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Marketing helped save the world

By the end of the 1940s, America and its allies had met one of the greatest challenges ever faced in human history. All Americans had given their share and brought their resources, time and talents to the cause. Soldiers gave the last full measure. Companies retooled to outfit the troops. Citizens bought war bonds. Ad men helped sell them, and told us that loose lips sink ships and Rosie the Riveter could help win the war.

It is no surprise, then, that ad men of the Greatest Generation founded the Ad Council of Rochester.

On Dec. 2, 1949, a group of these professionals met in Rochester to honor Kodak ad man W.B. "Pete" Potter, who recently had been named chairman of the Association of National Advertisers. At this dinner, Pete challenged group members to use their craft toward a useful and productive end. To us, this idea-which would require creating a new organization with the active participation of the media and advertising agencies, the financial support of corporations and countless hours from volunteers-might seem too idealistic. But these people knew what could be accomplished when everyone played a part.

The Ad Council of Rochester has spent the last 60 years proving them right.

In the 1950s, under the guidance of Pete Potter, our first board chairman, we helped the Red Cross to launch the first civilian blood collection program in the United States. We supported the National Safety Council’s Green Cross for Safety campaign, the Memorial Art Gallery and the Salvation Army.

Through the 1960s, we were heavily involved in the Red Feather campaigns, helping to raise millions for the Red Cross and the Community Chest, precursor to the United Way. We also helped raise money for the expansion of Rochester Institute of Technology and promoted classical music in Rochester through the Civic Music Association, precursor to the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra.

In the 1970s, the Ad Council became more involved in work for individual non-profit organizations, including the YMCA, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the Rochester Association for the United Nations and the Urban League.

In the 1980s, the Ad Council and its media partners supported a huge array of causes including helping to fight a new foe, AIDS, in partnership with AIDS Rochester. We partnered again with the United Way to help create the Volunteer Connection campaign, which brings thousands of volunteers to area non-profits.

In the 1990s, we helped rename Lifespan of Greater Rochester Inc. We created the Al Sigl Center’s Just One campaign, which has now raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, one dollar at a time. We developed the WillPower campaign, which encouraged thousands of people to leave a lasting legacy by including charities in their wills.

Over the past decade, we’ve helped reduce childhood lead poisoning by 60 percent, helped uninsured women get cancer screenings, and created the H20 Hero to fight backyard water pollution, among many other things. And we refocused our efforts from tactical support toward helping non-profits develop the skills and capacity to be more successful through the principles of marketing.

The Ad Council, as an organization, cannot take credit for this legacy of accomplishment. We have a small, dedicated staff, but no staff could be large enough to meet the diversity of needs we’ve addressed. This legacy is truly owned by the hundreds and thousands of volunteers who make this work possible.

Today they are the corporate marketers who help write communications plans. They are the Internet specialists who speak at our workshops. They are the branding experts who help non-profits define their role in the community. They are the ad women and men who help create community-changing public service efforts.

In celebration of our 60 years of community-changing volunteering, we are kicking off an effort to collect the names of as many of these volunteers as possible. The windows of our Village Gate offices are covered with a small start-just 400 of our current volunteers. We’ll be adding more from our archives, but we are asking those who have been involved with the Ad Council over the past 60 years to give us the names of council volunteers so that we can provide this public recognition.

We’re not sure of the total number of volunteers who have served the community through the Ad Council, but in honor of 60 years of service, we’ve established a goal of 6,000 names, which can be sent to info@adcouncilroch.org.

The world has changed in 60 years. The challenges seem more daunting, more complicated. But the Ad Council of Rochester’s goal of building capacity within the non-profit community isn’t changing. That’s how this new generation will continue to use the resources entrusted to all of us, as originally envisioned in December 1949, "for the betterment of the community in which we live."

Todd Butler is president and CEO of the Advertising Council of Rochester Inc.

12/11/09 (c) 2009 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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