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Going back in time… when I was Manager of Public Relations at American Greetings Corporation, a Fortune 500 company in the mid-1980s, this blog relates how special events can take a company to another level.
Setting the Stage
Back in the Spring of 1985, at a staff meeting with our entire American Greetings (AG) public relations department, my boss said he received a call from the president of the company with a problem. A major line of promotional items and toys that had been produced were going to be discontinued. This was no mere end to another product line. There was $10 million worth of inventory, which in a few days was going to liquidated to a wholesale discounter for just pennies on the dollar, “unless the PR department had a better idea.” We did.
I excused myself from the meeting, went back to my office and called Jim Rosebush at The White House, a friend I had made when I interned at BP/SOHIO. Jim had been recruited to become Chief of Staff for First Lady Nancy Reagan. Luckily, he took my phone call. I told him we had $10 million in inventory of toys and gifts ready to donate NOW, if Mrs. Reagan could find a worthy cause. I told him it was a PR dream. He said it was “done deal” and that we would work out the details later. I went back to join the staff meeting still in progress, told them it was solved and AG would get a $10 million donation and be able to dispose of the items in a wonderful promotional program with Mrs. Reagan as our lead.
Meeting Mrs. Nancy Reagan in the Rose Garden was a great honor for me (left) during the kickoff event at the White House.
So now the story really begins. The toys and gift items were based around the popular characters developed by AG called ‘The Get Along Gang,” a group of 14 animals who form a club out of an old train caboose. They share teamwork and friendship in a wide range of adventures. The Get Along Gang were a popular Saturday morning television series on CBS, and they were featured in Scholastic Magazine, and also had a Marvel comic series. Each character had some faults, such as their leader Montgomery "good News' Moose, who was clumsy, but they all worked together to overcome problems.
The colorful “Get Along Gang” group of animal characters.
While the characters were a commercial success on many fronts, a decision was made by AG to end The Get Along Gang promotional items and thus a problem (or opportunity) was created for our PR department.
Mrs. Reagan and her team soon found a home for all the toys ready to be donated. She reached out to The National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI) to work with AG to deliver and disperse the merchandise 150 children’s hospitals throughout the U.S. Everyone loved the idea.
It took more than six months to coordinate and implement the program. This was the largest toy and gift donation ever made by American Greetings in its 79-year history and logistics required extensive planning, and for many hospitals it was largest toy donation ever received.
We named the program, “Truckloads of Toys.” A national kickoff to launch the donation was held June 26, 1985 at the White House, with First Lady Nancy Reagan officiating in the Rose Garden. I attended the event with several AG officers and a team of characters from the Get Along Gang. There was a lot of media covering the event, and I also spoke on live radio interviews from the White House. Mrs. Reagan and her team were wonderful to work with.
After much planning, each of the 150 hospitals received a wide assortment of Get Along Gang products including music boxes, mugs, ceramic and wooden figures, banks, hats, stuffed toys, and child activity items. Just imagine sending out hundreds of fully loaded TRACTOR TRAILER TRUCKLOADS which arrived at hospitals carrying many thousands of items packed inside!
To aid the hospitals we prepared distribution ideas for the hospital on how and when to hand out all the items. Another aspect of the program was promoting the event. There was such excitement at the hospitals receiving these items. We prepared a range of publicity ideas and press kit materials for their public relations departments to use. Many followed the recommendations and contacted their local TV stations, local newspapers, and other media, and thus, a tremendous of air coverage and publicity was generated. The headlines on these stories all mentioned American Greetings!
It was a real PR coup for American Greetings that lasted for more than half a year, all the while generating excellent goodwill. As a bonus, AG received a $10 million donation and also effectively removed discontinued inventory. In the end, the response was overwhelming. Doctors, nurses, even patients wrote to thank us. And yes, so did our national spokesperson, First Lady Mrs. Nancy Reagan. It was one of the best uses of a special event that I have ever been involved with.
If you would like to learn more on how PR can help your company in promoting its brands, send me an email to set up an appointment. I will be glad to explain how we can help your branding and content marketing efforts.