Five years ago, advertising and marketing company GSD&M Idea City lost an employee to breast cancer. Her name was Mikael Floeter and she worked in the media department at the Austin agency. For years Floeter had worked on the GSD&M team that helped produce the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Austin.
David Rockwood, the community relations coordinator at GSD&M, recalls how, as the company prepared for the 2004 Race for the Cure, that year’s event took on special meaning. “it stopped us all because we realized it was one of our own who was battling this,” he says. “Everyone had this idea that she would beat it because she was young and so full of life. When we lost her, it was a big blow.”
Rockwood tells that story to illustrate how breast cancer touches everyone in some way, whether in their family, among their friends or even at the office. Causes like the fight against cancer are important at GSD&M, and it’s part of Rockwood and his associate Ashley Spence’s responsibility to decide what causes get help from GSD&M in the form of money and talent.
“One of the things we have as part of our company philosophy is this commitment to giving back,” says Rockwood. “I think it’s important for businesses to do that, and we’re fortunate to be able to do so.”
For eight years, GSD&M was the lead sponsor of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Once other key sponsors came to the plate, the company decided it was time to lead the charge for another group.
“We were looking for our next big thing,” says Rockwood. “And that’s when we heard that David Smith, who has this great history with the Hill Country Ride for AIDS, was doing another event to benefit breast cancer. I think what really got us interested was that this wasn’t just going to benefit one or two charities, but rather 10 different ones, so it gave us a chance to participate in something with a pretty wide reach.”
While breast cancer often gets a good deal of attention in the press and is the focus of some major fundraising drives (think Yoplait’s Pink Lid Campaign), much of the money collected in those efforts goes to cancer research. Important as it is to find a cure, organizers of the Mamma Jamma says it’s just as crucial that those already suffering with the disease get the support and financial aid they desperately need now. That’s why all of the money raised through the ride goes directly to organizations helping breast cancer patients here in Central Texas.
For GSD&M, being the presenting sponsor of the inaugural Mamma Jamma was a way for the company to use its design strength to help create something from the ground up. Together with ride director Smith, Rockwood and the agency’s team came up with a look and feel for the Mamma Jamma materials that played off the smart designs used for the HCRA. “We opened up the poster design to all of our designers and I think we had four really great ones, but one in particular stood out.”
Designer Marc Ferrino won out, and the design was tweaked for everything from registration brochures to cycling jerseys.
For the design “we tried to communicate that this is an Austin Ride for Breast Cancer,” says Ferrino. “This was achieved through the known iconic cancer ribbon in the typography and the dome of the state capital as a bike helmet.”
Landing GSD&M as the lead sponsor gave the ride instant legitimacy despite its newness, according to Smith.
“We’ve known all along that this ride will be something huge in Central Texas and Texas in general,” Smith says. “But what we didn’t know was how we were going to get the word out. Since nearly everyone is affected in some way by breast cancer, we feel that if people hear about it they will participate. Having GSD&M come on board in such a big way, it was like hitting the lottery in terms of getting the word out.”
From helping with key contacts to opening their offices up for the ride kickoff party in May, GSD&M has been the consummate partner, he adds.
Rockwood acknowledges that in the current tough economy, it’s getting more difficult for companies like GSD&M to give back as much as they have in the past. Still, it’s his office’s job to decide how to distribute the available resources where they can do the most good.
“We get an average of three to four phone calls a day, plus emails and other communication from nonprofits asking for donations. It’s a tough thing to say no, because so many groups need help. But what we’ve had to do is really focus on specific areas. By doing that, we’re ensuring that we’ll be able to have a greater impact and really see it.”
For a creative company like GSD&M, it’s not just the funding it can offer nonprofits, but the talent base. “We can tag team the money with our time and talent and have a real, significant impact,” says Rockwood.
In addition to sponsoring the ride, GSD&M employees have organized a participating team – the GSD&M idea City Training Bras. Rockwood says he plans to get his kids to ride and make a family adventure out of it. “If you can enjoy an afternoon of bike riding, and in the process get your friends to help you raise the money needed to help give people the help they need, why wouldn’t you?”
Smith encourages all companies that want to do their part to start a ride team or even sponsor some component of the ride. “We’ve seen before how companies with teams get so much back through a group of employees that are bonded together by an experience that’s bigger than them,” he says.
Rockwood says he believes that just as Smith helped bridge the gap between those living with HIV/AIDS and the rest of the community through the Hill Country Ride, he’s poised to do the same thing for breast cancer. “David and his production team are absolutely amazing,” he says. “This event is going to encourage a dialogue and do so much for so many people.”
Says Ferrino: “I hope the ride raises so much money breast cancer can’t afford to stick around anymore. Let’s buy it out!”