I attended an excellent presentation last week, put on by the Canadian Public Relations Society in Calgary. The speaker was recently appointed CEO Tammy Moore of ALS Canada, discussing her experience this past summer with the unexpected Ice Bucket Challenge and the astonishing success that came with it. I had not participated in the challenge, so I was vaguely aware of it. Tammy’s talk was very eye opening and surprisingly honest and genuine.
“It’s great to have fun with this, but the reality is it’s not fun”
Tammy began discussing the harsh reality of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gerhig’s disease, as well as her personal connection to the disease. As she explained, ALS is a neuromuscular disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Our brain is connected to our muscles through a series of living wires called motor neurons. These inner wirings send signals throughout our body, giving us the ability to speak, move, swallow, and breath.
With ALS, these motor neurons that we depend on degenerate and die, resulting in the connection from the brain to the muscle to be lost, leading to weakness and that disconnected muscle to become paralyzed. As a result, the paralysis spreads throughout the body, and that person with the disease is eventually unable to move, breath, speak, and swallow.
I was originally under the assumption that the Ice Bucket Challenge began through ALS. However, in reality it was Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player diagnosed with the disease in 2012, and the recently deceased Hockey legend, Pat Quinn who started it. The two men created the challenge to raise awareness of the disease to the masses. Frates, a Communications grad, began challenging others through Facebook and soon enough other athletes began taking the challenge. Before you know it, celebrities and politicians followed suit and a viral sensation was born.
Tammy explained that she was first aware of it when she, herself was personally challenged. Once she realized this challenge was going to become something huge and that she needed to take advantage of this opportunity, she immediately launched a website for it. She did not anticipate the rollercoaster ride that was coming her way.
“This Summer was truly the summer of ALS”
Tammy explained that when the website was launched, the page views skyrocketed from 500 views a day to over 100,000, resulting in the ALS Canada website crashing. Tammy admitted that this was their first mistake and obstacle to overcome, as they had to work overtime to get the site back up and running, while losing lots of donations and receiving criticism for the crash. I admired her for acknowledging this and demonstrating how to handle the situation by answering peoples concerns through e-mail and social media.
When taking the Ice Bucket Challenge, challengers are encouraged to not only participate, but also donate money to ALS. For those that did not want to participate in the challenge, such as Prime Minister Stephen Harper when challenged by actor Leonardo DiCaprio, the alternative is to simply donate money instead. As a result, ALS Canada saw their donations go through the roof. Tammy provided us with an astonishing example of this. Normally, ALS Canada’s fundraising was around $4 million a year, mainly through their hosted walk-a-thons. As of November 19th, the day prior to attending this presentation, Tammy reported official figures of over $16 million being raised, with over 200,000 Canadians contributing to the challenge.
As a result of the skyrocketing donations and amount of videos being made on social media, Tammy explained that the calls and e-mails were overwhelming and she was constantly being whisked away to studios and locations for radio and television interviews. Tammy’s advice was that no matter what was happening, she kept saying yes to every opportunity that was presented to her, as each interview and appearance was another chance to raise more funds for the organization. She admitted that she wished that she had more time to take in the moment, but it’s pretty understandable that her free time was very limited during this period.
“You can’t recreate the Ice Bucket Challenge. It was something special that just happened”
As someone who saw what was happening, I didn’t realize until Tammy’s talk just how powerful and important the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge was for ALS Canada and the community. Firstly, the Ice Bucket Challenge raised awareness to millions around the world, prompting people like myself to research and learn more about the disease, leading to discussions that had never occurred before. Prior to the challenge, ALS was known but not understood by most people. Thanks to this, people like me wanted to learn more and I now understand ALS and just how important it is to raise money for research to find a cure for this brutal disease. Pat Quinn and Pete Frates accomplished their goal in raising awareness to this disease, reaching such influential people as Bill Gates and Oprah. For the first time, ALS was being widely discussed and as Tammy pointed out, even the Canadian government was taking notice.
As Tammy mentioned before, over $16 million was raised for ALS Canada. $10 million of it ended up will be invested in ALS research, while $6 million will go to programs that provide support to Canadian families with members living with ALS. On top of this, because the government noticed this huge sensation that was going on, not only did it open doors to discussions on more support for families, in addition, they offered to match the investment for research, resulting in $20 million in ALS research. This is the largest donation made at one time to ALS research!!!
What We Can Learn From This
Tammy Moore’s talk inspired me and opened my eyes to the power of social media and marketing. Moore’s decision to jump on this opportunity with the website and running with it by promoting it was genius, and has set an example for others to follow. Had she not done that, it would have been a huge missed opportunity for ALS Canada. The Ice Bucket Challenge was groundbreaking as it brought awareness to the disease, encouraged discussion among the masses, raised substantial funds for research like never before, and opened the doors in politics, as Tammy indicated that prior, getting their attention was difficult. Going along with what was happening by keeping an open mind and embracing the challenge was key to success, and ALS Canada absolutely nailed it.
Social Media can be a very powerful resource at times. Tammy’s story is a prime example to all of us in marketing that you have to take an opportunity and run with it when it presents itself. Sometimes it can be a risk, but in the case of ALS Canada, the risk definitely paid off in ways unimaginable.
Huge thank you to Tammy Moore and to the Canadian Public Relations Society for this amazing, informative evening. I will definitely not forget it anytime soon!!