For major promotions that DirectLink hosts — like the popular pattern Bingo game the local telecommunications provider offered last fall — a lot more time, resources and planning goes into it than you might realize.
But even they were not prepared for what Mother Nature had in store when the game kicked off on Sept. 1, 2020.
DirectLink Marketing Assistant Michelle Davis, who led the team that coordinated the promotion last year, thought she knew what she was getting into.
The logistics of mailing Bingo cards to more than 8,500 members across the Canby area — and fairly communicating the call of numbers across a period of 11 weeks or more — is no joke.
“Of course, we didn’t think of the logistics of a natural disaster,” she quipped. “But we just didn’t let the ball drop. That was never an option.”
DirectLink’s pattern Bingo differs from the traditional game in a few key ways: mainly, its scale and calling the numbers via Facebook rather than having players centralized in one location.
Pattern Bingo calls on players to form certain patterns — in this case, the letters “E” and “Z,” or the shape of a television — rather than the more common vertical, horizontal or diagonal lines. There was also a grand prize for the first player to “blackout” their card (i.e., mark every square).
The game was barely a week and a half old when historically devastating wildfires first broke out on Labor Day and began rolling across the area. The skies turned orange; then, red; then, black. Thousands of Clackamas Countians were evacuated from their homes — while thousands more voluntarily left in search of cleaner air.
Many on the DirectLink team, including those responsible for Bingo, were impacted.
“It was an interesting situation as the smoke and everything blanketed the entire city,” recalled Marketing Specialist Conner Williams. “We were all trying to coordinate work and family issues. I even had family in Molalla that had to evacuate and come stay with me for a few days.”
Through it all, DirectLink kept up the daily call of numbers, which were shared on the co-op’s website and social media. Members could also phone in or even drive by the main office on Southeast 2nd Avenue, where the latest numbers were posted in the lobby window each day.
For many members playing along at home (or their evacuation site of choice), it was one small anchor point of normalcy amid the unprecedented craziness.
“Doing the daily videos on Facebook allowed us to keep the competition going despite the wildfires,” Williams said. “We kept it going, and for us, I think it was really just a way we felt that we could be there for our members.”
Before the wildfires broke out, the team had made a point to include “tech tips” and other fun and useful information in their daily broadcasts. After Labor Day, they increasingly included the latest wildfire information, evacuation maps and other resources.
“We like to think we don’t just connect the community; we connect with the community,” Williams explained. “That was the whole point of doing the videos live, sharing tips and important information along with doing the game.”
Residents seemed to respond well to the promotion — with high levels of engagement on DirectLink’s website and social media, including during the wildfire evacuations — and numerous positive comments on the team’s daily videos.
The marketing team’s loosely scripted, educational and down-to-earth style of presenting resonated with the members — while also offering a peek behind the DirectLink curtain at some of the staff who work hard to provide critical technology services to the Canby area.
“I knew the impact it has on the community — how fun and how engaging it was even before the pandemic,” Davis said. “But we really saw that increase exponentially during Covid and the fires, where we’re all playing the same game in the same community even when we can’t be together in the normal ways.”
It was for that reason that Davis jumped on the chance to coordinate the event (because of the heavy lift, DirectLink typically does the game only about once every three or four years) when Marketing Manager Amy Russ floated the idea in the early days of the pandemic.
“I was like, ‘Yes, let’s make this happen,'” Davis recalled. “I know this community. I’ve lived here since 1984. And to lose connection with our members — it was difficult for us. This was a way to reconnect with them even if it was through a screen.”
The initiative proved so popular that DirectLink employees started their own internal game, that ran concurrently with the one community members were playing.
“So we had a lot of Bingo numbers being called,” Russ said with a laugh.
Marketing Generalist Charlie Mouy did not expect the promotion to have the response that it did.
“I was surprised at the level of engagement with the program,” he admitted. “It seemed like if we were even a few minutes late with the numbers, we would have members calling — in a friendly way — to make sure we were going to do it. It was just so awesome to hear from people.”
The promotion received national attention earlier this year, with recognition from the National Cable Television Cooperative, which included a live presentation by a DirectLink marketing team member to share the Bingo event and its positive impact on the Canby community for NCTC members across the country.
DirectLink has maintained contact with its members in other ways amid the pandemic, including continuing its popular monthly gift card giveaway for members who pay their bills on time (now in its 18th year) and collaborating with the city to bring wireless internet to three local parks.
The co-op expects to announce other fun promotions and events this summer, depending on changing guidance and restrictions related to the pandemic. Stay tuned to DirectLink online at directlink.coop.
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