Being good is good business (pt 3)
2007-08-23 14:48:20 -
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Why being responsible in your community gives you an edge Founder of O’Briens Sandwich Bars, BRODY SWEENEY, continues his series on how to cope with the stresses and strains of starting a new enterprise 

We organised and ran some big events in the run up to the Special Olym-pics: a cycle from Dublin to my beloved Sligo, in which a number of our franchise partners took part; a white-tie ball (I will never get involved in organising a ball again – I virtually prostituted myself to sell tables!); and a ‘golf classic’ which Padraig Harrington, one of the world’s top golfers, attended. I don’t play golf. I don’t like Pringle sweaters or turtle-neck jumpers. I was very sceptical about how much could be raised from such an event. Fiacra Nagle, my friend and O’Briens’ Irish managing director, who organised it, got some cynical support from me. He raised 250,000 euro from the event. I was silenced.

We also had an art auction in the RHA, Dublin’s top art venue; we built the world’s tallest sandwich in Cork; we launched our new soft-drink range by charging an extra 10 cent for each bottle to contribute to the fund; and Maria Doyle Kennedy and Sinead O’Connor headlined a concert with the cream of Irish contemporary musicians at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre.

On a smaller scale, friends, family members and work colleagues took part in the women’s mini-marathon in Dublin; there was a money-box scheme, where we placed boxes in our own stores as well as in those of other friendly retailers; our kids and the neighbours’ children raised 53 euro by staging a play for their parents; Lulu and her colleagues organised a drink-till-you-drop evening (the less said about that the better!); my sister Caroline organised a casino night, my sister-in-law Anna a sponsored walk; there was a fashion show in Cork, a photography competition, a cycle to John O’Groats, and a walk around the Highland Way in Scotland. It all became very time-consuming, but we made it in the end.

The Special Olympics themselves took place in June 2003. I felt that we had maxed out on our sponsorship already, in that we had received excellent media exposure for our involvement with the games over the previous two years. People associated us strongly with the games, sometimes thinking that we were the main sponsor, rather than, as was actually the case, one of six secondary sponsors after Bank of Ireland. I had overlooked the impact the games themselves would have.

The opening ceremony took place in Croke Park, Ireland’s largest, most modern stadium. We had allocated tickets on the basis of who had helped most with our fund-raising and catering efforts. I remember standing in the crowd, before the ceremony started, noticing that there was no advertising visible in the stadium. You might think that, as one of the main sponsors, we would object to this, but I didn’t: it was entirely appropriate for the occasion. Anyway, there were thousands of volunteers milling around dressed in uniforms that did feature our logo: the exposure for O’Briens was superb. There were rumblings from some of the other sponsors, but there was nothing they could do about it.

It was apparent from the off that the Special Olympics would be really special. There was a fantastic atmosphere, and the stadium looked magnificent. All the spectators had been given coloured flags, and the parade of athletes from the various countries was very moving. Celebrities like Muhammad Ali and Arnold Schwarzenegger accompanied the teams as they entered the stadium. The entertainment was outstanding: from the world’s largest Riverdance line to Bono from U2 introducing Nelson Mandela, while their anthem ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’ played in the background. And even the team from the UK got a great cheer. I had to draw breath: a team from the UK getting a huge cheer as they entered Croke Park? You would have to be Irish to understand the significance of that!

There was a group of VIPs sitting just in front of us. At the beginning, they had left their flags beside their seats, their body language saying: ‘We don’t do flags, we’re VIPs.’ Halfway through the ceremony, I noticed that they were waving them half-heartedly; by the end of the evening, they were waving them furiously and singing along to the songs, just like the rest of us.

The culmination of the ceremony was the lighting of the Olympic flame. Special Olympics athletes, accompanied by police officers from the PSNI and the Garda on motorbikes, carried it on the final stage of its journey from Greece. A final wave of emotion gripped the crowd as the flame reached the stage. People around us were openly crying and hugging each other. I felt so proud to be Irish, and so proud of the part that O’Briens had played in the proceedings.

Next week: Brody continues his story of his first involvement in the Special Olympics Summer Games

n Taken from Making Bread – The Real Way To Start Up and Stay Up in Business by Brody Sweeney, published by Liberties Press – buy at www.libertiespress.com and get a 10 per cent discount
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