Motorcyclists Ride for a Cure
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Motorcyclists Ride for a Cure

While the Komen Foundation has joined in creative collaboration with a variety of partners from individuals to corporations, the organization is always looking for new ways to inspire, improve care, and fulfill unmet needs for patients and survivors.

Paul Holmes


The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the nation's leading catalyst in the fight against the number one killer of women ages 40 to 59, works tirelessly to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease through advancing research, education, screening and treatment.  While the Komen Foundation has joined in creative collaboration with a variety of partners from individuals to blue-chip corporations, the organization is always looking for new and innovative ways to inspire, improve care, and fulfill unmet needs for current patients and survivors.  Many programs are done without much fanfare, and the extension of resources is quietly provided.  But sometimes, there must be a lot of noise – literally – in order to make a difference.   In July 2000, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation teamed up with the Women’s Motorcyclist Foundation (WMF), the founders of a fund-raising campaign for breast cancer called Pony Express.  The ten-day program marked the union of two seemingly opposite groups united for one cause.  It paved the way for increased funding across the country, town by town, and heightened awareness of breast cancer in a way no other fund-raiser has done before.  Pony Express began in the minds of two women – the co-founders of the WMF – and drives home one of Komen’s rallying cries:  the power of the individual transforms into the force of many.   


Challenges certainly equal opportunity, and Pony Express is no exception.  While Pony Express fund-raisers had occurred in 1996 and 1998, they were not quite as ambitious as Pony Express Round-Up 2000.  The 2000 campaign consisted of four teams starting from the four corners of the United States for a seven-day journey concluding together in Peoria, Illinois (the birthplace of the late Susan G. Komen) for a few days of celebration and closing ceremonies.   

Working with a very large and fragmented event structure became the first challenge of promoting Pony Express.   Coordination between Pony Express organizers, the Komen affiliate network and BMW dealerships (as the primary sponsor), was both critical and complex.  In addition to the numerous players involved, there were many elements to the ten-day program, which together posed another challenge and prompted a few over-riding questions.  How do we create and adapt compelling media angles for a variety of audiences as the riders traveled through the country?  How do we leverage the event both locally and nationally to get the most mileage possible? 

In addition, we had to keep in mind that while breast cancer has received much media attention over the years, media interest has increasingly gravitated to scientific achievements versus the vast array of fundraisers, however worthy (one apparent exception is Komen’s own successful Race for the Cure series).  In framing the campaign, the FH team knew that peaking interest in breast cancer through yet another fundraiser -- despite the unique elements of Pony Express and the critical role that any fundraiser plays in building awareness -- would prove to be difficult.  


Existing facts warrant continuous efforts related to finding a cure for breast cancer, and continue to provide the impetus to publicize and fund innovative scientific research.  

  • Breast cancer is the number one killer among women ages 40 to 59; 
  • An estimated 175,000 women and 1,300 men will develop breast cancer each year;
  • Approximately 44,000 women and 400 men will die of the breast cancer disease each year;
  • Breast cancer is the leading cancer among American women, second to lung cancer in cancer deaths;
  • One in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer; and
  • Every 12 minutes, a woman dies from breast cancer.


  • Contribute to the dollars raised for Pony Express, and in turn breast cancer research.
  • Obtain recognition for Pony Express through media angles that are typically unrelated to breast cancer.
  • Raise awareness of breast cancer.


  Focus outreach on the purpose of Pony Express, to raise money for breast cancer research.  

  Communicate why the Komen Foundation was chosen by the WMF.

Komen allows 100% of the riders' pledged dollars to be earmarked solely to breast cancer research.

Komen is often the only source of cutting-edge breast cancer research that fills gaps in research funding – and its funding has led to landmark discoveries.

Humanize the story through breast cancer patients and survivors participating in Pony Express.  

Foster new types of media channels and focus on cities that riders would pass through, understanding that smaller numbers add up. 


The team revved up for a multifaceted grass-roots media campaign designed to leverage one-of-a-kind elements of the Pony Express campaign and reach the objectives presented above. 

Press Kit Accessories:  Key messages were woven into event-specific press materials developed to complement the existing Komen press kit including: a Pony Express Fact Sheet, pictures from Pony Express ’98, survivor stories, biographies of the co-founders of the WMF and Pony Express, and a Pony Express trail map.  

Community-based Outreach:  The team tailored outreach to communities across the country, highlighting local involvement and events that included BMW and Komen Affiliate activities.  

New Targets:  There was a first-time opportunity for outreach to motorcycle publications. As well, the concluding ceremonies featuring a concert by country singer Kathy Mattea provided an opportunity to pitch a fresh angle.

Radio and Broadcast Bonus:  Key messages were also outlined to aid Komen and WMF spokespeople in radio and broadcast media tours, complimented by a b-roll and VNR package.   

A Radio Media Tour (RMT) featured the co-founders of the WMF and Pony Express with the chair of the   Board for the Komen Foundation.  The RMT hit large and small radio markets across the country beginning in June and leading up to the four kick-off events on July 1.

The Satellite Media Tour (SMT) featured the co-founders of the WMF and Pony Express, this time with the president of the Komen Foundation.  Held in Hannibal, MO, Pony Express riders could be seen in the background packing and getting ready for the last leg of the journey from Hannibal to Peoria, Illinois.  The SMT schedule was completely booked, with back-to-back interviews from 7:00 to 10:00 am in 15-minute intervals.

B-roll was also developed and included footage from the “Southeast” trail, beginning with the kick-off event in Daytona Beach, Florida through to Peoria, Illinois.  The b-roll also included soundbites from a breast cancer survivor participating in Pony Express.

Extending the Reach:  FH pitched the story to major broadcast outlets in the spirit of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and was rewarded with an exciting placement on the Rosie O’Donnell Show.  A Pony Express staff member, participant rider and breast cancer survivor introduced Rosie and discussed Pony Express and Komen.


The Pony Express 2000 campaign raised funds totaling approximately $500,000.  A contribution of $10,000 came from the Rosie O’Donnell show.  

Many publications, particularly smaller, local outlets, were new venues for Komen coverage.  In addition, many of the stories highlighted, for example, the music and motorcycle elements of the campaign, reaching new audiences through relating topics that are not typically covered together.

Media reach exceeded the prior campaign by more than 50%.  Riders conducted, on average, two press conferences a day per team for a total of 50 press conferences.


REACH (in circulation/audience numbers)







Total YTD Coverage


 *Reach does not reflect all stories.  Some broadcast and print outlets do not provide audience or circulation information
Finally, the ever-important goal of raising awareness can be calculated rather simply.  That is, awareness is raised when even one person is exposed to the disease – in their car listening to the radio, in their home reading a magazine or watching television.  In this case, we raised awareness for breast cancer not once, but more than 10 million times!

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