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Walkathon 2014

February 26, 2014 divider image

On the morning of 17th Feb, the Jogger’s Park near Ramgiri bears a deserted and forlorn look. The tide has ebbed. The multitudes have vanished. Yesterday morning, ie on 16th February, Sunday, this very location was teeming with thousands; and the excitement had to be seen to be believed.

The Walkathon is perhaps the most visible PR event which includes people of all ages and brings them together for a few hours on a Sunday morning, with a simple yet far-reaching message – Walk for Life! Walking, especially in the morning is widely perceived and now increasingly accepted as a means to a healthy life, and this needs as much publicity as possible. Though many believe it to be a competitive event in the city’s sport calendar, I would say undoubtedly that it is an event which uses the platform to spread the message of healthy living. And how well was this represented when we had the youngest participant aged 6 and the oldest aged 88! Some of these exceptional participants were recognized and felicitated during the closing ceremony.  A young lady of 29, who is a patient of rheumatoid arthritis with both hips replaced, impressed by walking and completing the 9 kms event. Kudos to their joie-de-vivre!

Two months of planning, weighing changes in the event as also the details and options for managing the various aspects such as registration / distribution / collection / refreshments / locations/ set up/ add-ons, etc. not to forget following up with and convincing sponsors, negotiating with the vendors, chasing them for delivery and execution, ensuring and managing media coverage are all over in the space of 3 hours on a Sunday morning.

The prime objective – PR – was achieved over the last 3-4 weeks by spreading the message over the internet using social media, following it up with information and advertisements in print media, talk shows on Radio, Static Hoarding, Banners and posters spread across the city at schools, colleges, public places, offices, factories, various government offices and finally also through hoardings mounted on moving trucks which moved all over the city spreading the message of the event and the benefits of walking. A pre-event press conference also ensured a huge coverage across multi lingual newspapers all of who covered and shared the details for the benefit of their readers. It would be amiss not to acknowledge the local print media, Times of India, Radio Mirchi, Cartel Systems and Attrait Solutions all of whom gave their best support.

There were several innovations in this edition……. The pre and post event venue area was double that of earlier years to ensure better space for the thousands who attend the programme.  A police band was introduced to encourage the participants at the start line and in between laps. In addition, single use multi-purpose fluorescent coloured wrist bands were introduced both for the purpose of identifying the participants walking various distances, and to double up as refreshment coupons.  Special quality dri-fit T-Shirts were also introduced. All young participants were given helium balloons which bore the logos of the sponsors as well as Rotary International.  Aerial videography and still photography was done to enable better understanding of the massive size of the contingents who walk.

One way of ensuring good recall value to anything is to make it memorable for those who attend. This year it was the intention to do this very thing. One buzz word (or phrase) we used all along was – fun for the family. To the many who did not know of past Walkathons, everyone involved in the registrations only pushed the word “Carnival”. In the end, it was a fun filled morning in all respects – fantastic weather, clear sky, police band on one side playing “Kadam Kadam badhaye ja” with children walking around with balloons, hot poha and idli sambhar washed down with coffee or tea; and a young and enthusiastic group of college students exhorting the crowds to sing with them to “ashaayen” ………. The word memorable seems rather lame….the event will remain in the hearts and minds the whole year round, till the next edition comes around in 2015, and brings with it even more innovation.

Another aim from the start was to give back in return something of value to the sponsors, for their support to this PR project. Overcoming skepticism was difficult, and at times we did feel we were promising them something which would be difficult to achieve.  However, post facto, the Walkathon team is confident that our sponsors have nothing to complain about; and, if considered from impact point of view, the value per rupee spent and recall value of the project is astounding. Gratitude is due particularly to Dr Arneja (Arneja Heart Institute), Mrs Neeta Buche and Mr Punit Sehgal (Axis Bank), Mrs Deepali Kale (Jaika Insurance Brokerage) and Mr Rahul Gugaliya (Godrej Properties).

One is reminded of a Carlos Castaneda quote on spirit, perception, intent, and freedom  – “The third point of reference is freedom of perception; it is intent; it is spirit; the somersault of thought into the miraculous; the act of reaching beyond our boundaries and touching the inconceivable.” Well, in all respects the members and spouses, rotaractors, etc simply rose to the occasion and ensured that they had the intent, they had the perception and the spirit to pull off the inconceivable!  Or simply put, “Look at Not why it can’t be done, but how it can be done

Nimish Sutaria

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