How Helping a Huddle Helped Me
By Natalie Harper (originally written for the MRU PR Alumni Newsletter)
If you’re like me, you’re busy.
You’re probably working full-time. You may have a family you’re taking care of. You may be doing both. You’re probably trying to find time for yourself in your increasingly busy life. You savour those coveted days off, and when your well-deserved vacation days finally come, you relish the chance to turn off your brain and have some downtime.
If you’re like me, you work through your days off and you put those vacation days on hold when you get a unique opportunity to contribute to a remarkable goodwill project.
In November 2010, I was invited to be part of a project that changed my life and became a catalyst for a career change.
Late last year, a close friend of mine – former Edmonton Eskimo fullback (currently with the Saskatchewan Roughriders) and community advocate, Graeme Bell – was invited to team up with six other CFL players, WestJet, Oxfam Canada, CARE Canada, TSN and Postmedia in a humanitarian journey to help Haiti during the country’s one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake. Graeme asked me if I wanted to help, and I immediately said yes and took it on as a pro-bono side project. We named the awareness initiative ‘Huddle for Haiti’ and I was responsible for creating the identity and managing the traditional and online media outreach.
I spent all of my spare time; my days off and my Christmas holidays working with organizers, players, sponsors and media to lay the foundation to proactively prepare for what would become the most interesting communication challenge of my career.
How was I going to sustain awareness while the Huddle for Haiti team was in Haiti for seven days? My spokespeople were all in a Third World country that struggles to provide food and clean water to its people let alone telephone and Internet access.
I immediately created what I called the Huddle ‘hub’ – a Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/huddleforhaiti) that was going to be the main source of information for media and fans. When I established the ‘hub’ I had no idea how vital and meaningful a resource it was going to be. It became a way to inform the general public of what our cause supported, but also gave peace of mind to the loved ones of the 19 people who journeyed to Haiti for seven days through frequent updates.
The organizer’s goal wasn’t to raise money. She simply wanted to raise awareness, and shine a spotlight on a country and its resilient people who still need our care and help.
Graeme made arrangements to have a mobile device and robust data plan provided by Rogers Communications so he and I could communicate between Edmonton and Haiti. This was the critical element in our ability to populate the Huddle ‘hub’ with information and multimedia in real-time. It also allowed the CFL players to frequently update their personal Facebook and Twitter pages, and provide interviews with media back home.
It was not, however, the optimal way to coordinate and conduct interviews. Graeme became a media relations expert in a matter of hours. He and I couldn’t speak on the phone, so everything was coordinated between Twitter direct messages (DMs) and texts to keep data costs low. Imagine coordinating live national TV, radio and print interviews and prepping seven spokespeople in 140 characters. Let’s just say there were a lot of exclamation points used when poor Graeme decided to prioritize digging latrines for Oxfam Canada or playing soccer with Haitian youth instead of replying to my DMs right away.
It wasn’t typical, but it worked. It worked because Graeme and I were prepped in advance, closely connected, trusted each other and were committed to being as responsive as possible. I don’t think a media member had to wait more than an hour for a response from me after I put in the request for an interview with Graeme.
Local, regional and national media jumped on board to tell our story and the results were beyond anything I could have expected.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we used Facebook as an awareness and engagement tool, as well as the results we garnered from it, please read a great case study we worked with Offerpop on here:
My hope is that we’ll all think a little differently about how we can support community causes through our work. This project ended up being life-changing for me. I feel lucky to have been part of hundreds of compelling projects during my career, but being involved with Huddle for Haiti has ignited a new passion, and I’m now dedicated to contributing my skillset and knowledge to projects that support a goodwill or community cause.
Since Huddle for Haiti wrapped in late January, I have joined the advisory board for Cats and Dogs International (CANDi), and am currently planning another CFL project to support this cause.
Needless to say, I don’t often get a chance to enjoy those coveted days off or savour those vacation days. However, I feel pretty darn good about offering the skills I honed during my time at Mount Royal to people and causes that can benefit from them.
Mount Royal University encourages and often mandates its PR students get involved with volunteer projects. I certainly encourage us to continue this practice as alumni. There are so many people and organizations out there that can use our help, and giving up a vacation day here or there might just make the world of a difference to someone.
I’d also love to hear about how you support your community, or tell you more about our Huddle for Haiti project, so please get in touch with me via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or connect with me on Facebook/Twitter: