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.


Why Good Christians Make Great Advocates

Last January, I wrote an article about Christianity as an example of an effective grassroots movement.  But I recently made another connection between Christian history, evangelism and  grassroots advocacy.

Over the last thirty years, born-again and fundamentalist Christians have become far more visible and active in the nation’s political discourse.  As a result, they often wield political power that is disproportionate to their numbers.

What makes Christians more effective?  I think it’s because “Spreading the Word” is a central tenant of the Christian faith (Mark 16:15), so grassroots advocacy just seems to come more naturally.

Face it, getting someone to talk about your “pet cause” is hard work.  When Mimi ran for office, we had a terrible time recruiting phone bank volunteers.  It stands to reason that any group with a large number of Christians would have an easier time recruiting volunteers to than others.

Malcolm Gladwell writes in The Tipping Point that small things can make a big difference.  Maybe the answer is to finding the born-again and fundamentalist Christians among your members and mobilizing them to take action.

PNC Bank Risks Thousands for a $75 Payout

It's not what you say, it's what you do that matters.

If “happy customers are your best advertising,” as Andy Sernovitz writes in Word of Mouth Marketing, then it follows that unhappy customers are your worst advertising.

While this is a basic rule of marketing, it’s one that companies constantly fail to follow.  As a result of their poor customer service, or misguided policies (or both), they create mounds of negative advertising that damage their reputation, but also their bottom line.

While I typically write and teach about grassroots communications, I have the current misfortune of being a highly dissatisfied customer.  It’s become a case study for my Grassroots Communications course on poor customer service and its consequences.

Here’s a quick recap: I closed my business account at PNC Bank in December 2009.  In February 2010 PNC honored a previously authorized electronic transaction in the amount of $472.50. This caused “my account” to be overdrawn.  According to PNC, I now owed them $75 in fees and overdraft charges.  Pure profit!

Six months later, despite my best efforts, this matter remains unresolved. I’ve made dozens of phone calls, visited three branches and in May (against my better judgment), reimbursed PNC for the original transaction (less fees and penalties).  PNC’s response?  They failed to cash my check and reported me to a collection agency.

It was only until I filed a formal complaint with the US Comptroller of the Currency, and threatened a lawsuit, that PNC began to respond in earnest.  Six months later.

What’s amazing to me is how much PNC is willing to risk for a measly $75 in fees.  I’ve since shared this horror story with dozens of people, all of them potential PNC customers. Think of all the time PNC employees have spent trying to collect this money or resolve this problem of their own making.  That cost alone must run into the thousands.

PNC’s behavior stands in stark contrast to that of my current bank, Burke and Herbert.  Customer service is one of their core marketing strategies and it was on display when I recently visited their Monroe Avenue Branch.  The manager could not have been more helpful in my efforts to resolve this matter with their competitor, PNC.

And come to think of it, that’s why I moved my money there in the first place.

Why Isn’t McDonnell Investing in Human Capital?

Do these children know that the Governor is cutting their school budget?

Virginia is one of the highest performing states in the nation according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But Governor Robert McDonnell’s recent budget cuts, reducing programs to 2008 funding levels, will be a step back in time.

A time before research showed what an impact extra curricula activities have for children’s happiness and educational outcomes. A time before the same research showed that if children get breakfast they do better in school.

Nevertheless, the new Governor proposed cutting these items and more on Wednesday.

In total he is cutting more than $731 million dollars in Virginia’s public school education system and it will be Virginia’s poorest that will suffer. Those districts, like Alexandria, who knew that this was coming will not be hurt as badly as Lynchburg, Petersburg and other poorer jurisdictions that must rely more heavily on state funds.

One commenter on the Richmond Times Dispatch said it quite well: “Bob4Jobs wants to spend money on bringing in jobs – what companies does he think will come while he cuts and destroys public education? Companies want good public schools and an educated work force. Cuts to our public schools are not the way to go! And yes, I would pay more in income tax.”

Yes, so would many.

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.

Breaking News: Phoebe’s Announcement…

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