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Membership Has Its Privileges

Boys & Girls Clubs of America's Evan McElroy on partners from Denzel Washington to Coke and the importance of tech monitoring

Evan McElroy

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The Boys & Girls Clubs of America doesn’t really buy advertising space. Still, its iconic blue logo—a minimalistic rendition of clasping hands designed by Saul Bass—has a tendency to pop up in high-profile media placements, including behind home plate during the World Series. Adweek caught up with Evan McElroy, senior vp of marketing and communications, to talk about the charity group’s deep bench of corporate, media and celebrity partners; its own marketing strategy; and its stance on some of the thornier issues that come up around kids, brands and technology.

How do you get the word out?
Essentially it boils down to five buckets: corporate partners, media, agencies that we work with mostly on a pro bono basis, government partners and individuals.

Individuals?
The best example is alumni. Denzel Washington has been our spokesperson for…it’s actually 20 years this year. He grew up as a member of the club and is very passionate about telling the story of what it meant to him. So he has, over those years, helped us develop a strategy of attracting many more individuals who share that story.

How do your media partnerships work?
Comcast is a good example. [They’ve] stepped up on the level of saying, “Hey, we’ll take your advertising campaigns and just run them across all of our systems in every market we’re in.” I think the first year we did that we had upwards of $20 million of advertising on their platform, all donated time.

How much media were you donated in total in 2011?
Just on some of the very finite things we can measure based on educated estimates that we get from partners and so forth, we’re pretty sure we’re deriving more than $50 million from the partnerships.

What’s your take on kids using social media?
We’re working with Sprint on a cyber-safety program. We have spent a lot of time in focus groups with clubs and the parents talking about what is the best policy for a club to have as it relates to social networking. We’re going to roll something out later this year that crystallizes or formalizes those guidelines more clearly, but it’s an important issue. There’s no [BGCA] computer lab that doesn’t have a couple of staff in there overseeing what [kids are] doing while they’re in there, and that includes keeping underage kids away from [social media].

Fast-food brands marketing to kids continues to be highly controversial. What should these companies be doing to ensure they’re not exacerbating children’s health issues?
Our approach has been education-oriented. We have a pretty robust health program sponsored by Coca-Cola and WellPoint.

Coca-Cola? Any cognitive dissonance there?
Coca-Cola is a 60-year partner of ours, and they’ve always worked with us in a proactive way as far as funding us putting [health and fitness] information in front of kids. From the standpoint of what’s in the clubs, Coke has worked with us to totally shift up what they offer kids, so when you go into the clubs now, you see water, you see juices, for the most part, and not as much—in some cases no—sugar-based carbonated drinks. It’s just good business for both a company like them and organization like us to look at that and be realistic about it. We have to look at, No. 1, what’s best for kids and make sure that’s the driving factor in terms of whether we’ll engage [in a partnership].





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