12 Days of Havas: Ronald McDonald House

I have been volunteering with children’s charities in New York City for almost a decade, but none has touched me as much as my recent visits to the Ronald McDonald House on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Founded in 1978, the Ronald McDonald House of New York provides temporary housing for pediatric cancer patients and their families receiving treatment in the New York City area. It’s the largest facility of its type in the world. I have participated in various volunteering events at the house in the past few months, and I know that the dedication and love I’ve seen from this organization will deeply touch anyone who comes into contact with the staff, volunteers, and, of course, the wonderful and brave kids staying there.

The facility is amazing. The Ronald McDonald House of New York has a state-of-the-art computer room, a comfy TV and movie room, professional murals on every wall, daily activities from cooking classes to arts and crafts, and a full gourmet kitchen and dining room. The staff wants the kids staying here to feel special, and it shows from the minute you enter. So I was thrilled when we chose the house for one of our 12 Days of Havas.

The house can accommodate 83 families, and it is filled to capacity almost every night. Its location in Manhattan, close to 12 major cancer treatment centers, draws children and families from across the country and the world, as well as from the metropolitan New York City area. The Ronald McDonald House supports each family and coordinates emotional and physical services, psychological care, ministry support, wellness programs, tutors, music, art, transportation, activities for siblings, holiday and birthday parties, and companionship for parents struggling with their child’s cancer diagnosis. It never charges families more than $35 per night, which includes room and board, all meals and daily activities. Individuals, foundations and corporations support the house.

November 2013 marks the 35th anniversary of the Ronald McDonald House of New York. Since its opening, more than 30,000 families have stayed there. Havas PR’s assignment for the 12 Days of Havas is to brainstorm big ideas on how to celebrate this milestone. The house’s staff is looking for ideas that would incorporate a grand celebration event and ongoing marketing initiatives that could run all year. It would also like to tap into its celebrity supporters and get them involved as much as possible to generate additional publicity for the anniversary.

Havas PR will be conducting brainstorming meetings over the next week to generate ideas that are sure to bring great publicity around the anniversary. Initial ideas include getting the first families who were in the house 35 years ago back for the anniversary, providing VIP tours and housing for top media to experience the Ronald McDonald House first hand, and launching the anniversary with a full week of celebrity parties and consumer events.

We are excited to be working on this assignment for the Ronald McDonald House of New York and being part of the ongoing planning of the 2013 anniversary. I hope everyone gets a chance one day to volunteer at this amazing place.

[photo: Ronald McDonald House]

The 12 Days of Havas

On Dec. 12, Havas PR will launch its new publishing wing, 120M Books, with its first e-book, What’s Next? What to Expect in 2013. To celebrate, Havas PR is launching the 12 Days of Havas, an initiative for which staff will donate time to a different charitable organization every day for 12 straight days leading up to the launch. Jay Williams, vice president at Havas PR and the creative genius behind the 12 Days of Havas, sat down to talk about his inspiration for the program, what he hopes it will accomplish and the true meaning of the holiday season.

Q: What exactly is the 12 Days of Havas?
Jay Williams:
The program is a fun play on the Christmas song “The 12 Days of Christmas.” During the 12 Days of Havas, we are working with a new charitable organization each day and donating our time and industry skills to assist them with whatever they need. It’s great because it allows us to give back during the holiday season—which is all about giving—and ramps up anticipation for the launch of 120M Books, a huge step for Havas PR.

It’s also an opportunity for us as an agency to show our creative thinking and our capabilities from a corporate social responsibility perspective. It aligns well with #GivingTuesday, too, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, which the agency has really jumped behind. We even used that as our kickoff day for this initiative. Plus, we’ve recently rebranded, so it’s a great way to highlight the ingenuity and collaborative nature of our agency while doing something good for those around us.

Q: What was your inspiration?
JW:
December is a time for giving; the year is winding down and I think a lot of us reflect on how lucky we’ve been and what the year has looked like. I was thinking about how we can all give back and show the world the caliber of people we have at this agency. There is a lot of need out there, and I know I stop and think about ways in which I can ease some of that need, even just a little. So my thought process was, Why don’t we do a PR marathon that really gives back? Leading up to the launch of the e-book, I want to remind people that we are the kind of agency that cares about those around us who need a little help. We’re also the kind of agency that has creative ideas like this. And we are all part of the thought process behind 120M Books, so why not do something that truly demonstrates who we are in the lead-up to that?

So I was sitting at my desk and thinking about the time of the year, and the song “The 12 Days of Christmas” jumped into my head. Then I thought about 12/12/12, the launch date of 120M Books. After a tangent about astronomy (don’t ask), I came back to the idea of the song and realized how appropriate it is, because it is about giving. A spin on that works so well, because our creative thinking is our gift.

Q: What do you hope the 12 Days of Havas will accomplish?
JW:
I just hope that it helps. The charities we’re working with have just been so appreciative you wouldn’t even believe it. These are great organizations, but they don’t always have the Madison Avenue level of communications support. In general, most charitable groups need better media resources and strategic planning. Our role in this is to be able to help the organizations we’ve chosen with some real communications expertise and backing, and we’re ready to jump in where they need us most.

We have a track record with some of these organizations already, so we already understand some of their needs and it’s clear from our conversations with them that they really need the help. They have amazing news and amazing goals, but they don’t always have the capabilities to go about spreading the news and getting their message heard. As a New York PR agency, we sometimes take for granted everything we’re able to accomplish, whether it’s putting together a social media campaign on the fly or getting our clients on national talk shows. Working with these groups really puts it all into perspective.

Q: How will Havas PR assist these organizations?
JW:
We’ll do everything from volunteer work on the ground, like local support for Hurricane Sandy relief, to strategic programming for events, social media strategy and training, brainstorming, and campaign ideation. We’re going to help these groups secure donations, come up with long-term strategies and do media outreach for any events they are having in the near future.

Q: The mix of charities is so diverse. Why were these 12 groups selected?
JW:
The best part of the initiative is that these charities ring true to Havas PR’s value of Future First, because doing good helps create a better future. There are some that we’ve had relationships with in the past, mixed with some new ones that are near and dear to the hearts of staff members. So it’s cool, because we’re throwing a whole personal dimension into this project. The list of charities ranges from Ronald McDonald House (helping needy children) to City Harvest (working to solve hunger) to GMHC (disease education and prevention). A great thing about working with 12 charities is that we can cover a lot of different causes, and we’ve done a very good job of that.

Q: How has the 12 Days of Havas affected the agency?
JW:
Everyone has gotten really into it and is very excited about being able to use their professional talents in such an amazing way. It has also been a great opportunity for us to work with members of the agency whom we don’t always get to collaborate with. We’re seeing different sides of our colleagues that we haven’t before, and we get to see what some of their outside-of-work interests are and what causes they are passionate about. We’ve also made connections with new organizations that hopefully will blossom into strong relationships down the line.

There are so many charities out there that need us, and we can help. It’s not every day that a company volunteers its individual services. Anyone can go give a few dollars to charity, but really taking the time and donating your strengths—I think that makes the biggest difference. In the end, the 12 Days of Havas is how our agency volunteers with our hearts and our minds.

[photo: creativecommons.org/Tim Green aka atoach]