An Unorthodox Way to Gain Brand Awareness: The Beren Dilemma

This is a guest post from Barry Mueller.

Companies always strive for ways to create brand awareness. As everyone knows, the big companies will always have an advantage in this field due to their surplus of money which forces the smaller companies to think more creatively. Just a little over a week ago, I found a way to reach 7,000 people, 5,000 of whom I reached in two days. The best part about it was that it only took five minutes of my time. The website I utilized was change.org

The website Change.org is the free and easy way to start a petition and make your voice heard by governments and business leaders all over the world. Millions of people and organizations are using Change.org’s online petition tools to change laws, influence corporate behavior, and make their communities healthier, safer, and more equitable.

The Situation

On February 28, the New York Times posted an article that a high school basketball team, the Orthodox Jewish Robert M. Beren Academy, won its regional championship to advance to the boys basketball state semifinals this weekend in Dallas — but that the team will not not be able to make the trip.

The Beren Academy players observe the Sabbath and do not play from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays. Their semifinal game was scheduled for 9 PM Friday, making playing, traveling, and any other accommodations impossible.

The school filed an appeal to change the time of the game with the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, the group that organizes the tournament. On Monday morning, representatives of the school were notified that the association’s nine-member executive board had rejected the appeal.

Following this outright rejection from a school that supposedly represents religious schools and treats them like any other, the high school team was mentioned on Yahoo!, CNN, ESPN, Fox News, CBS News, the Wall Street Journal, and many other news sources.

How to Fix the Situation

At that point, there was national coverage of an unfortunate situation. However, what was missing was the lack of participation that the readers could take part of — they had no platform for action. Although there was a Facebook group, people wanted and needed something more professional to attempt to effectuate change. This inspired me to make a petition on change.org. Using change.org let me feel like I was part of something big, and with other signatures, also allowed everyone participating to feel productive, like they were truly able to make a difference in swaying opinion of TAPPS.

For the next part of the process, it was crucial to obtain the most signatures. Change.org is not shy on trying to help you promote your petition as it sent me emails throughout the week advising me on how to promote my online petition.

Here are the highlights of change.org’s suggestions.

  1. Promote your petition on social networks: “An easy way to spread the word about your petition is to post it to your social networks and encourage your friends to do the same.” This was easy. Finally, having 700 friends on Facebook meant something! I posted the petition on a few of my friends’ walls, and before I knew it, thousands of people signed it through Facebook.
  2. Email your friends: “Direct email is one of the most effective ways of recruiting support for a petition.” Family (more times than not) will take personal interest in anything you do and therefore they are a key in emailing. Through email, I was also able to communicate to a different crowd as I am not friends with that many older family members on Facebook.
  3. Post your petition on your blog or website: “Embed a petition widget on your site and let your readers sign your petition right from your page.” That is self –explanatory and it is awesome. Use it!
  4. Join conversations about your campaign: If your issue is getting press coverage, take advantage of the press attention by joining the conversation in the comments thread on major news sites. Better yet, email the author of the publications themselves. I can probably attribute at least 2,000 of the votes to Yahoo! because a Yahoo! blogger wrote an article about the story and included a link to access the petition. Readers, especially those who do not directly relate to the story, respect the body of the article more than the comments that are below it. In addition, I also tweeted to Mary Pilon, author of the New York Times article, notifying her about the petition. She did not update the existing article but included the petition when she wrote her next article covering the story. These two simple emails garnered many people to sign the petition.

Feedback

Although I did not put a business name as the submitter of this petition (mainly because I don’t own a business yet), people realized that I started it.

A friend that I have lost contact with until last week wrote to me, “I just wanted to let you know that I think it’s amazing what you’ve been doing to raise awareness about Beren’s situation…Anyway, you’re really an inspiration. Keep it up.”

Furthermore, a person that I did not know wrote this to me:

Barry, thanks for stepping up to start the petition, one doesn’t have to be Jewish to be appalled by a blatant injustice. I hope these kids get to honor their religion AND play their game.

Kind regards,

A Texas gentile

Why This Matters to Your Business

When you create something so prominent that people take notice, it reminds your friends that you have a business and introduces strangers to your business.

Timberland is one of the best examples of a company that is socially responsible.

Mark Newton, vice president of CSR for Timberland, stated, “We want to be proof positive in terms of the change we seek to influence through our business. Our updated goals now reflect this approach — and engaging employees and communities in this work is a critical part of our objectives.”

Although Timberland has committed itself to many social responsible projects causing costs to rise, its earnings have not taken a hit and in fact are also rising.

Below I will list real petitions that have accumulated over 10,000 signatures started by ordinary people that I feel businesses owners could have started (notice the brief titles).

  • If you are part of a company that aspires to help underprivileged children, then you could have posted: Improve Conditions at Ventura Youth Correctional Facility”.
  • If you own a pet store or sell pet food, then this could have been a fitting petition you could have started: “Stop the killing of dogs and cats for the European Football Championship”
  • If you have a tech blog: “Stop the internet control bill NOW.”
  • Even generic ideas could work: 21,000 Children Die Needlessly Each Day. Let’s Make It Zero.”

Although I did not see any petitions online, a company that sells anything recycled could make a petition that relates to saving trees. The rest of the ideas are for you to generate! It is important to note that a company should be careful not to make a petition too controversial, as one does not want to lose half of his consumers.

When is it a good time to post a petition?

The best time to post a petition is directly after the media has taken a notice to it. This is true because everyone already knows the situation, but now they just want to contribute to the cause.

Situation Resolved

At the end of the day, it took a very late legal challenge to convince the tournament organizer, TAPPS, to accommodate the team. Beren reached the finals on Saturday night but lost 46-42 to Abilene Christian High School. Although Beren came up short, the game’s larger significance didn’t appear lost on the players. For an hour after the final whistle, fans, friends and family lingered in the gym to support the players.

“I am proud to be here,” said Beren guard Isaac Mirwis. “It’s more than just basketball. It’s about being true to who you are.”

“Change.org is an opportunity to grow your business’s brand, but also a place where you can help change the world.  It’s more than just business. It’s about being true to who you are.”

Barry Mueller is a Sophomore at Yeshiva University. He is striving to innovate social media marketing in unique creative ways, and is launching his business, Online Revolution Marketing, in the upcoming months. Email him at barrymueller123 at gmail dot com for more information.

2 Comments

  • March 14, 2012

    jacob wishnia

    Barry, we think this was an amazing way to connect and get your message out. We are proud of you. Carol and Jacob Wishnia

  • March 20, 2012

    Mindeleah Pollak

    Barry,

    When I saw your name posted, I was fortunate enough to take out the time to read such an informative article. I am proud to know you & thank you for beginning the process of allowing others to voice their opinions, thus increasing the sanctification of something holy, from our daily activities.

    Yasher Kochacha!

    M. Pollak