“Get your sh$t together, Shultz.”
Those were the words ringing in my head, having ducked into a bathroom at Children’s Mercy Hospital after watching a six-year-old girl, connected to a handful of tubes and beeping machines, smile and sing while giving one of our celebrity guests a pretend makeover. Her parents sat watching, quietly, with a look comprised of fear, exhaustion, and a host of other emotions.
In fairness, I can’t claim to understand those emotions, having been fortunate enough to be a parent of two generally healthy (thus far…knock on wood) children. But it’s impossible to watch families with children undergoing treatment for leukemia or neuroblastoma and not picture yourself and your own children in that situation. It’s a scene that can send you looking for a private spot to get your sh$t together.
It’s also a scene that can solidify your commitment to a cause and make all the long hours that go into putting on a charity event feel like a small price to pay to be a part of the positive impact you’re having on the children and families served by the Cancer Center at Children’s Mercy Kansas City.
That scene, and the feeling our team gets when we have a successful year, is one of the reasons that I’m involved with The Big Slick Celebrity Weekend. The other reason I’m involved with this event goes back more years than I’d care to admit, when I moved into a house as an incoming freshman at the University of Kansas. Among the other guys moving into the house that day was a kid with an impressive set of long, curly locks (and an equally impressive collection of hair products) and a natural ability to make you laugh at just about anything. Many years later I found myself firmly entrenched in the promotional products industry and that guy, well, he went on to become Ant-Man. Which, you know, I guess is pretty cool too, if you consider being a worldwide celebrity and having your own superhero action figure cool.
The genesis of Big Slick goes back to 2010, when Paul Rudd ran into fellow Kansas Citian, actor and comedian, Rob Riggle, who asked him if he’d be interested in putting together a poker tournament in Kansas City to raise money for Children’s Mercy. Rob and Paul roped in another Kansas Citian, Jason Sudeikis, and with the help of family and friends they cobbled together the inaugural Big Slick Celebrity Weekend with a goal of raising $50,000. By the end of the weekend they had raised $120,000 and Big Slick was off and running
In the years since, Riggle, Rudd and Sudeikis have added fellow Kansas Citians, David Koechner and Eric Stonestreet, as hosts of the event and continue to invite their celebrity friends each year. To give you a mental picture of the general atmosphere at the event you need look no further than one of the taglines we used in recent years: “Big Slick: The Perfect Blend of Hometown Pride, Generosity and Wildly Inappropriate Behavior”.
In addition to participating in the softball, bowling and auction events our celebrities also spend part of the weekend at Children’s Mercy visiting with the children and families, playing games, taking selfies with the kids and learning about the facility and its staff. Truth be told, this aspect of the weekend is one of our celebrities’ favorite parts of the weekend. The opportunity to interact with the children, families, doctors and nurses at Children’s Mercy puts the event (and life in general) into perspective and keeps the guys coming back to Kansas City each year. As Rob Riggle once put it, “I’m a dad, I have kids; once I visited the hospital and saw those kids – you got me. I’m all in. What do you need me to do?”
As the event evolved our team started placing a greater emphasis on the digital and online fundraising aspects of the event to help compliment the live auction and sponsorships. This online component is comprised of a mix of direct donations through our website, social media campaigns, email marketing, and an online fundraising campaign. In 2014 the team decided to adopt the NPR approach – you know, the one where you make a donation to NPR and you get a free coffee mug?
Given our close ties to the promotional products industry (and not just mine…here’s a secret: Paul Rudd and David Koechner’s sisters – in addition to being instrumental members of the Big Slick board - are both successful promotional products distributors) we settled on a t-shirt. The idea was simple; donate $100 to Children’s Mercy and get a Limited Edition Big Slick Celebrity Weekend T-Shirt.
We worked with local Kansas City upstart and civic-minded designer, Charlie Hustle, to develop an iconic “KC Heart” design that could be used each year with a new color palette. The first year we put the t-shirts online we raised over $40,000 and have nearly doubled that amount in each subsequent year as our supporters clamor to add to their collection of limited edition Big Slick t-shirts each year. Today this campaign has become a significant portion of our annual revenue outside of sponsorships and the live auction.
Since the event was launched in 2010 Big Slick has raised more than $6 million for Children’s Mercy. In 2017 alone the event raised $1.75 million and we hope to raise even more this year. That money has helped the facility explore the benefits of genomics and personalized medicine in cancer treatment, expand its Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, enhance family/play rooms, add entertainment systems to every oncology hospital room, and purchase more than $500K in advanced early detection equipment.
And the benefits have been more than just financial; over the years the attention that Big Slick has brought to Children’s Mercy has helped with their efforts to attract and recruit top medical and research talent. It is for these reasons that Children’s Mercy has consistently been ranked one of the top children’s hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report. For those of us from Kansas City – our hosts included – Children’s Mercy is regarded as a local treasure, and one to be protected which is why we are lucky enough to have such a passionate team of hosts, celebrity guests, family and friends who donate their time and talents to organize and host this event each year.
I’m fortunate enough to be a part of this incredible team and equally incredible event. I’m also fortunate enough to work in an industry that seems increasingly focused on purpose, and in doing good in an age where we could always use a little more good.
In addition to the generosity of my team at DistributorCentral, both in their support of the event and in the extra backup and support I get from them when I’m busy with Big Slick-related tasks, I’m also grateful for many industry colleagues and friends who have stepped up to support the event including Pro Towels, SnugZ USA, TradeNet Publishing, Hit Promotional Products, Brand O’ Guitars, Gill Studios, Gemline, Digital Designs, Hub Pen, Best Promotions, Charlie Hustle, Baldwin, New Era and a few others I’m sure I’m forgetting.
If you had any doubt that “Promo Cares”, don’t. This is but one of a number of inspiring stories from people and companies in this industry who care and who are pouring their hearts into meaningful and purpose-inspired work that can peacefully co-exists with the rigors of running a successful business. I look forward to hearing more of those stories.
Until then, you can find me planning for the 2018 Big Slick Celebrity Weekend which will take place on June 1st-2nd. To learn more about the event check out the video below and visit bigslickkc.org. Or better yet, come to Kansas City in June (tickets go on sale soon) and we’ll show you what it’s all about in person.
David serves as a member of the executive team of industry business services and technology firm, DistributorCentral, LLC. With more than 17 years of industry experience, David works closely with key customers to help them implement technical solutions designed to streamline operations and drive revenue growth. A PPAI Fellow and recipient of PPAI's Industry Collaborator award, David enjoys collaborating with his supplier, distributor, and business service provider peers to address technical challenges affecting our industry. He also currently sits on the board of directors for the Promotional Products Association Midwest (PPAM), serves as a member of PPAI’s professional development committee and can be found speaking at various industry events on a variety of topics anywhere they’ll give him an extra ribbon for his tradeshow badge. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.