For Comcast, Caring Goes National

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The majority of Innovator Award-winning ventures are realized over the course of a year or less. But this honor traces its roots back a decade.

The genesis of Comcast Corp.'s "Comcast Cares Day" was Philadelphia Cares Day — a day when employees from that area's companies teamed with nonprofit organizations to remodel or beautify local schools.

Three years later, Comcast sent 40 employees — representing its corporate headquarters and its area systems — to hardscrabble North Philadelphia, to freshen up a rundown school with paint and landscaping. A year later, workers from two Comcast units, home-shopping network QVC and the National Basketball Association's Philadelphia 76ers joined in.

But it wasn't until Comcast cable unit president Steven Burke entered the picture four years ago that Comcast Cares Day began to expand beyond the environs of the City of Brotherly Love. It's now a nationwide endeavor, and the winner of Multichannel News's 2002 Innovator Award for community service.

In October 2001, 6,100 staffers in 26 states assisted in 120 projects in 26 states. Last month, 9,100-plus Comcast staffers took part in 115 projects.

Burke chalked up the achievement to strength in personal beliefs, impressions and commitment.

Standing for success

"Companies that stand for something tend to be the most successful companies," he said. "There are a variety of ways to do that, but one of the great ways is to have a strong community-service commitment.

"I spoke at a Philadelphia Cares event three months after I joined Comcast, and was so inspired by their results that, when looking at how to accelerate our own efforts, I thought maybe we should take the concept national.

"The idea is simple: People want to volunteer," Burke said. "People want to do it, but they don't know how to take part. If you do it right, you can take all the difficulty out of volunteering, mobilize everyone at one time and give them the chance. I do this with my kids and they look forward to it. It's not a burden."

Still, according to Comcast public affairs senior director Diane Tuppeny-Hess, management didn't embark on such a large-scale outreach effort without doing its homework. They studied the Philadelphia Cares process; solidified national, regional and local management support, and then crafted a national game plan.

As part of that planning process, Comcast system representatives attend a full-day conference in Philadelphia to work out logistics, determine which agencies to support and find ways to better motivate employees. From the outset, each system has chosen the beneficiaries of their work.

"Many of our systems did choose schools, on the Philadelphia Cares model," Tupenny-Hess said. "Others decided to collect food for food banks, build homes through Habitat for Humanity or provide literacy training or events. In each market, the factors are need and how many employees are involved."

Internal promotions used to boost employee participation included postcards, Web site notices, celebrity voicemails left at work, how-to manuals and videos. The first time around, QVC officials developed a campaign to benefit Habitat for Humanity.

Incentive plan

When the terrorist attacks of last Sept. 11 occurred in New York and Washington, D.C., — more than a month before the first Comcast Cares Day — Burke and Comcast president Brian Roberts huddled and added another incentive: The MSO donated $100 from its foundation to New York City relief efforts on behalf of each employee who took part.

"After Brian announced the match, it made some people get involved," Tupenny-Hess said. That move also raised $610,000 for 11 charities providing post-Sept. 11 relief services.

For the second go-round, the foundation forwarded $50 for each Comcast Cares Day volunteer to the beneficiary organization in each territory. More than $450,000 was raised under that scenario.

This year, Comcast Cares Day also hit the small screen. More than 400 E! Entertainment Television employees participated in a Los Angeles school clean-up, and some of that activity was captured on a live E! News Daily

The Golf Channel — like E!, a Comcast-owned service — also joined in this year, showcasing its project on-air. Two other Comcast-owned networks, Outdoor Life Network and fledgling video gaming net G4, are expected to take part in 2003.

"Something else, which we didn't think about initially, was to get permission to go to the projects and take a camera along to get the impact on the public," Tuppeny-Hess said. "E! did that and came up with a wonderful segment. They also arranged for Ben & Jerry's and Krispy Kreme to provide ice cream and donuts to the volunteers."

Unfortunately, not events all came off as planned this time around. The recent sniper shootings in suburban Washington forced Comcast officials in Montgomery County, Md., to reschedule their Cares Day elementary school fix-up.

In 2003, Burke said, the campaign will spread further. Comcast is in the midst of merging with AT&T Broadband, a transaction expected to be completed soon. But at press time, it was too early to determine the extent of future participation among former Broadband systems.

Merger means more

"Once we start the process of this campaign next spring, we'd hope every AT&T system embraces this the way our systems have," he said. "We also want to incorporate local vendors or suppliers, the way E! did in Los Angeles — for example, getting computer suppliers to equip individual schools."

The company is also open to having other cable operators or programming services duplicate Comcast Cares Day elsewhere.

"We'd be delighted to share the way the way we do things with other players," said Burke. "It would be a wonderful thing if they did the same thing."

Just being a witness to Cares Day is reward itself for Burke, Roberts, Tuppeny-Hess and the thousands of involved volunteers.

"When Brian and I went to Baltimore, we visited a school in one of the worst areas of town," said Burke. "Everyone in the school knew who our managers were and what they provided. To me, it's a day that makes me very proud, and everyone proud to be part of this company."