Nextel Donate-a-Phone Program
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Holmes Report

Nextel Donate-a-Phone Program

Nextel’s American Red Cross Donate a Phone campaign is a unique cause-related program incorporating a timely national issue, a national non-profit in need, an on-going telecommunications industry issue, and a new corporate initiative.

Paul Holmes

Nextel’s American Red Cross Donate a Phone campaign is a unique cause-related program incorporating a timely national issue (military deployment and relevant social services), a national non-profit in need (American Red Cross), an on-going telecommunications industry issue (environment/phone recycling), and a new corporate initiative (creating Nextel’s first integrated, cross-departmental national public affairs program).  The compilation of these elements into a streamline and coordinated program took only 45 days, and has already well exceeded the program’s fundraising goals.

Challenge:  In late 2002/early 2003, Carter Ryley Thomas (CRT) began working with the Public Affairs group of Nextel Communications – a Fortune 300 company based in Reston, Va., and a leading provider of fully integrated, wireless communications services – to develop cause-related initiatives for Nextel’s 2003 calendar year. Initially, possible program topics focused on issues such as driving safety. However, with the likelihood of America going to war in the Middle East looming at that time, CRT recognized that the climate for cause-related programs would soon shift – directing the interest of consumers and the media toward the pending military deployment and the subsequent military actions in Iraq.

Program Details:  CRT therefore redirected the focus of possible campaigns to address local community needs as they related to the hundreds of thousands of military personnel being deployed. Through previous work with the American Red Cross, CRT was familiar with the Armed Forces Emergency Services – a historically under-funded and under-promoted service of the Red Cross, but one that has provided the critical communications line between military members and their families for more than 100 years. With a large volume of military personnel expected to be deployed, CRT recognized that this service would quickly need additional resources to support tens of thousands of American military families.

As a result, CRT approached Nextel with the proposal of developing a national market-by-market cause-related campaign to raise funds and publicity for the American Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services. The vehicle to do so would be an existing wireless industry program called Donate a Phone – which enables companies such as Nextel to create phone recycling programs that turn wireless phones into financial resources for non-profit organizations such as the American Red Cross.

Planning/Objectives:  As a result of its recommendations, CRT was given 45 days to do the following:
• Develop a fundraising framework to generate at least $200,000 for the American Red Cross in 2003, while at the same time driving consumer traffic to Nextel Retail Stores.
• Create Nextel’s first cross-company communications campaign that would touch all operating groups within the organization.
• Create a turnkey program so that, once launched by CRT-coordinated events in both Washington D.C. and California, Nextel’s internal public affairs team could execute the program throughout the rest of the year.

Audience Analysis:  CRT recognized that it had to engage audiences on a number of different levels. First, it needed to engage roughly 15,000 Nextel employees – from corporate headquarters to sales staff in retail outlets – to embrace and support the Red Cross Armed Forces Emergency Services as their cause-related campaign for 2003. Additionally, CRT was to communicate with American Red Cross chapters across the United States to help them understand the volume and benefits behind partnering with Nextel on a local level. Finally, the third audience was the general consumer and understanding that communications to consumers had to carry a cause/benefit message that transcended individual political feelings toward military deployment.

Strategic Approach:  By leveraging the wireless industry’s existing recycling program – Donate a Phone – create a national cause-related campaign for Nextel Communications that positively aligned and assisted both the American Red Cross and military families, while at the same time provide the general consumer with a unique way to show their support for military members and their families. 

Research:  Using data gathered from Nextel, the Red Cross and military sources, CRT researched and identified markets in which the American Red Cross, the U.S. Military and Nextel Communications had a physical presence. CRT then created a matrix so that the program team could analyze market opportunities and create a multi-tiered market initiative by which the program could prioritize its initiatives. At the same time, CRT integrated itself into the numerous operational departments of both Nextel (Public Affairs, Marketing/Advertising, Sales, Sponsorship, Retail Sales, Finance, Web Design and Warehouse/Distribution) and the American Red Cross (Marketing, Public Relations, Celebrity Outreach, Web Design and Development) to better understand how each group uniquely communicated with its employees and constituents. From that knowledge, CRT identified the best vehicles by which each group could deliver program information in a compelling manner.

Through CRT’s research, it was uncovered that:
More than 150,000 U.S. troops were in the Gulf within striking distance of Iraq, from eastern Pakistan to coastal countries of East Africa. More troops were arriving daily, including 38,000 reservists who were part of the largest single reserve force call-up since the war on terrorism began.  No one was reporting or predicting how large the build up would be. (as reported by CNN)

CRT found that a critical component of the American Red Cross during high military activity was the Armed Forces Emergency Services (AFES) – an under-funded program providing emergency communication between military families, veterans’ counseling, emergency financial assistance and general aid.

AFES serves 1.4 million active duty personnel and 1.5 million members of the National Guard and the Reserves who reside in nearly every local community in America.

CRT’s research indicated that deployments over the past few years had depleted the Armed Forces Emergency Services Fund – putting funds at a critical level of $5 million when it should be closer to $50 million.

Though not everyone agreed whether or not America should be at war, Americans were looking for ways to support our troops. Because of the economic climate, people also were watching their spending closely.  Providing people with a way to help without asking them to spend money was very relevant.

The Wireless Foundation – the wireless industry’s philanthropic entity – provided statistical research to predict the estimated number of phones that would be collected. These numbers provided facts and figures for the press. The estimate that “more than 30 million wireless phones lay idle in American homes and businesses” was the most useful message for the program.

Nextel was finalizing its national Red Cross Disaster Services Agreement which made the program a logical extension of the existing relationship.

The American Red Cross utilized more than 4,500 Nextel units in chapters across the U.S.

Execution/Tactics:  CRT’s first challenge was to prioritize the markets, taking into account existing and new Nextel retail locations, key military installations, significant Red Cross markets and markets with Nextel on-the-ground support – and cross-referencing all of these to determine the most significant areas of need and value. Other major components included:
• Working with Nextel to develop a strong retail strategy. In addition to preparing collateral for Nextel Retail Stores, a new financial model had to be created as Nextel had never undertaken a national cause program that included in-store monetary donations. 
• Developing and implementing a strategy surrounding increased customer loyalty efforts – by pushing the message out via and producing communications/support materials for salespeople and managers to send to key business contacts.
• Developing and implementing a comprehensive employee communications strategy.
• Creating local launches and PR campaign plans, based on existing sponsorships and relationships.
• Designing and producing core materials (see enclosures).
• Identifying opportunistic tie-ins.
• Working with Nextel and the American Red Cross to hold a national launch in Washington, D.C. and a secondary launch on the West Coast with the San Diego Padres major league baseball team.
• Seamlessly passing the program baton to Nextel, ensuring that once launched, Nextel would be in a position to “receive the baton” and produce a successful program throughout the year.

Summary of Results:  In the eight months since the launch, Nextel has already raised more than $350,000 for the American Red Cross – well exceeding the one-year goal of $200,000. Within its original 45-day challenge, CRT successfully accomplished its outlined objectives including the conception and coordination of a new cash donation component at Nextel’s retail level, as well as supplementary requests made by both Nextel and the American Red Cross.

In line with Nextel’s criteria for success, CRT: engaged and educated multiple departments within both Nextel and the American Red Cross about the goals, expectations and rewards relating to the Donate a Phone program; designed and produced in-store marketing materials for retail distribution; created PSA scripts for Nextel’s advertising group; developed media materials; created program “toolkits” for public affairs teams and store managers; concepted, developed and coordinated program components and visuals for launch events in Washington D.C. and San Diego; and coordinated online components for both and

Since then, Nextel’s Public Affairs team has successfully continued the program by incorporating a myriad of consumer outreach components, including: leveraging the program as a key message for its number portability communications plan; a Red Cross Donate a Phone drive in San Diego; Red Cross Donate a Phone messaging in Nextel’s new DONE ad campaign; an Arizona Diamondbacks pre-game event; print and broadcast media interviews in key markets across the United States; a corporate golf tournament; program components in multiple new store openings – including Nextel’s 500th store opening in Sacramento, where the chamber of commerce issued a donation challenge to all local businesses; and in Montgomery County (Md.), a chamber event leveraged the Red Cross Donate a Phone program in recognizing returning soldiers. The program has been so successful that Nextel has determined to renew its commitment to the program for 2004. 

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