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Flying High

Access Credit Union COO Myrna Wiebe takes to the skies to raise funds for a critical Prairies rescue service.

Intubating a critically ill patient, setting up a search-and-rescue tent, applying a tourniquet — it’s all in a day’s work for Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (STARS) Air Ambulance teams. Not so much for Myrna Wiebe, COO and senior vice-president of Manitoba’s Access Credit Union (51,000 members, $2.6 billion in assets), who completed these procedures on dummy patients or live volunteers during Rescue on the Island, an innovative fundraiser for the specialized emergency medical transport system. Wiebe’s mission? Experience a day in the life of a rescue worker, all the while using her cell phone to connect with friends, colleagues and other potential donors, as well as posting to Twitter and Instagram to solicit funds for STARS. “It was definitely out of my comfort zone but I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” says Wiebe.

Such guerrilla marketing initiatives are a creative (and daring) way to generate hype on a budget. Bright red helicopters, well-known business leaders spreading the word and emergencies galore — STARS checks all the boxes to create social buzz while raising funds for a vital service. By partaking in emergency drills on a deserted island two hours outside of Winnipeg during STARS’ fundraising campaign, Wiebe and Access were able to undertake a guerrilla marketing push of its own. “We can look after our members’ financial wellbeing but we can’t look after their physical health. Being involved shows we’re playing our part in making sure this critical service is available to our members,” Wiebe says.

Being involved also allows Wiebe to show a different side of herself — in this case, out of the office and in red coveralls. Indeed, when the credit union posted a video to Facebook of Wiebe’s stint on Rescue on the Island, it garnered more than 9,000 views in the first five days. Still, Wiebe points out that though there was definitely a marketing perspective to her participation, it was not the key element. Any marketing campaign, guerrilla-based or not, has to align with Access’s core values. Before signing on, Wiebe and her marketing team made sure the fundraiser reinforced the credit union’s goals: to support members and the community. (STARS is based in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.)

Guerrilla marketing has the potential to make a lasting, positive impression but it can also flame out if you make a big splash but don’t focus on your messaging. Though Wiebe raised well over $30,000 for the organization, she says that in retrospect she could have been clearer. “People saw me on social media asking for donations and I was getting all these texts asking, ‘What are you doing out there?!’ ” Next time around, Wiebe says, she will simplify her message and take it to more potential donors ahead of the event. The STARS message is simple: they rescue people. That’s what she’ll tell potential donors. She’ll also tell the STARS story differently. Instead of simply asking for donations, Wiebe will explain that $25 fills one oxygen tank, while $5,400 funds a round-trip rescue mission. She might then challenge a group of colleagues to fund one of these missions or a school to fill 10 oxygen tanks.

The beauty of Rescue on the Island is that it was a one-day event generating lots of publicity for both STARS and corporate participants like Access. Still, says Wiebe, once-a-year guerrilla marketing campaigns should just be the tip of the iceberg. From 2016-2017, STARS flew 619 missions across Manitoba with 106 of these to communities where Access has a branch. A month ago, the credit union announced a $250,000 donation to be allocated over five years to the organization. It may not be guerrilla marketing but the ongoing donation — and the opportunity to place the credit union logo on the STAR-7 Winnipeg dispatch helicopter — is priceless. ◊