Recently I had the opportunity to interview Jimmy Delaney, Senior Director of Marketing for the Lady Vols. In a conference call, myself, Angie Taylor with public relations firm Weber Shandwick and Todd Wakefield of SECJAMS got a close look at what is happening with the Pat Summitt Foundation and the “We Back Pat” campaign across the country.
Jimmy has been on board with the program since its inception and was candid with his experiences involving Coach Summitt, her countless supporters and the future of the Foundation.
Let’s Tip it Off!!
Angie: How were things kicked off in the athletic department at the University?
Jimmy: Back in August, Pat decided to come out and let everyone know that she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia/Alzheimer’s. Also that she was going to fight it and do everything that she could, our fanbase wanted to rally around her and do something supportive for her. We very quickly put a program together as a symbol of her fight and the “We Back Pat” program was something to unify the fanbase and support Pat but also had a fundraising aspect to it so people could raise money for Alzheimer’s research.
We rolled out the orange “We Back Pat” shirts and as soon as we did, it was a huge success. Everybody and anybody wanted one. The ten dollar pledge made it incredibly easy for people to get and we sold them at the bookstore, various retailers in Knoxville and then, based on demand, added it to the online shop. A billboard came out of that, where fans could sign the billboard and leave a message for Pat. To date, we have sold over 50,000 shirts. Support of the program has been guge with $200,000 raised for Alzheimer’s research.
Cam: Proceeds for the “We Back Pat” program are going to Alzheimer’s Tennessee, Inc. Have you seen any direct impact of the campaign with Alzheimer’s Tennessee and people living with the disease in the state right now?
Jimmy: Absolutely. That was one of the things obviously when we first came out with the “We Back Pat” campaign that in talking to Pat, she wanted the money to stay here in east Tennessee W used Alzheimer’s Tennessee as well as UT Medical Center and later the Pat Summitt Foundation was formed. Alzheimer’s Tennessee has done an incredible job in helping us promote the “We Back Pat” campaign and unifying their folks and volunteers. The number of phone calls they received, not just from people that wanted to donate and help out, but from numbers of people saying that for the last few years, something had felt a little off and they didn’t know what if was or were afraid to find out what it was but had gotten the courage from what Pat had done to go and get it checked out. There are now many people aware and have been diagnosed or looking for it in a family member of friend or even people seeking advice on what it takes to be a caregiver for someone else, that number has definitely increased.
Also the number of calls to Alzheimer’s Tennessee have increased and they attribute that to Pat and the “We Back Pat” campaign.
Todd: A couple of weeks ago the SEC did their promotion of “We Back Pat,” where all the teams participated. How did that come about? Did the SEC contact you or did you contact the SEC?
Jimmy: We were both doing work simultaneously. What the SEC did was tremendous and that was a really big thing. That was really the first large effort in support of the Pat Summitt Foundation. We had reached out to a number of the schools that the Lady Vols were going to be playing against on the road, SEC and non SEC teams, and asked them, “Do you have something planned for when we come there?” just so we had a feel for what was going on. I reached out to our SEC away game opponents and they started to talk and because of what Pat has done for the game and the SEC and for many of them personally, they all wanted to do something big to support Pat. Our efforts were paralleled.
We called them together and came up with the “We Back Pat” Week and the SEC did a lot to drive the train on that and to work with all of the schools. They got them to all wear the “We Back Pat” shirts and to pass out informational cards about the Pat Summitt Foundation.as well as the video we put together that they all ran. In it Pat was thanking each one of the SEC fanbases for their support and in return, each SEC school sent a video of their head coach saying for example, “ Hi, I’m Andy Landers and I back Pat.” We took all those videos and made a montage and made sure all of our fans, at our games in Thompson-Boling Arena were aware that the SEC was supporting Pat. It was a really neat deal that everybody was doing something together for Pat and that while they can be big competitors on the court, off the court they were all in it together.
Each school has helped raise money and at the SEC tournament there will be a presentation. It really has been great to see all twelve schools in the SEC banding together and doing something for Alzheimer’s research, awareness as well as for Pat and her foundation.
Angie: From a PR perspective, we are always talking about media spread and reach. From the local media in Knoxville and the regional media throughout the SEC, how is the We Back Pat program translating nationally, in your opinion?
Jimmy: Obviously as soon as Pat announced her diagnosis, everybody wanted to be the first to carry it, from Oprah Winfrey to Brian Williams with NBC Nightly News. That was incredible. It was overwhelming and awesome all at once. What we have done here with the programs is to reach out throughout the community. Our local media partners have been amazing, anytime we’ve done something , they have promoted it and they continue to promote things even when we’re not doing an event. If it is a local Alzheimer’s Tennessee event, they are out there promoting that. Obviously regionally a lot of folks have picked up stories about it and come in for games. We’ve seen a number of media requests for credentials for home games increase with people wanting to come out and get B-roll or a photo of Pat on the sidelines still coaching.
Then nationally there have been lots of people covering it all over the place as well as the reaction of other coaches and reactions of people not even associated with the sports world. Some of the letters and things that have come into the basketball office, there was a huge percentage of letters form the State of Connecticut and those people supporting Pat as well as some well know celebrities. Matthew McConaughey even sent a letter supporting Pat. So we’ve definitely seen the personal touch as well as the national touch of people wanting to cover it because it is news when someone with Pat’s stature comes out with an announcement like that and too it helps to create awareness.
Pat Summitt is an iconic figure and she’s come out and said, “Hey look there’s something up and I need help.” To see what people are doing has been great. When we did the shirt campaign we got a tweet from Darren Rovell about it. I think if you think about all of that social media-wise, the Facebook posts, the personal messages, the former players with big names like Candace Parker and Kara Lawson, all of that we have seen a big increase in people giving us support.
Cam: What do you see as the long term goals for this campaign?
Jimmy: The “We Back Pat” campaign is something that we started and expect to see it continuing for a while. The orange shirts that we did went like gangbusters at first. 5000 in a week, then 10,000, 20,000.... But when you see the program, not so much as a retail opportunity for people to help donate money but more as an overall campaign to show support and when you think about all of the other schools that have done “We Back Pat” games or the SEC “We Back Pat” Week, it is something that we want to see it continue and continue to give people the opportunity to show their support. I think it is something that isn’t just here in Knoxville or just here on our campus but that it will progress into something that down the road ten or fifteen years from now, people can say that this is how, in the sports world, we supported Pat Summitt and her foundation.
Cam: What is a personal Pat Summitt moment as you’ve been working on this campaign with her?
Jimmy: I was in a meeting with some folks that want to do a rally and sell shirts for the biker community. I don’t know if I have one single moment in thinking about the whole thing. The news came out and you have to deal with the initial shock and you want to do everything you can to support her and help her. From there, the amount of phone calls and emails and people wanting to come up with some way to show support and help was initially overwhelming but awesomely so because of the sheer amount of people that were calling from all over the place. I would never have thought I would be in a meeting with a Harley Davidson dealership because they want to do a biker rally for bikers that back Pat.
The goosebump moment for me in all of this was when the shirts went out and after just 4 days, we sold 11,000. But it wasn’t just here in Knoxville, the orders were coming in from all over the place. I walked into our campus bookstore and I saw people literally with armloads of them, on the phone wanting to know, “What size is so-and-so?” People didn’t say, “ Oh no our coach has Alzheimer’s, what’s going to happen?” The fact is their thinking was, “ We have to rally for Pat. We have to do this for Pat.” Standing there watching the scene at the bookstore, almost every line had somebody with not just a “We Back Pat” shirt but “We Back Pat” shirts, loads of them....
I think you hear about things like this and I’ve been a part of this for a long time and I’ve seen the national and even international appeal that Pat has but when you physically see people showing that support, it is awesome. It is a pretty cool thing to think, “Wow this thing is really going to make a difference.” And the money that has been generated, $200,000 in three or four months that is nothing short of incredible.
Todd: What does the SEC women’s basketball tournament have planned for the “We Back Pat” promotion?
Jimmy: The majority of what it is going to be is a recap of what took place throughout the Conference during that week and the collaborative efforts of everybody and the money raised.
Kind of a “this is what took place on all of the campuses” and here’s how much money was raised but more so a look at the awareness that was created for it. They are still going to pass out information about the Pat Summitt Foundation and encourage people to give support and “join Pat’s team.” We wanted to unify our fans and now the SEC want to unify the conference. It doesn’t matter what “color you bleed.” We did some shirts that said “I bleed orange” or “I bleed crimson” or “I bleed purple and gold” but “I wear purple to back Pat.” That was one of the really cool things that came out of the SEC’s “We Back Pat” Week were these shirts that all of the Conference schools were selling on their online shops or in their brick and mortar stores, to unify the fanbases. There was an SEC shirt that had the logo on it and it was the SEC “backing Pat.”
What they have planned is to have all the institutions in the Conference collectively saying, “She’s a coach, she’s our friend, she’s our family and we’re here to back her.”
Angie: Another question that immediately comes to mind: When you think about figures like Kay Yow, Lance Armstrong, Arthur Ashe and other recognizable sports figures and how they brought awareness overall to issues, how do you compare the awareness that Pat has brought to Alzheimer’s and, overall, the activation for a cause?
Jimmy: That’s a good question. If you or I get diagnosed with something, the local media isn’t going to cover it. In this case, an obstacle turned into a stepping stone. When Pat came out with the news everyone wanted to cover it and it gave her an opportunity. We were on a call with someone months ago that said that there has never really been a face or notable person outside of Ronald Reagan or the country artist Glen Campbell to come come out and say they have Alzheimer’s. The baby boomers are moving into that and it may be something that many may have to face.
When you have a notable athlete, coach or sports icon of course it is going to be covered by ESPN or CBS Sports but in this case it stretches across to ABC and NBC and the New York Times, all of that, across the board when it is someone that is an icon or a celebrity. It is an important thing to get their message across to everyone and not just sports fans or someone that is really into music of whatever it might be....
Something we looked at when they started forming the Pat Summitt Foundation was at the Jimmy V Foundation and the Kay Yow Fund and that is really where they want to go. Pat is bigger than Knoxville, she’s bigger than the University of Tennessee, the State of Tennessee or women’s basketball. Across the country, she has a national appeal and a following, even overseas there are people who know who Pat Summitt is and send us letters. I think her iconic status will lend her the ability to really get people to pay attention. What is it she can do on Capital Hill because of here name to get more research dollars dedicated to Alzheimer’s?
Being a big name like that in the sport, it transcends and covers a whole gamut of people. You may never have watched a women’s basketball game but you probably know who Pat Summitt is....
Cam: Tyler Summitt has been very visible and vocal since his mother made the announcement in August. From your perspective, what has been Tyler’s involvement in the campaign?
Jimmy: Tyler has been awesome! I have know Tyler since he was about four or five years old and what his is willing to do for his Mom is tremendous. All of us, we’re talking about Pat Summitt but when you think about Tyler, that is his mother. He is mature beyond his years and has been involved in every single detail. He has been excited about what the Pat Summitt Foundation can do and what “We Back Pat” has done so far. Tyler, being a member of the men’s basketball team, was part of the “We Back Pat” night for the UConn game and showing that it wasn’t just women’s basketball, it was Tennessee basketball. He has been at all the meetings, has been a spokesperson when he needed to be talking opening about his mother’s diagnosis. But his first priority is his Mom and his support of her. His mom is Pat Summitt and she is the women’s head basketball coach at The University of Tennessee and he is incredibly proud of that and proud of what she is going to continue to do in the future. When you asked me about a “moment” for me me, it may be seeing what Tyler Summitt has done throughout this whole process. The first time we put him out on the court to speak about this, his hands were shaking and his mouth was a little dry but he got out there and he was incredible.
Since he was a little kid, he hung on his mom’s briefcase for years but now he’s out there, representing the Pat Summitt Foundation and his mom and the efforts they are making. Our fans are so intent on listening to what Tyler has to say. He has literally grown up so much through this process and is wise beyond his years.
Todd: One more question, have you had a meeting about what if Pat were to come out at the end of the season and announce her retirement? What will you do marketing wise?
Jimmy: I think a lot of people would want to know what would come out of that meeting. But Pat has come out and said, “ This is what I want to do, I want to be the head coach at The University of Tennessee.” We have all been 100% behind her. Obviously she knows what is best for this program and every day her job is to get up and go in and motivate this team to be role models for each other and for everybody else. AND to win basketball games, let’s not lose sight that we want to win and to quote Pat, “Cut down nets.” We have really focused on this team and what it means to win, to get to the Sweet 16, the Final Four and the National Championship. If you focus too much on everything else, it can become a distraction and Pat’s biggest thing is to keep business as usual. The coaches and the team are here to win games for the fans and that is what we are focused on. There may be a day when discussion of her retirement happens but for right now we’re keeping the focus on her and the team and what’s to come....
It has been humbling to be a part of it all. There have been long, exhausting days but when you think about it, all of this is coming together for an incredible cause. For me, that is what it has all been about. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in the sports world and you don’t have time to do other things but if whatever I am doing helps her and her foundation and helps raise money for Alzheimer’s research in a small way then mark me down for 16 hour days. You would never think certain people would be fans or that this person would step up and do something but it has been amazing. Poring through the letters like I mentioned before, the number of letters and emails from die-hard UConn fans, it is impressive because it goes to show that it is not about competition. It is because Pat Summitt IS women’s basketball. We’re looking forward to continuing this program. We mentioned the Jimmy V Foundation. They have been around for a long time and they are up there in the tens of millions of dollars. That’s where we want this to go and we’re excited for it.
You can follow the campaign at patsummitt.org which is the official website of the Pat Summitt Foundation. webackpat.com will also redirect you to patsummitt.org. There is also a Facebook page for the Pat Summitt Foundation and information on the Tennessee Athletic Department’s website and Facebook page. Anytime we do anything, we post on the website, things we have done in the past are on there as well as anything we’ll be doing in the future. patsummitt.org is the easiest way for people to check us out.