Julie Sneider
View from the Waiting Room

Pink Room a careful approach to cause-based marketing

By - Aug 2nd, 2010 04:00 am
Get a daily rundown of the top stories on Urban Milwaukee

What impressed Ginny Finn most about the new Pink Room at the InterContinental Milwaukee hotel was that the idea behind dedicating a room to the fight against breast cancer came from three hotel employees who all had some connection to the disease.

Finn is executive director of the nonprofit organization After Breast Cancer Diagnosis (ABCD), a local one-to-one mentoring program for breast cancer patients. ABCD will benefit from bookings of two InterContinental hotel rooms that have been redecorated in various shades of pink to signify support for women and their families touched by breast cancer. The rooms – one featuring a king-size bed and the other two doubles – also come with pink gourmet cupcakes, a $20 gift card to CLEAR, the hotel’s cocktail and tapas lounge, and a breast cancer awareness keepsake. Guests also may share their personal cancer stories in a journal kept in the room or on the Pink Room blog found at www.pinkroomstories.com.

A portion of the proceeds from room bookings — about $25 per night’s stay — will go to ABCD, founded a decade ago by Melodie Wilson, the Milwaukee television journalist who died of breast cancer in 2009. After her initial diagnosis in 1992, Wilson spent the rest of her life advocating on behalf of cancer patients and their families.

The idea for the Pink Room came from InterContinental’s catering manager Bridget Gallagher, executive assistant Sarah Geitner, general manager Tim Smith and Susan Cusatis, the Milwaukee business travel manager for Marcus Hotels & Resorts, the InterContinental’s parent company.

All wanted to do something at the hotel to show support for people going through breast cancer. Cusatis herself is a survivor — she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003; and Gallagher and Geitner both knew others close to them who’ve dealt with the disease. Smith indicated his support for the project after Gallagher and Geitner brought the idea to his attention.

Hotel officials contacted Finn and ABCD at the recommendation of Cusatis, whose morale was lifted by an ABCD mentor during her cancer fight and who now volunteers as an ABCD mentor to help other women.

“The personalized support provided by ABCD is quite powerful to anyone diagnosed,” Cusatis said in an interview after the downtown Milwaukee hotel hosted a Pink Room open house late last month.

Finn said she appreciated the fact that the hotel sought her and ABCD’s permission before choosing it to be the benefactor of the proceeds.

“They approached us in a business-like, sincere and humane way,” Finn said. “They didn’t come to us and say, ‘We’re going to do this to you.’ They wanted to know if their idea for the Pink Room would be respectful of people going through breast cancer. They said they wanted it to be genuinely helpful and didn’t want it to be a gimmick.”

The hotel sought Finn’s counsel on what the room should contain (the journal and information on ABCD, for example) to be consistent with ABCD’s mission, and brought in a local designer to work with Gallagher, Geitner and Cusatis on how to appropriately carry the breast cancer awareness theme throughout the rooms.

Not only are the rooms tastefully decorated in a modern style using shades of pink “that anyone would feel comfortable in,” Finn said, the idea of allowing women and other guests affected by breast cancer to write, blog or videotape their personal stories while staying in a relaxing environment fits ABCD’s mission of providing support and comfort to cancer survivors.

A few other U.S. hotels have used pink themes to raise breast cancer awareness. The Hard Rock Hotels in several cities including Chicago, for example, have hosted breast cancer survivor “Pinktober” parties featuring pink towels and sheets during the month of October (National Breast Cancer Awareness Month), with proceeds going to breast cancer research organizations.

But unlike those events, InterContinental Milwaukee’s Pink Room isn’t tied to a specific event or time of year. It’s an ongoing promotion that will help raise ABCD’s profile, Finn said.

And in her opinion, the InterContinental’s project passes the “think before you pink” test for cause-based marketing.

Ever cautious about cause-based marketing being used to sell for-profit products and services, Finn urges consumers to ask whether companies are transparent about which charity will benefit and the percentage or dollar amount in sales that will go toward the cause. When it comes to breast cancer awareness, Finn recommends the website thinkbeforeyoupink.org, sponsored by the Breast Cancer Action organization, which offers a series of questions consumers should ask themselves before buying something with a pink ribbon on it.

As for the Pink Room, proceeds from room bookings will help pay for ABCD services, all of which are provided free to people diagnosed with breast cancer, Finn said. ABCD trains its mentors – more than 500 have been trained since the group’s inception — and some Pink Room proceeds will help fund activities such as mentor outreach and continuing education. In fact, on Aug. 14 ABCD will host a continuing education session for mentors featuring some nationally-recognized speakers.

While they’re in Milwaukee, perhaps some of the session’s attendees might want to book a Pink Room.

What do ThirdCoast Digest readers think of cause-based marketing? Are you more likely to buy something if you know it will benefit a nonprofit or charitable organization? Please share your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us