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There’s a chill in the air, the city lights seemed brighter and almost everywhere I went, red kettles seem to follow. The Salvation Army’s iconic red kettles filled metro-Detroit with a sense of hope, giving, and joy.

This fall and winter, I had the pleasure of working on The Salvation Army of Metro Detroit account at Franco. As an outsider to The Salvation Army’s campaign, my knowledge was just the same as the general public. Over the past few months I’ve been able to go behind the scenes and learn about their culture, get to know their staff, and understand how much work goes into a three month campaign.

Alluring Lights

While The Salvation Army is known for providing warmth and shelter, they do so much more. Before the annual Red Kettle campaign began, it was clear The Salvation Army was making an impact in its communities. The Salvation Army was featured in local news stories about their involvement to end human trafficking as well as helping those struggling with addiction.

This year, The Salvation Army began with both new and old traditions. The metro Detroit headquarters hosted a red kettle clean-up day to make sure they were all in tip-top shape. The Salvation Army also installed the world’s tallest red kettle in Cadillac Square.

Kicking off the red kettle lighting event was Grammy-nominated, Motown recording artist, KEM. KEM took time after his performance to share his connection with The Salvation Army as well. This experience was my introduction with celebrity media relations.  Weeks before the event featured long meetings, even longer hours writing and collaborating with the media to make sure everything ran smoothly.


A Change in Wind

The day before Thanksgiving proved to be a lesson in crisis communications and goodwill. Someone had stolen a red kettle at Kroger in Grosse Pointe Woods prompting our media relations team to get the word out to the community, and help make up the lost funds which provide critical social services to those in need.

While I spent the majority of the day monitoring and clipping news segments, a few desks over my supervisor was interacting with the media, answering phone call after phone call.

Despite the kettle being stolen, Kroger was kind enough to make a donation of $500 to The Salvation Army. And after hearing the news, the community was just as generous to help make up for the lost donations.

Good news continued to roll in as we shared stories with the media about an anonymous donation of gold Kruegerrand coins donated in red kettles in Farmington, Grosse Pointe, and St. Clair Shores. The South African gold coins are valued approximately $1,000 each and have been collected in red kettles over the past four years.

Moments of Impact

The Salvation Army proved once again that they are not all work and no play. This year’s Celebrity Bell Ringer Day allowed communities to donate and engage with their favorite media personalities. The following week, The Salvation Army hosted its annual Red Wings for Red Kettles where fans could meet their favorite current and alumni players and broadcasters, and receive a picture or autograph for a small donation.

My favorite moment while working on the campaign was a small interaction with bell ringer who is legally blind. A brief 10-minute conversation about her relationship with The Salvation Army taught me how to prepare someone to interact with the media, as well as the importance of time.

Time is essential when it comes to planning and executing any campaign. The time public relations practitioners spend writing, emailing, and interacting with others should always be done with intent. It is not enough to have ideas and a checklist; one must think ahead as well. It’s important to ask, what if? It’s even more important to be able to provide answers when on the other end of the microphone.

The Salvation Army and Franco have created much more than a client-agency relationship. Together, they have created a tradition of collaborative communication to impact the metro Detroit community year round.

Did you learn something new about the Red Kettle campaign? What was most surprising?

Harmoni Sargent was a PR Coordinator at Franco.

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