The Big Flea Thrives on Word of Mouth

The fifth annual MV Big Flea was held last weekend in Alexandria, Virginia.  This year the annual flea market raised an impressive $30,619 from nearly 2,000 attendees.

Since 2007, the MV Big Flea has raised $93,481 for the Mount Vernon Community School PTA. Not bad for a public elementary school where 2/3rds of the kids qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

But what’s even more surprising is the role word-of-mouth communications have  played in the Big Flea’s success.

“We don’t have a big advertising budget,” said MV Big Flea spokesperson Maria Getoff.  “We’ve spent less than $1,000 on advertising, and about $7,500 total, to organize and promote the event since 2007.  Instead, we’ve relied on inexpensive grassroots and word of mouth communications tactics to spread the word.”

Local community listservs are the MV Big Flea’s primary means for reaching thousands of potential donors and event attendees.  Organizers do their best to to make the messages “sticky” so they have staying power and spread throughout the community (see here and here).

Organizers rely heavily on other online resources: Craigslist to sell items (and promote the event), Freecycle to get rid of the leftovers, a WordPress blog for a website and targeted Facebook ads to raise awareness in the week before the event.

Old fashioned tactics like personal meetings with community leaders, yard signs and photocopied flyers also help spread the word.  As a result, despite a very limited presence in the local media, the MV Big Flea is widely known in Alexandria and attended by thousands each year.

mvbigflea.com

Kids Raise $1,216.17 for Haitian Relief

Blessed with clear, crisp weather, four elementary school students and their friends raised more than $1,000 at a bakesale to help with Haitian relief efforts.

The bakesale, held on Saturday, January 23rd at the Del Ray Farmer’s Market in Alexandria, Virginia included dozens of homemade cookies, cakes and other sweets for purchase.

“It was fun!” exclaimed Diane Wood, “and the cookies were really good!  I bought some and planned to give them away but ate all of them myself.  That was a very generous endeavor,” she said, ‘and a wonderful way for kids to help.  I’m glad it was such a success!

Leading the effort were Del Ray’s Skylar and Rain Camerlinck (8 and 6 years old) and Mein and Phoebe LaMountain (10 and 8 years old). They were greatly assisted by Jackie Camerlick, who spent many hours organizing and packaging, many of their friends and community members who donated baked goods to sell.

The group was also aided by a video made by Phoebe LaMountain.  The video, which was shot on a Flip video camera and uploaded to YouTube with minimal editing, received more than 400 views in the 24 hours leading up to the bakesale.  Many who attended the bakesale mentioned seeing the video and learning about the event because of it.

All proceeds benefit the non-profit organization Doctors without Borders.

Carter & Ebbin Team Up to Improve Schools

The Alexandria Gazette reported today on the introduction of legislation designed to give some Virginia schools more latitude in deciding when to open their doors each year.

Introduced by Delegate Adam Ebbin, the bill would largely overturn existing law which requires schools to start after Labor Day in order to support Virginia tourism.

The proposed change was first suggested by Alexandria School Board member Mimi Carter as a way to improve educational outcomes.

“The more time students spend in school, the more they learn,” she said.  “We should make it easy for our most challenged schools to open their doors sooner and to provide more instruction,” she said.  “Delegate Ebbin’s bill would give local educators the option of choosing a start time that works best for their students.”

According to the Gazette, previous efforts to do away with the ‘King’s Dominion Provision,’ as the restriction is known, have met with failure. That’s why Ebbin narrowly targeted his bill to Title 1 schools, where Virginia’s at-risk students are concentrated.

“I think we can make a really good case,” said Ebbin. “I think this is a bill that has a good chance of passing.”

Although the date of the committee hearing has yet to be scheduled, Carter says she plans on travelling to Richmond to support the bill. This comes on the heels of a vote by the board to support the change, an effort that’s also received some measure of support from Arlington County.

2009: Top 6 Successes

Now that the new year has begun, I’ve started taking stock of what we accomplished in 2009. While I feel like we had a very successful year, six specific items come to mind.

(1) Mimi Wins! – After four months of campaigning, Mimi Carter was elected to the Alexandria School Board on May 6, 2009. The Friends of Mimi Carter campaign was built on grassroots communications, from email blast and phone banks to participating in one-on-one conversations with voters. Thanks to the help of many volunteers, Mimi secured 2,228 votes and won a three-year term on the board.

(2) From 0 to 69 Cosponsors – In 2009, we spent many hours working with the Huntington’s Disease Society of America in its efforts to generate support for HR 678. This bill would make it easier for people affected by HD to obtain medical care and disability benefits. Through a variety of grassroots communications tactics, we persuaded 69 Representatives in Congress to support the bill.

(3) Operation 435 – More than 12 million Americans have COPD and building a patient movement is a primary goal of the COPD Foundation. In 2009, we created Operation 435, a campaign to mobilize COPD patients in every single congressional district. In November, we generated more than 500 advocate communications with state health officials and positioned the Foundation to succeed in 2010.

(4) Just Call me Professor – Teaching a graduate level course on grassroots communications at Georgetown has been a major highlight of my year. It’s been challenging, but my students have been fantastic and we’ve had great discussions about how to build effective grassroots and word-of-mouth marketing campaigns. I’m looking forward to continuing and expanding my public speaking and teaching skills in 2010.

(5) Big Flea Keeps Rollin’ – Even though I was less involved with the 2009 MV Big Flea, I still rank it in my top 5. Thanks to Facebook, Craiglist, Ebay and a WordPress blog, we generated tons of word of mouth conversations about the event. As a result, more than 1,000 people attended our third-annual event and we raised $10,724 for our school’s early childhood education programs.

(6) Putting PAD on the Map – Everyone knows about atherosclerosis and how clogged chest arteries can lead to heart attack, stroke and early death. Far fewer know that leg arteries can also clog with the same results. Working with the PAD Coalition, we educated congressional and administration officials about PAD and laid the groundwork for future efforts to increase the number of high risk Americans screened for PAD.

Facebook = Media Coverage

Looking for a way to generate media coverage about your cause, your candidate or your business?  Don’t overlook Facebook and other social media tools.

In early December, Mimi visited China as part of a fact-finding delegation from the Alexandria City Public Schools.  During the trip, she regularly updated her Facebook page with photos and trip highlights.

One result?  The Alexandria Gazette published a front-page story about the trip.  The article, by Micael Pope, included quotes from her Facebook status updates and photos she took with her iPhone and posted online.

How are you using social media tools to generate awareness and media coverage?  Contact us today to learn how you can use Twitter,  Facebook and other tools to reach your audiences and build word-of-mouth buzz.

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