Teresa Coles

With a heart for social good and a brain for marketing strategy, Teresa combines the two to provide counsel to nonprofits around the country. She has been a lead strategist at RP since 1992. - See more at:
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posted by Teresa Coles Oct 21,2015 @ 01:25PM

The quiet gifts of CreateAthon

Eighteen years later, and it’s CreateAthon Eve yet again. As with Christmas or any other holiday, it astounds me how quickly the calendar pages roll off to unveil our 24-hour pro bono marketing marathon. The weeks of how will we ever fit it all in preparation at Riggs Partners have come and gone, leaving us with a few quiet hours to situate our hearts and minds on what matters most with this endeavor.

Without question, we will have our A-game firing on all cylinders to produce meaningful marketing and communications strategies for eight nonprofits. We’ll meet the Herculean challenge of delivering inspired creative materials that execute the vision behind those strategies.

But that’s just here at Riggs Partners. Thirteen other agencies across the US and Canada will be holding CreateAthon events right along with us, bringing the pro bono marathon movement to their communities. All told, CreateAthon partners are serving 98 nonprofits this week. Ninety. Eight.

CreateAthoners circa 1998, during the very first CreateAthon event

Then there are the stories that will be told this week, of how CreateAthon has grown from a side project here at Riggs Partners to a sustainable nonprofit organization. You can check this national story out in none other than the Chronicle of Philanthropy, in an article released just today. I can assure you this kind of national attention never crossed our minds when 11 of us pulled the first all-nighter for charity in our old Lady Street offices.

This friends, is just the surface. In these last hours, I’m reminded of the five things CreateAthon really accomplishes inside of everyone who bumps into this 24-hour vortex of good.

  1. Connectivity: CreateAthon has given us a door to interact with some of the world’s most exceptional people, those nonprofit folks who devote every day of their lives to social causes we too seldom consider. Imagine our lives without these friendships. 

  2. Self-Discovery: We come to know a bit more about the stuff we’ve made of during CreateAthon. Most importantly, how the right energy within us can help us transcend any challenge that’s staring us in the face. 

  3. Empathy: CreateAthon brings us to the doorstep of humanity, forcing us to open ourselves to a vulnerable, emotional and passionate state of mind. This is where the truth resides, and where meaningful communications are born. 

  4. Humility: We understand this is not about us, our strategic expertise or our creative prowess. It’s about service to a cause that is bigger than ourselves.

  5. Love: CreateAthon teaches us to see clearly the gifts that we all bring to the table. It abolishes titles and departments, and catalyzes us as teammates in ways that can impact the way we work together the other 364 days of the year. 

So to every CreateAthoner far and wide, young and old, veteran and virgin: I bid you a peaceful night, and the promise of a day that will forever change you.

posted by Teresa Coles Sep 23,2015 @ 05:11PM

The social company as bedrock for success

Open any business book or magazine these days, and you’re likely to encounter narrative around the benefits of being a “social” company. In fact, there are no less than 131,960 book results on Amazon under this exact heading.

What's that all about? And how could there possibly be this much fodder around the concept? Corporate social responsibility and the use of social media appear to have grabbed the microphone on this issue, given the prolific conversations in each of these two spaces.


The path of corporate social responsibility

Corporate social responsibility has made its way from a self-regulatory construct for major corporations in the 1960s to an element of the “triple bottom line” in the 1990s. Practices include a wide range of endeavors, from environmental sustainability and product innovation to skills-based employee volunteerism and corporate philanthropy. In 2011, the concept of corporate social responsibility was identified as a driver to creating shared value (CSV) by Michael Porter of Harvard Business School fame. This advanced model seeks to link economic and societal factors through conscious decisions that:

  • Identify unmet human needs.
  • Inform new products and services.
  • Optimize productivity in the value chain.
  • Build economic development clusters.

Social media, the great connector

The skilled use of social media has been credited as a catalyst on a seemingly endless list of strategic corporate objectives: trend and product launches; long-term brand influence; short-term sales; customer service; venture capital; crisis management; recruiting, and many other areas. While there’s no denying the impact of social media on these business imperatives, some thought leaders contend that the deification of social media can sometimes become a crutch for corporate leadership and effective decision-making.

 Which brings us to the third — and I submit, most meaningful — definition of what it means to be a social company.


Social core, social company, social brand

Social companies are those in which culture, products and services are in complete alignment with the organization’s purpose, vision and mission. These corporate beliefs impact everything in the company, starting with internal behavioral systems. For example, employees in social companies behave in a way that is highly collaborative, self-sacrificing and committed to group interests. Employees in companies that are more transactional — as opposed to social — typically are less collaborative and guided by their own self-interests.

The business world has become familiar with the characteristics of social companies through the work of leading authors such as Jim Collins, Seth Godin, Stephen Covey, Terrence Deal and others. They’ve exposed us to the social infrastructure that has defined success for companies such as Amazon, Google, UPS, Hewlett Packard, Southwest Airlines, IKEA, Trader Joe’s and many others. Their research has yielded data that clearly connects social companies to higher performance levels; one study indicates that social companies consistently perform at three times the Standard & Poor’s average.

Social companies achieve this kind of outward, quantifiable success by connecting their cultural expectations to exceptional product and service delivery systems, then bringing those to market through highly authentic brand marketing. There’s no question that the Patagonia brand is a direct reflection of Patagonia, the social company. Newer companies like Warby Parker and Harry’s are bringing fresh interpretations of what it means to be a social company, and their performance is there to back it up.


Size does not make social

Being a social company is in no way restricted to Fortune 500 corporations or national retailers. Any company — no matter the size or type of market — can apply the principles of social business. All it takes is the willingness to stop and consider three important whys:

  • Why your company really exists.
  • Why defining your belief structure is important.
  • Why the way you deliver your product and service is key.

Understanding these three concepts paves the way to an effective internal culture and an external brand that resonates with the market.

I believe American business is on the precipice of creating more value for humankind than ever before. As a marketer, it’s my great pleasure to work with companies that realize this and are building cultural and operational systems that support it. The social company knows its core, nurtures it and demonstrates it in the market. Executed well, success is the only outcome.


This post originally appeared as a column in Columbia Regional Business Report.

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 20,2014 @ 08:00AM

Sustaining Our Seniors: Creating scale around senior care

Sustaining Our Seniors is all about matching people with a heart for seniors with opportunities to serve. Sustaining Our Seniors is all about matching people with a heart for seniors with opportunities to serve.

According to the most recent Census data, 1 in 8 Americans (13% of the population) are 65 or older. This is projected to grow to 1 in 5 (19.3%) by 2030, the year all members of the Baby Boomer generation will have turned 65. By 2050, seniors will make up 25% of the population.

Staggering numbers, to be sure, with a significant projected impact on the US economy, healthcare system, housing market, and all manner of other areas that affect quality of life for Americans. Perhaps the more profound consideration is the impact the “silver tsunami” already is having on individuals; older, often fragile adults who increasingly find themselves making difficult choices: food vs. prescriptions; heating bills vs. transportation; dental care vs. pet care.

It’s the type of perfect storm Sustaining Our Seniors of South Carolina is seeking to manage. This new nonprofit will serve as an intermediary designed to connect interested volunteers and financial supporters to qualified senior-serving organizations throughout the state.

“Senior citizens and vulnerable adults need a champion,” said Coretta Bedsole, president of Sustaining Our Seniors board of directors. “We want to be that champion by identifying resources, information, guidance and service options to improve their quality of life.”

Connecting people to organizations in the way of donations, hands-on service, and skills-based volunteerism can help build capacity for the many senior service programs already in existence throughout South Carolina. Leaders from Sustaining Our Seniors are quick to point out the organization is not designed to replicate services, but to help build scale behind those services in a way that will enable them to deliver even more assistance to South Carolina seniors.

The RP CreateAthon team has the privilege of helping this organization develop foundational strategies such as product design, organizational development, and brand marketing. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with an organization from the ground up, and look forward to helping this organization connect people with a heart for seniors to opportunities for service and support.

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 16,2014 @ 03:32PM

Helping Y Guides Grow

We’ve seen our fair share of great youth programs over the past 17 years of CreateAthon. This year, we’re pleased to have discovered yet another program that offers a positive experience for kids: Y Guides. Founded in 1926 by Harold Keitner, Director of the YMCA in St. Louis, Y Guides is dedicated to forging bonds between fathers and their children through dedicated time together and specific activities designed especially for them.

Nation Chief Chris Miller and his favorite Y Guides at a Longhouse camping event: daughters Eva (left) and Helen (right). Nation Chief Chris Miller and his favorite Y Guides at a Longhouse camping event: daughters Eva (left) and Helen (right).

Inspired by Native American culture, dads and their kids form tribes and get together on a monthly basis to enjoy activities ranging from arts, crafts and outdoor exploration to discovering local, family-friendly attractions. These individual tribes combine to form a larger federation and gather from time to time for signature events such as campouts and other excursions.

Chris Miller, as Nation Chief, leads the dads in the local Three Rivers Federation. He has been involved in Y Guides for several years with his two daughters, Eva (9) and Helen (7). “I did Y Guides with my dad as a kid, and it was something really special between the two of us. It’s time that’s set aside just for dads and their kids — no relying on moms, no dropping off with other leaders. Dads are 100% responsible for the programs and for time spent with their children. I’m thankful for this time that I have with my girls, and my greatest hope is that we can make the kind of memories together that I did with my dad. I can’t imagine a greater gift than that.”

As well-established as the Y Guide program is, Chris tells us that participation in the Midlands is at an all-time low. “That’s why we applied to CreateAthon,” he said. “We know the program is growing in other similar markets, but for some reason it has dwindled here. There’s also research that shows the positive impact Y Guides has on young boys and girls as they grow. So we need to turn this enrollment trend around, and we know the CreateAthon team can help us do that.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Y Guides, help out now by spreading the word about this wonderful program for dads and their children. In the meantime, be on the lookout for more news about Y Guides and the work we’ll be doing for them during CreateAthon next Thursday, October 23. While you’re at it, check out all the national CreateAthon action that’ll be taking place next week as part of international Pro Bono Week. As an official Pro Bono Week partner, CreateAthon is bringing together 14 groups across the country that are hosting CreateAthon events next week. We couldn’t be more pleased!

posted by Teresa Coles Oct 15,2014 @ 04:58PM

The Arts Empowerment Project: Anticipating the Power of Pro Bono

I feel so energetic just being here.

I’m bowled over by their passion and thoughtfulness.

It’s already more than I ever imagined.

This was the take from Natalie Allen, founder of the Arts Empowerment Project in Charlotte, NC, in a post-briefing-meeting interview with our friends from GreyHawk Films. These generous folks were on hand to capture initial footage for a short film that will chronicle the CreateAthon experience from a nonprofit organization’s point of view. Not surprisingly, we chose to capture the briefing meeting as the nonprofit organization’s first official encounter with the CreateAthon model. We were also interested in getting Natalie’s immediate response coming out of that meeting.

“I’d heard about CreateAthon, and knew the program could be effective in helping us shape our brand strategy,” said Natalie. “But I was not expecting the depth of insightful questioning, from the need we meet in the market, to how we deliver our services and how we’re funded. I can already see that this process will facilitate a great deal more for us than developing marketing messages.”

Oh. Yeah.

We’re totally in awe of the Arts Empowerment Project, which is dedicated to helping at-risk children see new opportunities for their lives as a result of being exposed to the arts. Our CreateAthon team plans to address brand strategy, development strategy, and specific marketing and communications tactics to help the organization build scale behind its efforts.

Natalie tells us she fully recognizes the need for nonprofits to have clarity around their brand. “With information at our fingertips all the time, you really have to capture someone’s attention immediately,” she said. “I’m thrilled to have this team of professionals helping us translate what we’re all about, in a way that inspires people to respond to our cause.”


Natalie Allen presents the Arts Empowerment Project's mission during a fundraising event. Natalie Allen presents the Arts Empowerment Project's mission during a fundraising event.


She adds that the CreateAthon experience is well timed for her organization. “Like so many young nonprofits, we were faced with the challenge of putting all of our upfront resources into program development versus investing in brand strategy and communications,” said Natalie. “We know that both are equally important, and the gift of these marketing services through CreateAthon will take our program to the next level. We feel honored to be here, and to have been selected by the people at Riggs Partners who started the whole concept of CreateAthon.”

Telling the story of how young people can redefine their lives through the arts? The honor is all ours.

Stay tuned for more on the Arts Empowerment Program and their journey through CreateAthon, as it all unfolds during Pro Bono Week 2014.




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