Case Study: PR Effort Helps Bring the Soap Box Derby Up to Speed

START YOUR ENGINES: AKA MEDIA INC. arranged pro bono time and services for the First Energy All-American Soap Box Derby, including a live, six-hour, six-camera webcast that attracts more than 10,000 viewers and national media coverage ranging from ESPN to Fox News to the Weather Channel.
START YOUR ENGINES: AKA MEDIA INC. arranged pro bono time and services for the First Energy All-American Soap Box Derby, including a live, six-hour, six-camera webcast that attracts more than 10,000 viewers and national media coverage ranging from ESPN to Fox News to the Weather Channel.

The first All-American Soap Box Derby took place in 1934. At the height of its popularity, the Derby attracted high-profile Hollywood stars such as Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Stewart and big-name sponsors including Chevrolet. As many as 50,000 spectators would gather each summer at the world-famous Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio, to watch kids race downhill in homemade soap box derby cars.

But as the new millennium began in 2000, media interest in the Derby had started to wane and the organization struggled financially.

In a digital world, the story of kids unplugging and competing in gravity-powered cars wasn’t resonating, and the future of the non-profit organization was uncertain.

Fast forward to 2009, when Bob Troyer, public relations chairman for the All-American Soap Box Derby, approached AKA MEDIA INC. to help promote, publicize, broadcast and digitize the event. The agency worked closely with the Derby for the next five years, but in 2014 the Derby raced ahead to a new level.

Perhaps most important was a change in branding. With First Energy on board as a multi-year sponsor, the All-American Soap Box Derby now is known as the First Energy All-American Soap Box Derby.


AKA recognized a terrific opportunity to help revitalize the organization, raise awareness and boost exposure to national sponsors. The project continues to evolve, but the goals remain consistent:

• Reignite media interest. Raise media awareness of the Derby and its community of dedicated fans and increase visibility and exposure to sponsors.

• Digitize the Derby. By digitizing the Derby to make it more visual and visible, AKA helped connect grassroots communities of local racing organizations and influencers worldwide with dynamic content that’s designed to be shared.

• Professional development for the staff. Working with the Derby provides AKA with an opportunity to explore best practices and experiment with new technologies and strategies.


Celebrity involvement, once a critical component of the Derby’s visibility, remains extremely important.

AKA has a goal for 2015 to invite Ohio native and professional skateboarder Rob Dyrdek and NFL quarterback Johnny “Football” Manziel to experience the “thrill of the hill” in a winner-take-all race to benefit a local charity.

What began as a small project to shoot video of the race and distribute it to TV stations reached new heights in 2014, with live satellite TV and Skype interviews with racers from throughout the world, a six-camera live webcast, Web video production and distribution of all content featuring a Social Media News Release.

What is more, by cultivating relationships with local race communities and organizations, AKA now is able to distribute pre-race B-roll to groups prior to the race each year. This makes it easier for stations to put together feature stories focusing on how local organizations are competing for a chance at a world championship, an angle media prefers.

AKA also shoots and distributes broadcast B-roll on race day, so that media outlets have access to footage of the race (and its results). This same-day footage sharing is critical and gives the Derby a chance at national exposure that was previously not possible.

In 2014, AKA negotiated with a satellite truck vendor to donate equipment and staff time. With that deal AKA was able to conduct live TV interviews with national TV outlets, such as FOX News and The Weather Channel. The agency has continued to conduct live TV Skype interviews with racers, often connecting them with their hometown TV news stations.

AKA produced a live radio media tour, as well. The tour provides an opportunity for the CEO of the Derby to share the Derby story with national sports radio outlets.


In 2014, AKA secured 144 broadcast TV airings, including national coverage on ESPN’s flagship program SportsCenter, Fox News andThe Weather Channel. Here are some of the specifics of the results:

• 144 broadcast airings reaching 18.5 million impressions via live satellite interviews, live radio interviews, live Skype interviews and b-roll distribution before and after the race.

• 134 websites, blogs and influencers sharing content from AKA’s Social Media News Release resulting in more than 100,000,000 online impressions.

• A six-hour, six-camera live webcast reaching more than 10,000 viewers

• Dramatic increase in social engagement with Twitter and Facebook.

• Online exposure to the Derby is trending in the right direction with more than 10,000 webcast views and dramatic increases in social sharing of video content and overall engagement with influencer communities. With AKA’s Social Media News Release, pitching and community outreach, 134 websites, blogs and influencers shared content resulting in more than 100,000,000 online impressions.

In 2015, AKA will continue to push creative limits for the 78th running of the Soap Box Derby, with live video stream featuring sponsor content and real-time celebrity social media interactions. We’re raring to go.

Sidebar: Tips for Effective Pro Bono Work

Andrew Krause
Andrew Krause

Get involved for the right reasons. By connecting with your mentor network and identifying a project where you can affect real change, your staff won’t feel like you are adding more work to its plate. Instead, staffers will be grateful for the opportunity to support an organization in which they feel they are making valuable contributions.

Showcase your company’s skills. Working with paying clients, AKA’s goal is to go vertical and showcase the company’s full capabilities. A pro bono assignment is an opportunity to experiment and explore new ground, where money is no object for brainstorming and developing ideas. Your paying clients will benefit, too, as you identify new best practices and prove your concepts. Whether it’s promoting viral video, traditional media relations or a convergence of video content, AKA shares it’s pro bono experiences with paying clients.

Professional development. The AKA relationship with the Derby spans many years and goes far beyond Race Week. Each year, the Derby engages with the entire agency team, giving everyone a chance to participate. For example, junior-level staffers are given assignments above their pay grade with a chance to shine. By leveraging staff experience and offering professional development opportunities for junior staff, entry-level employees also feel like they’re making a positive contribution. —A.K.

(This article was written by Andrew Krause, CEO of AKA MEDIA INC.)


Andrew Krause,

This article originally appeared in the January 12, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.