Case Study: Flood Aid TX – From Clarion Call to Help a Community, to Brand Building Through Events
We’ve all been to the galas. The $300-per-plate, seen-to-be-seen events at the local Hilton trumpeting the need for this cause and that. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about creating an eye-popping event around a cause that’s mutually beneficial to both the charity and your business through good corporate citizenship and real community support.
Answer The Phone:
The ten o’clock news was all bad. Hard to watch. Two days earlier an apocalyptic storm had swept through central Texas dropping more rain over the course of a few hours than we’d seen in the past two years. Bystanders watched as entire homes and the families within them were swept downstream into oblivion. Some were rescued, some weren’t.
As I watched the anchor droll on from one catastrophe to another, my phone rang. It was a local business leader with whom I’d had brief dealings in the past. He had been having drinks with other colleagues when the topic of ways to help the victims came up.
“Clay! How would you feel about throwing a concert on the banks of Lake Travis to benefit the victims of the floods?” he asked. “I’ve got the LCRA [Lower Colorado River Authority] and the county on board.”
“Yes!” I always say yes …
“Great, let’s do it next week!”
Avoid The Pitfalls of an Unrealistic Deadline:
Thomas Graham, the man on the other end of this phone call, embodies the go-getting entrepreneur: a fast-paced, ask-questions-later kind of guy – and asking the impossible.
The fact is, I knew we’d have the community’s support, but organizing an event that would make any sort of dent in the need that had befallen our neighbors in buckets was going to take a tremendous amount of effort and planning – even though we ran the risk of losing the urgency associated with it by waiting too long.
Little did any of us understand the scope of what we had just put into motion, but after another 24 hours of discussion we decided to plan the event for roughly one month from that date and we’d let the other details come into focus as the planning progressed. Seemed reasonable enough …
Pick Up the Phone:
Help and luck. We were going to need a ton of both. Within a few days, the idea had matured into a full-day music festival with the hope of drawing 10,000-plus patrons and the goal of raising $500,000. Austin, as you might imagine, has a robust music community that collectively jumps at any opportunity to help their fellow man. The problem was that ideas like ours were popping up left and right and artists and their management were getting several calls an hour looking for artists to perform at all of these events. We needed some star power and we needed a real venue.
Ray Benson, one of Austin’s preeminent ambassadors, is also a good friend. He was more than happy to pitch in. Once I had landed him and a couple of other big names, I felt the headwinds change to maybe not quite a tailwind, but at least they weren’t approaching gale-force from the other direction. Suddenly, as Ray began calling artists and they began saying yes, it looked like we might actually make this a success. But, it still needed a home.
The original idea of having it on the banks of Lake Travis seemed unrealistic given the weather we’d been having — the very reason we were doing what we were doing. Travis County offered an arena parking lot, which gave us enough room but not infrastructure, and the weather was still a factor. The City of Austin offered the Palmer Events Center – logistically friendly in the city’s center, easily accessible and most of all, indoors.
Build a Team and Trust Them:
The hardest thing for any project manager I’ve ever encountered is to not micro-manage. Let the experts you’ve hired do what they do. It’s a difficult task if the egg is directly aimed at your face should things take a turn. But in our case, we contacted our friends at South By Southwest (SXSW) who organize large-scale events for a living and asked if any of their staff might be interested in helping out. Their enthusiastic YES! still reverberates with me now, as do those of each of the production companies we asked to provide equipment and manpower.
What we wound up with was the best industry team any one of us could have hoped to assemble, and most of all they were extremely enthusiastic about what we were trying to accomplish.
Plan and Execute:
For 34 days straight we were on a 4:00 pm conference call. I still kind of miss them, truth be told, and every day it seemed like we were patching holes in plans from the previous day, but in the end we wound up contributing not just money, but hope to the victims through our partnerships with the Austin Disaster Relief Network and The United Way.
At the end of the day we had a concert featuring 36 of Austin’s biggest performers representing genres from hard rock, folk, Tejano and country music play on four stages. There was no competition and no one-upmanship. Everybody came to help their fellow man. We saw roughly 6,500 people walk through the gate and we raised more than $250,000. Perhaps we didn’t reach our stated goal, but we made a huge dent. With more promotion time and opportunities to promote what we were doing, we likely would have achieved or even surpassed our goal, but we also may have lost the momentum among the public that had built around the urgency of the disaster – the urgency we all felt when the idea originally came to light.
From the Floodwaters:
Because of our work together on Flood Aid TX, I have joined forces with Thomas Graham and Crosswind to launch a new production company – Crosswind Events + Experiences — with a focus on helping the community through focused, high-impact events. It’s amazing what can come out of a pressure cooker.