March 2006 - A Helping Hand

Former ERA chairman enlists the help of the board of directors to launch an industry-wide project to support the Wheelchair Foundation.

By Kelley E. Kaufman

In June 2005, former ERA Chairman Dan Danielson proposed to the Electronic Retailing Association’s (ERA) board of directors an idea that would allow both the association and the industry to give back to the community. “We have a lot of negative [publicity] thrown around about us as an industry, and we wanted to do something positive,” says Danielson, CEO of Mercury Media. The idea was to pick a charity and to put the creative talents, time and skills of the industry to good use.

“ERA has many great volunteer leaders [who] serve as members and board members,” ERA board member and CEO of Northern Response (Int’l), Ltd., Richard Stacey observes. “Many of ERA’s members have been looking to develop ways to ‘give back’ and to help others.”

The Wheelchair Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing wheelchairs to those in need, seemed like the perfect fit. “What [is appealing] about this charity,” Danielson states, “is that it’s measurable, like our business. A contribution of $75 is equal to the delivery of one wheelchair-you can see the benefits! The charity is also international in scope.”

Acting on the support he received from the board, Danielson contacted Chris Lewis, director vice president - public education for the Wheelchair Foundation, to learn more about how ERA and the industry could get involved.

Wheelchair Foundation Founder Ken Behring meets with a 13-year-old landmine victim in Afghanistan.

Established on June 13, 2000, the Wheelchair Foundation began with a simple mission: to deliver wheelchairs to people worldwide who needed them, but were unable to afford one. Lewis says the foundation estimates that over 100 million people in the world are in need of a wheelchair. Almost six years since its formation, the foundation has become the most efficient delivery source of mobility devices in the world.

“It’s a way we can immediately improve the quality of a person’s life with a $75 donation-that’s about what it costs to go out to dinner these days,” Lewis notes. “A lot of people don’t like the fact that you write a check to an organization and you don’t know where the money goes. Everybody knows that a wheelchair costs more than $75, so if you can write a check and see that a tangible item has been delivered for that small donation, [it] means so much.”

Donations are distributed in several ways. Because the organization is sponsor-driven, wheelchairs often are delivered to whatever location the sponsor designates. Corporations like Wal-Mart and Chevron have sponsored wheelchairs into communities where they have operations or partnerships, in an effort to give back. In addition, the foundation also tries to focus on landmine countries. They work closely with the U.S. State Department, which supplies matched funding on a yearly basis, and have sent wheelchairs into Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Columbia and Cambodia-all landmine hotspots.

Wheelchairs are delivered in containers of 280 directly from factories in China, the largest wheelchair manufacturers in the world, to non-governmental organizations within the countries of destination. To date, the foundation has delivered or committed over 429,000 wheelchairs. Initially, its fantasy goal was to deliver 1 million wheelchairs in the first five years.

“For many reasons, this [goal] just has not been able to be realized,” Lewis admits, “primarily because of the inability to produce and deliver large numbers of wheelchairs efficiently. Every country has different importation laws, customs and clearances and they’re constantly changing. When you’re dealing with 145 countries, it’s not like a spigot where you can just open it. If we had unlimited funding, which would be wonderful, we could get a lot more wheelchairs out.”

Lewis is quick to point out that while there are frustrations keeping them from being able to expand as quickly as they might like, “the mechanism by which we’re spreading the word of what we’re doing is by helping a great number of people get involved in the mission, and we’re seeing it as a very steady relief effort.”

Spearheaded by Danielson, ERA’s charitable initiative aims to bolster this relief effort and get as many people involved as possible. Together, he and many other industry professionals are creating a direct response campaign for the foundation. Danielson explains, “We want to bring in not only industry donations, from services to cash, but also to brand the foundation to the public and to bring in cash donations to the foundation through this campaign.”

Industry response to this initiative has been extremely positive. A variety of companies have already committed time and services to make the Wheelchair Foundation direct response campaign a success. Production services have already been offered by several firms, in addition to donations for telemarketing, tape duplication, media placement, airtime, international distribution, print and more. (For a complete list of companies and services committed at press time, see side bar at the end of the article).

“Being involved in something as worthwhile as this allows us to utilize our considerable talents collaboratively with other ERA members to achieve something that will have a measurable global significance, as well as an incredibly uplifting effect on our agency and all the groups that participate,” says Steve Netzley, president and COO of Euro RSCG 4D DRTV, of the group effort. The agency is one of several firms donating their media buying resources, including Cmedia and Mercury Media.

Icon Media Direct is also contributing media placement, reaching out to national cable, network and national syndicators to get them involved in airing the foundation spot. “I think that people in the direct response industry know how to make people respond better than any other industry in the world,” says Nancy Lazkani, Icon Media’s president and CEO.

John Bramm, managing director of TV Network UK, agrees with Lazkani. “DR is a powerful medium to raise awareness of a project or product and with a little time and effort dedicated by the entire industry, we could be an important vehicle.” He adds that TV Network’s “aim is to provide all the necessary exposure and treatment that the Wheelchair Foundation and its benefactors deserve. With access to over 150 hours of airtime a day, we are able to reach a huge section of the British public.”

In addition to TV Network UK, other companies have signed on to commit their resources to help make this campaign an international one. Oak

Lawn Marketing will contribute resources in Japan and Northern Response (Int’l), Ltd. will assist in Canada. “PanLatinoTV will help bring together the effort in Latin America,” confirms President Stan Bruckheim. “The effort for Latin America will involve local distributors, production facilities, media networks and call centers.”

Over 1,000 wheelchairs were distributed at this ceremony in Tangshan, China.

In addition to making sure that the campaign reaches a variety of countries and cultures around the world, the program also includes efforts to reach the Spanish-speaking community in the U.S. DR company 28:30 LLC “has been asked to handle the management of TV spot placement for the U.S. Hispanic marketplace,” says President Brooke Thomas. The firm will be involved in the conversation of the English productions into Spanish in particular.

Stacy Durand, chief marketing officer of Revenue Frontier, LLC, whose company has agreed to donate airtime, is pleased to see the industry focus on a cause like the Wheelchair Foundation and to see such a variety of contributions, including those from competing firms. “We’re a very competitive industry. When you look at the media agencies [involved], these are agencies that pitch against each other every single day. It’s nice to come together for a cause.”

Revenue Frontier is one of several firms currently committed to providing airtime. Paxson Communications, which has provided free short form time to a variety of charitable organizations, including Feed the Children and the American Red Cross, hopes to utilize its family friendly network to help target the campaign’s exact audience. DIRECTV and Discovery Communications are also making substantial contributions.

This campaign’s success relies not just on the production, media placement, talent and distribution services being donated. It also requires the significant support of those companies that have agreed to provide services like telemarketing, payment processing, tape duplication and shipment.

Treehouse Media is “contributing customization and duplication of the infomercial and/or spots and distributing to the stations,” Vice President Andy Donato details. “We’re incurring those costs. It’s the end of the cycle. After the show’s produced, we have to make these different versions with different numbers and distribute them to the stations.”

Also providing customization, duplication and shipping services is PMT. Bill Hynes, president of PMT, presented his employees with information on the Wheelchair Foundation and asked for their input on the company’s involvement. “Every employee,” he says, “saw this as an opportunity to contribute to a foundation that can make a dramatic difference in a demonstrable and measurable way and is looking forward to the opportunity to utilize every resource we have to make a contribution.”

The scope of this initiative extends even beyond a long form and short form spot production campaign and distribution. To supplement the DRTV campaigns in generating awareness for the Wheelchair Foundation, several companies have signed on to offer Internet, print and radio services.
One company supplying radio expertise is Marketing Architects. “We’re working in tandem with the other participants by providing strategic input on the program, 800 numbers to measure performance and creative execution. Overall, this will reach well over 10 million radio impressions per month across the country,” says Paul Schield, the firm’s director of business development.

Also widening the campaign’s reach is Novus Print Media. The company’s senior director of business development John Bosacker says, “Novus will be focused on planning and placing donation driven ads for the Wheelchair Foundation in daily paid newspapers (both national and local newspapers) and in national magazines.” Bosacker adds that “overall total circulation could reach in excess of 45 million readers within the scope of the program.”

With the talents of so many companies and industry professionals combined, everyone is hopeful that the campaign will be a success. And just like this industry, Electronic Retailer magazine and ERA will measure this campaign’s success and publish its results throughout the year. This effort is the first of its kind donated to the Wheelchair Foundation, and it provides the opportunity not only to increase donations and participation, but also to elevate awareness of a truly worthwhile cause.

“When an industry pulls together behind a project like this,” Hynes notes, “the industry sets an example of how business can give back to the world community in new ways. Perhaps we can set an example for other industries and give those who need help a different message of who we are.”

With such an extensive project, there is ample opportunity for anyone and everyone to get involved. More information on the Wheelchair Foundation can be found at its web site www.wheelchairfoundation. org. If you are interested in being a part of this industry-wide effort and providing time and services, please contact Dan Danielson of Mercury Media at [email protected] To instead make a monetary donation, please make checks payable to the Wheelchair Foundation and submit to ERA, Attn: Molly Alton Mullins, 2000 North 14th Street, Suite 300, Arlington, VA 22201.

Companies Currently Contributing to the Project


  • Discovery Communications
  • Revenue Frontier, LLC
  • Paxson Communications

Credit Card Processing

  • Transfirst ePayment Services


  • Earl Greenburg Foundation

Home Shopping

  • ShopNBC


  • Canada - Northern Response (Int’l),
  • Japan - Oak Lawn Marketing
  • Latin America - PanLatinoTV
  • United Kingdom - TV Network UK


  • Livemercial

Long Form Media Placement

  • Euro RSCG 4D DRTV
  • Mercury Media
  • Long Form Production
  • Take 2 Productions


  • Novus Print Media


  • Electronic Retailing Association


  • Marketing Architects
  • Salem Radio

Short Form Media Placement

  • Icon Media Direct
  • Cmedia

Short Form Production

  • Bob Caudill
  • Caudill & Associates

Tape Duplication and Shipment

  • PMT
  • Tree House Media


  • Jack King Celebrity Broker


  • LiveOps
  • West Corporation

U.S. Hispanic

  • 28:30 LLC

Kelley Kaufman serves as ERA’s communications manager and publications specialist. We would appreciate your feedback. To submit comments, point your browser to


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