By Barry Janoff
February 16, 2017: This week, the American Cancer Society was named Grand Sports Marketer of the Year 2016 in a vote by the readers of NYSportsJournalism.
The honor was bestowed on ACS for its various efforts involving coaches, teams, athletes and sports organizations throughout the past year. Among the platforms: Its first Coaches vs. Cancer marketing campaign; a platform with IMG College, in collaboration with Curing Kids Cancer, "A House United to Tackle Pediatric Cancer"; Coaches vs. Cancer Suits & Sneakers Week; College Relay; and the 3-Point Challenge.
The honor puts a spotlight on the ongoing work of its staff and volunteers nationwide, and also the doctors, nurses, technicians, researchers and others seeking to find a cure for cancer. it also is meant to honor the countless people who fought and continue to fight the battle against cancer.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Sharon Byers, Chief Development and Marketing Officer for the American Cancer Society (and fomer veteran marketing executive for Coca-Cola); and David Doan, VP, Strategic Sports Alliances for ACS, about the work being done by ACS in conjunction with IMG College, the National Association of Basketball Coaches, Princess Lacey’s Legacy, NCAA, Professional Sports Partners and other sports-related groups.
NYSportsJournalism.com: Having been with the American Cancer Society for just over a year, how would you assess the challenges you saw coming in, the positive aspects of working for ACS and how that might have changed from then until now?
Sharon Byers: The purpose of the ACS mission speaks for itself. When I came in from Coca-Cola, I saw an organization that was more than 100 years old that didn’t really do an effective job in taking about the power of the mission. I have a strong for-profit, sports and entertainment marketing background, and I wanted to use my experience to talk to our influencers in a compelling way to help raise money and awareness to try to save lives. I saw that and still see that as an exciting challenge. I also have been excited to use the relationships I formed while at Coca-Cola for something that is really meaningful in the world. The sports industry in general is one of the best in supporting, giving back and motivating people to take action.
NYSJ: Do you feel you have been able to use that to the advantage of ACS?
SB: What I want to do is show people in the non-profit arena how powerful marketing can be. Hiring someone as incredible as David Doan, and initiating new programs and building on established ones, we are completely changing the American Cancer Society in that respect. And you’ll hear us talk about the new American Cancer Society. What that means is to make ACS even more relevant. For example, the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign, 'Come and Play For Us,' is taking consumer insight on the fascination of people with how coaches recruit. Taking that insight and turning it into action.
NYSJ: It seems as if the college coaching fraternity is ready and willing to donate time and energy to ACS.
SB: We are fortunate that we have so many legendary coaches who work with the American Cancer Society. In the spot ('The Recruiting Call') you see Lon Kruger (University of Oklahoma), Tubby Smith (Memphis), Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Jay Wright (Villanova University). Working with the National Association of Basketball Coaches, Coaches vs. Cancer since it was formed in 1998 has raised more than $100 million for the American Cancer Society. We felt it was the right time to activate a national campaign behind this powerful program.
NYSJ: Some of the sports-related ACS programs have been in operation for many years, so what has changed now?
David Doan: The biggest untapped opportunity was that we had all of these initiatives but no cohesive strategy behind them. This past June, we looked at the college basketball schedule and saw that Duke would be playing the University of Nevada Las Vegas (Dec. 10, 2016) for the first time in 25 years, with the game benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, on ESPN. And we said, What better place to start to start a campaign. National television. High recognition. A huge audience. Let’s take that opportunity to use that as the springboard for the platform. And then thread this idea of 'Come and Play For Us' to raise the brand awareness for the campaign through various Coaches vs. Cancer games and platforms. Then follow it with our Suits & Sneakers Week in January. So now we have this consistent message with one thematic, with pulse-points coming off of it. It is about brand awareness. But the crux is that we have to drive fund-raising for cancer research and treatment.
NYSJ There were four well-known coaches in the lead spot, but do you foresee using others are the campaign continues to progress?
DD: What speaks to the power of the program and the platform is that we have so many coaches who want to be involved. They have all opted-in. So the four coaches are in the main brand campaign, but there are a litany of coaches who are being featured in other areas, online videos, fund-raising platforms, various other platforms. That includes Suits & Sneakers Week and also Lacey’s Laces in conjunction with Shoe Carnival (to support Princess Lacey’s Legacy to fight pediatric cancer in honor of Lacey Holsworth, a loyal fan of the Michigan State Spartans who passed away from cancer in 2014 at the age off eight). The Holsworth Family has done a remarkable job of keeping her legacy alive.
SB: This will be a multi-year strategy. We wanted to focus on certain elements for the first year to make certain that we did it well and did it right. But we will continue to evolve it and get more coaches involved as we build and expand the campaign.
NYSJ: Are you planning anything for NCAA March Madness?
DD: We are. Before that, through February, we have the 3-Point Challenge, where fans can pledge a donation amount for every three-pointer that their school hits throughout the month. We have 160 schools participating. In March, the focus will be less media, more social with our partner, Infinity (Motor Co.). They run a Bracket Challenge, where a donation is made to American Cancer Society for every correct pick made in Infinity’s Bracket Challenge. It is very simple, but it very high-profile. What is interesting is that there is not just one bracket for the entire tournament. They launch a new Bracket Challenge for every round.
NYSJ: What about during the Final Four?
DD: When you get to the Final Four, there are other areas on which we will be touching. One is Infinity’s Hardwood Heroes Game. It speaks exactly to what American Cancer Society is all about in terms of survivorship. It is a game comprised of cancer survivors. Last year, the first time it was done, Jim Harrick (former head basketball coach for UCLA) and Tom Penders (former University of Houston head coach) led the two teams. Infinity will sponsor the game again this year. It has become a very large focus for them.
Another strategic push is to engage the wives of the coaches. They have an unbelievable platform, as well. We’ve done a pretty good job of engagement with them in the past, but we are now putting more of a strategic focus on those partnerships and finding more ways for the coaches’ wives to be a partner with ACS and a partner with Coaches vs. Cancer.
NYSJ: ACS launched 'A House United to Tackle Pediatric Cancer' with IMG College and college football teams this past season. What type of response have you had to that?
SB: We are piloting and testing some fund-raising initiatives and this is one of them. We worked with IMG College to create this platform with about a dozen schools to raise work with their football coaches and programs to raise funds and drive awareness. We are looking at the metrics to see how we can make it bigger and broader for next season.
DD: IMG College is a really great partner for 'A House United' because they provide ways to work with these schools that we couldn’t do on our own. We’re talking with them now to expand the platform, include more schools, get retailers involved to strengthen the ties between ACS and those university partners and their football fans. One interesting aspect of this program is that we have tapped into friendly rivalries to create a type of competition for a good cause. We see this with the 3-Point Challenge, as well. Fans at Duke don’t want to fans at North Carolina to 'beat them.' So that friendly, completion-based piece is a big part of driving fund raising.
NYSJ: What other areas of college sports are you tapping into?
DD: What also comes into play is our College Relay Teams. We have hundreds of schools that participate and run various fund-raising challenges connected with college football and Coaches vs. Cancer. That and the 3-Point Challenge have had wide-spread success.
NYSJ: What response have you seen from the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign, from public awareness, input from coaches, fans, donations or other measurable ways?
DD: We have seen more awareness and an impact on fundraising across the board. The response has been amazing. Before we started the campaign, we wanted to be very smart with how we were going out, so we did research to get a base on awareness. And we're using that as an internal metric to look at the list of unaided and aided responses across the board. Everyone from the coaches, who reached out when they saw the spots, to fans who saw it on TV and even fans at games — we have seen a nice lift from a pledge-to-donate standpoint. So people are really opting in. They are impressed with the campaign and the ability to support not only their universities but the coaches.
NYSJ: Are you building relationships with coaches in women’s basketball as well?
DD: Certainly. We have a handful of programs on the women’s side, including the 3-Point Challenge and College Relay. Both the women’s side and new, younger coaches who are coming up in the ranks are two very important targets for us to build relationships in addition to the relationships we currently have as we move forward. These areas give us a lot more opportunity to get things done in Coaches vs. Cancer in those two spaces.
NYSJ: It seems as if all of the coaches involved with your programs are more than willing to give their time and effort. Do you ever get to a point with any of them where you have to say, 'Coach, you’ve done so much. Take a breather'?
SB: (Laughs) The coaches we work with on the college and high school levels are so passionate about what we do and the impact of ACS that they never want to stop. And we would take even more of their time if they could afford it. As a group, they are dedicated and amazing advocates for us. We could not do many things we do without them.
Among other upcoming ACS events:
• The 10th annual Coaches vs. Cancer Las Vegas Golf Classic, scheduled for May 21-23, 2017 at the Shadow Creek and Southern Highlands Golf Club, Las Vegas, hosted by the MGM Grand.
• Coaches vs, Cancer National Golf Tournament and Circle of Honor Dinner, scheduled for June 11-12, 2017, at Merion (PA) Golf Club.
Grand Sports Marketer Of The Year: American Cancer Society
Save Lives, Celebrate Lives, Fight For A World Without Cancer
Top College Hoops Coaches Make Recruiting Calls For ACS Campaign
ACS Plays The Point For Coaches vs. Cancer Suits & Sneakers Awareness Week
ACS Calls On IMG College, Coaches To Fight Kids Cancer
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