Harnessing—or not harnessing—a viral story

Sarah Sampson
By Sarah Sampson
January 29th, 2018

Andy and Jordan Dalton at the AJDF Holiday Hearts event in December 2017.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw a game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Tyler Boyd against the Baltimore Ravens on December 31, 2017. The win sent the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. Then donations started flooding into the Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation (AJDF). Why? A generous Buffalo fan in Nebraska wanted to thank Andy for ending his team’s playoff drought and called on other fans to do the same.

What started small picked up, and soon it was a story with national and international coverage, approaching “viral” status by quantity of placements, quality of engagement and the magnitude of results (non-stop donations). The story was great on its own. It was pure and full of goodwill. But there were a few things the foundation did right to make sure it kept up momentum leading into Buffalo’s Wild Card playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on January 7.

Let it grow organically
The donation frenzy all started with a Buffalo Bills fan in Nebraska who simply wanted to thank Dalton for helping his team. The foundation noticed early on what was happening, but they were purposefully hands off, and let it grow on its own. They shared milestone updates when the numbers became newsworthy and provided updated news releases to local media in Buffalo and Cincinnati. Soon enough, national outlets picked up on the story too, earning coverage from “CBS Evening News” with Jeff Glor, “Sports Illustrated,” ESPN and NFL Network – all which led to even more donations.

Don’t push too hard
Calling out goals and asking for more donations directly from the foundation’s social channels seemed too salesy, so the foundation let fans call on other fans to step up and donate. Dalton posted videos of himself thanking fans to his personal Twitter page. He and Jordan were incredibly humble and grateful throughout the course of events—a human touch you just can’t manufacture.

Be available
Once the donations hit $50,000, media attention went through the roof. Dalton became the guy everyone wanted to talk to. He made himself available for as many interviews as he could, which deepened and extended the story. ESPN’s story included the Dalton’s take on the donations and showed how the foundation will be able to make an impact with the money through its current programs in Cincinnati and Fort Worth, Texas. If the Daltons had simply said they were too busy for interviews, the story would have been just a flash in the pan and donations would have ended abruptly.

Share the love
With more than $350,000 donated to the Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation in the first week of 2018, Buffalo fans started an incredible trend of giving back across the NFL. Bengals fans donated to Blake Bortle’s Foundation after the Jaguars knocked out the Pittsburgh Steelers; Minnesota Vikings Fans donated to Thomas Morstead’s Foundation because they admired the New Orleans Saints player for playing injured; and Philadelphia Eagles fans are donating to Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s Foundation as an apology for their behavior during the NFC Championship Game.

Sports bring people together, no matter who they root for. As a passionate sports fan, this was something I personally loved to watch unfold and professionally loved to support. This chain of events proved that sometimes not trying to harness or control a situation can lead to something truly significant.

By | 2018-03-27T14:09:50+00:00 January 29th, 2018|Community Relations, Marketing Communications, Media Relations, Social Media, Vr3|Comments Off on Harnessing—or not harnessing—a viral story

About the Author:

Sarah Sampson
Sarah strives to find creative ways to bring clients’ stories to life, whether it’s media relations, social media strategy, event coordination or content marketing. In addition to helping clients create winning recipes for their campaigns, she is known around the office for her own superb baking skills. A Chicago native and diehard Cubs and Blackhawks fan, Sarah graduated from Lewis University with a degree in communications and minor in marketing. Prior to becoming a team member at Vehr, she interned at various companies, including HealthTrust Purchasing Group, Chicago Fire Soccer Club and JSH&A Communications, where she assisted with anything and everything from event planning to press releases and social media content. When she’s not at the Vehr office, you can find her training for her next half marathon around Mount Lookout with her giant Goldendoodle, and favorite Vehr office dog, Tigger.