Is it Safe in the Dragon’s Den? Getting Corporates on Board with Road Safety

By Alison Holland

Published: September 18, 2017

Reflective dragons.

‘Be brave.’ I told myself, ‘You can do it – just put yourself forward. It will be good for you and it will be good for Brightkidz’.

And so I pressed the ‘send’ button on my email: Yes, I‘m interested in pitching in the ‘Dragons Den’ at the Good Stories conference.

No turning back now.

Telling Stories

Off I headed to London to attend ‘Good Stories: the Marketing and Communications Conference for Social Enterprises’. It was a great programme of talks to show how social enterprises can ‘tell their story’ to raise their business and campaign profiles through social media, branding, engaging with politicians, making use of the press and more. I learnt plenty.

The final item on the agenda was the opportunity for three of us ‘brave volunteers’ from social enterprises to step forward and each deliver our own pitch to a panel of four expert ‘dragons’. The pitches would be judged with a critique from each dragon who would then each give a mark out of ten… all in front of the conference’s large audience.

Who to Pitch to?

The pitch could be aimed at a potential customer for commercial business, investor for funding or government official for policy change. It was up to us. There was a strict 3 minute time limit enforced by the Chair, Tim West, ringing a bicycle bell (very appropriate for Brightkidz as a social enterprise promoting safe cycling). Pressure!

I had decided my pitch would be for CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) department heads… to try to attract CSR spend to the road safety/walk to school sector; specifically spending with Brightkidz.

Welcome to the Corporate World

The problem for us at Brightkidz is we don’t know the corporate world… and it’s frankly quite scary. We have great relationships with schools, local authorities and police who we are used to working with. Sometimes we are approached by businesses who want to buy our products to support a road safety initiative… but we have never had to approach them. So pitching to corporates is new territory and something I need to master. The Good Stories conference was the perfect opportunity to practice and get essential feedback.

After hearing from two very professional and high scoring pitchers who went before me, I took to the stage.

With a Little Help from my Friend

I stood at the lectern about to start and then revealed my prop; a teddy bear in a high vis waistcoat blinged with fluorescent, reflective product samples… snapbands, badges, stickers and so on. He needed to ‘be seen’! The audience and panel loved him. I’m pleased I went against the advice of my 15 year old daughter who said ‘Mum, you’ll look like a kid who takes their teddy bear everywhere with them’. Good start.

Here is my pitch; delivered in a rather shaky voice which fortunately others took for passion. It tells our story and one of the points at the Good Stories conference was to tell your stories in different ways until people listen:

The Pitch

Good afternoon. I’m Alison Holland from Brightkidz.

Fourteen years ago I was a school run mum with three young children. We didn’t live far from the school so we walked to school every day. As we drew near to the school gates there was always a lot of traffic congestion; many parents were driving their children to school – maybe because they had to go on to work, they lived too far away or they were simply worried about their children walking with so much traffic around.

I could see how my own children were benefiting from walking to school; it gave them a chance to chat to their friends, taught them road-sense, made them more independent and meant they started the school day refreshed and alert.

However, I also realised busy lifestyles were making it difficult for others to walk. So I started a walking bus scheme, where parents take turns to walk the children to school in an organised group wearing high vis jackets. The success of this inspired me to start Brightkidz; designing and selling products and providing information to support walk-to-school, cycling and road safety initiatives.

Over the years we have built up close connections with road safety and school travel  professionals. Many children have benefited from our products which have been purchased mainly by local authorities and schools. We also worked with The Co-operative Group for eight years – they funded the supply of walking bus packs to hundreds of schools across the UK enabling them to start their own schemes.

Through this work I learnt more about road safety  – I was shocked to find out 5 people a day die on the UK’s roads and many more are seriously injured. I realised helping children to ‘be safe and seen’ was something we could actually do to make a difference.

So we developed a wide range of attractive, fun high vis products in different colours – not just waistcoats but bags, stickers, mascots and incentives for schemes such as Park and Stride badges.

However times are harder now; recent budget cuts in the public sector mean if we want to continue our work we need to find new private sector partners.

As your organisation has a strong ethos of supporting local communities we thought you could be interested in working with us.

If so, I would very much like to discuss with you how we can develop a unique, custom initiative together which can help your business to help children to be safer, healthier and happier in the communities with which you work.

Thank you.

What Did the Dragons Say?

They were much friendlier ‘dragons’ than those we see on TV. They didn’t roar. Instead they gave me ideas on how to improve it; which is what I was looking for. Here are five lessons from their feedback:

1. What do You Want?

First, the pitch was not specific enough in it’s ‘ask’. I agreed but it’s a tricky one as we would want to understand the corporate’s needs, mission, values, stakeholders and business position in order to suggest a suitable project. For example, if a business is keen to improve staff families’ engagement they could distribute branded free reflectors and ‘be safe be seen’ educational info to their staff’s children.

3. Grab Our Attention

They also said that using a strong statistic and putting it at the start would have been a more attention-grabbing introduction. ‘Five people a day’ are killed on the UK’s roads – that’s my whole family so it feels pretty strong to me. However the line from the hard-hitting Luc Besson #SaveKidsLives video which I saw for the first time last week is even more frightening: ‘Every day 1.8 billion children go to school… every day 500 of them will not make it’. (Anyone who works in road safety will understand why they are doing what they are doing when they see that film).

4. More Facts and Figures

‘I’d like to have seen more numbers and information about the work you’ve done.’ Another good point; facts prove authenticity.

5. A Website to Appeal to Corporates

‘Your website looks educational and not very corporate’ – this dragon had definitely done some research beforehand. Yes, we will definitely have to work on that!

Tough Times

This feedback will prove invaluable. In recent years, there have been massive cut-backs in local authority road safety resource budgets. Yes, I know; times are tough for everyone but road safety education seems to have been hit really hard. When we started Brightkidz, many local authorities were running pedestrian training schemes, setting up ‘walking bus’ schemes and promoting the ‘walk to school’ and ‘be safe be seen’ messages with reflectors and other resources. Now many of those working in local authorities (who were our customers) have not only lost their budgets but lost their jobs too.
We were also lucky to have funding from our local casualty reduction fund for project work with schools but that is no longer available. Times are tight for everyone now so we need to look further afield for investment in children’s safety and well-being. So we thought… corporate partners could be the answer and we need to look polished.

So How Did I Score?

This reminds me of school sports day. I’d be the child who comes home proudly with a bronze medal and says ‘Hey dad I got bronze!’, hoping that my mum wouldn’t tell him there were just three entries.

So let’s put it this way – I’m very proud of my ‘bronze’ and give credit to my fellow pitchers – Jillian Kowalchuk from Safe and the City and James Brown from Mobiloo – who were both excellent.

In the end we were all winners though as we all won a free subscription to Pioneers Post magazine for socal enterprises and a ticket to the next Good Deals conference. Much appreciated!

The ‘Dragons’

So that’s my story. I will finish by giving a mention and thanks to the not-so-fierce and actually-very-supportive dragons – Dirk Bischof of Hatch Enterprises, Alex Kahn of The Community Channel, Megan Peat of RBS Social and Community Capital and Jamie Veitch of Jamie Veitch Consulting – as well as Tim West of Matter & Co who chaired the session.

Can Corporates Step in to Road Safety?

What are your opinions on the role of corporates in supporting road safety/active travel initiatives for children?  How could it work? Would it be better if there were local authority partners involved too?

And of course if anyone knows any corporates interested in promoting road safety and developing a scheme with a social enterprise, please tell them about Brightkidz!