Dark Horses use Trojan Horse to win Read to Them pitch and $1000 award

Glad to receive the prize money from Read to Them (l to r): Gary Anderson, Todd (can someone quickly tell me the gentleman's last name), Hank Leber, Alex Aloise, Sriram Venkitachalam (that's me of course), Jessica Barrera, Alex Jeon, and Enrico Gatti

Yeah Baby! We won! So happy to to be a part of Pungent Cherry (team name) – we won the marketing stratey+communication presentation/pitch to Read to Them, a not for profit organization that wants to take the message that reading aloud chapter books to one’s kids increases their reading and comprehension skills many a fold and unlocks several doors through their lifetime. Read to Them really wanted everyone to do a great job – they awarded us $1000 for winning. It was great to work for someone for whom our ideas really mattered.

Read to Them came to the VCU Brandcenter to promote One School, One Book, their flagship reading program. One School, One Book is a unique idea where every child in a school is read a chapter book to by their parents for just 15 minutes a day. Every family is reading the same book at the same time, and so is every staff member in school. This lasts for about a month. Every day of the program students drop in answers to trivia questions and a winner is drawn every day, giving every student the chance to win. From testimonials we learned that a whole school immersing in one book brings them together, gets conversations going that weren’t happening before and creates a climate that encourages kids. In the seven years or so of the organization’s existence, about fifty schools have implemented the program. Interestingly only about 50% schools were approached by Read to Them, the other schools learned about it from neighboring principals and teachers and went ahead to implement it.

Our brief was to promote the One School, One Book program for an exponential increase in school deployment and structure a funding plan.

We were told that there were over 9 million reading programs and the organization was finding it difficult to differentiate themselves – while they are different. They promote reading aloud to children, to older children who are not read to because they can read themselves, and to read chapter books. Their idea also demanded fewer resources than other programs. Principals would close their ears after hearing “reading program”.

As we audited One School, One Book’s pros and cons we realized it was an idea bigger than a reading program. It brought every member of a school on one page, literally. Teachers said this program got parents more involved with the school which trickled into the school’s other activities. There are even dramatic stories of families on the verge of divorce coming together because of the daily 15 minute family time that immersed everyone at home. This simple idea was a big community building idea and the term “reading program” didn’t do justice to it – is what we felt.

So we decided we could get principals to listen if we pitched it as a community building idea rather than yet another reading program. While we presented the idea as a Trojan horse, in reality there was no deception about the community idea. In fact, we picked up on community right from a principal’s quote.

We structured a funding plan that made the best of both worlds: corporations and individuals. We had to, because individuals contribute 85% of charity. We planned on using the internet to set the wheels in motion while working on the big checks. We also made a framework that qualified businesses so Read to Them could prioritize the businesses they seek funds from (based on local business’ local community interest).

We knew the principal was the key so all our communication targeted at parents and teachers was to get them to suggest the idea to the principal. We made print ads, radio spots, and TV spots. Interestingly, our team is composed of 4 strategists (Alex Aloise, Jessica Barrera, Enrico Gatti, Hank Leber), 1 brand manager, and 1 art director, Alex Jeon. This meant we all got to be wannabe copywriters and art directors. Unfortunately, the Talented Ms. Alex Jeon had injured her arm so she couldn’t use the mouse much. But she did a great job of sketching out our print ads on white board with dry erase markers! The illustrations eventually gave our ads a unique style. I love the ads we did – a twist on typical school situations of conflict. We also suggested a name change to We-book, more modern and inclusive.

I had a lot of fun making a web video (in next post) meant to give people a complete picture of “how it works and why does it matter”.

Gary Anderson and Bruce Coffey of Read to Them met with the whole team yesterday and said they’d love for us to continue working with them to realize these ideas. How awesome is that!

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