescue, involving a van that provided free emergency road service for disabled cars, and Commuter Computer, a public service campaign that assisted people in forming car pools for commuting. It is important that the problem be something that currently concerns people, says Wishnow. A bank, for example, might hold seminars for the elderly on Social Security or on how to retain ownership of a home.
"Many companies neglect the fact that they can promote their businesses by tendering advice and expertise," says Vivian Kemp, president of Vivian Kemp Associates, a public relations and advertising firm in Brookline, Mass. Each spring and fall, for example, Dallamora ReaItors Inc. in Framingham, Mass., holds a free public seminar at which an attorney, an accountant, a builder, a condominium expert, and a corporate relocation adviser discuss the current housing market. The company doesn't openly sell its services at the seminar -- a straight business expense of about $500 -- but owner Ken Dallamora believes that the seminars, promoted by the local paper and radio stations, show the company to be a concerned and informed partner in the community.
Like Ken Dallamora, Jack Caffray of Instant Copy finds it constructive to offer the public a range of business-related information. He recently paid $10,000 to Professor William Ouchi, author of Theory Z, a best-selling book on Japanese management techniques, to speak before 120 northern Indiana business owners. Instant Copy also sponsors regular seminars -- developed with its ad agency, J.M.A. Inc. -- on such topics as direct mail, paste-up, and word processing. A year ago, Caffray teamed up with a Goshen, Ind., bank and a local radio station to create, print, and distribute 1,000 free "Instant News" letters to more than 20 restaurants. The radio station provides a news wrap-up and a rundown of sports scores, Instant Copy prints the letters, and the bank's driver -- at a cost of about $70 a week -- delivers the letters, which are imprinted with ads from each company, to restaurants in Goshen such as the Plain & Fancy. "We keep them on the tables from 10 until 3," says the restaurant's assistant manager, Mary Troyer, who estimates that as many as "80% to 90% of the customers read it."
Unlike Instant Copy, many companies decide not to participate in public service projects because it is hard to show a direct relationship between a company's bottom line and its active involvement in community affairs. Whether a company does get involved usually boils down to the personal commitment of its president. "Right now, we're a depressed town," says Caffray. "We've lost 19,000 jobs in the last year, and our biggest employer, International Harvester, recently closed its doors and moved to Springfield, Ohio. I look for opportunities that will help the community. In the end, that helps us too."