Last fall, Joel Hock, founder and president of the Toronto-based event management firm Solutions With Impact, produced an event to benefit the Hospital for Sick Children. Called the Car Rally for Kids With Cancer, the two-day event, held during the Toronto International Film Festival, paired luxury-car owners with celebrity navigators for an interactive scavenger hunt across the city. Drivers had to raise $25,000 to enter the contest, and the event raised more than $1.2 million for the hospital.
This weekend, Hock hopes to duplicate that success in Los Angeles, where Eva Longoria Parker is the event chair for the city's first Car Rally. The benefit—in support of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Padres Contra El Cáncer, a nonprofit organization that supports families of Latino children with cancer—kicks off with a launch party at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel Friday and concludes with a gala dinner Saturday night at a $30 million private home in Beverly Hills (owned by Bill Phillips of Transformation.com). With another Car Rally slated to run in Toronto this September, and Las Vegas and Miami incarnations in the works, we spoke with Hock about expanding the event.
Why did you decide to take the event national this year?
I think the event itself works from a fund-raising standpoint. People, once they understand it, want to get involved. And kids with cancer is a cause that hits home whether it’s in L.A., Vegas, Miami, or Toronto. In my opinion, the cure is just around the corner and all it takes is money. This event is driven by the participants.
Going into some cities where we don’t have an office is a scary concept—and sponsorships will be tough things to negotiate over the next year—but people are still giving. If the cause and the event are creative enough, then we can raise the money. If we can be creative in our execution, people will come.
What do you have planned for the L.A. event this weekend?
Normal executions are a single day, a gala. This two-day event has 10 different initiatives that attendees take part in. There is a draft party, a brunch, seven unique pit stops in and around the L.A. area, and a gala dinner. At each pit stop, the driver and celebrity have to work together, and once they get to the destination they have to perform a task. They have to sing with Smokey Robinson; they're going onto the field at Dodger Stadium. There are all kinds of very fun things they’re going to be doing, and the faster the teams complete the task, the more points they earn. The fact that nobody really knows what they’re doing [ahead of time] creates that anticipation and electricity throughout the event. We keep the drivers and celebrities busy.
This event has a big celebrity component. How did you get people like Gene Simmons and the Baldwin brothers involved?
Once we got Eva on board it solidified the celebrity face of the event. She is the face of the Car Rally for Kids with Cancer here in L.A. She’s going on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Thursday to talk about it, which for us is really exciting. Eva has reached out to a lot of friends, and she lends a tremendous amount of credibility and she is passionate about the cause. [For the others], it was really just one person talking to another person. We’d phone them up and talk to publicists and agents. And the interesting thing is, there are a lot of celebrities that are fund-raising themselves to try to raise money for the initiative. That hasn’t happened for us before.
Do you have local teams working in the U.S. cities?
In L.A. we’ve had two individuals on staff working with me [on the U.S. events] for the past six months. When I made a decision after the September event [in Toronto] to come to L.A., I spoke with my good friend [Spanish actress] Maria Bravo [who cofounded an organization called the Playing for Good Foundation]. Maria and I have partnered in the execution. She was really one of the reasons why we came to L.A. I knew I had the support in place here and she is a close friend of Eva—she was the maid of honour at her wedding.
How did you go about attracting sponsors in cities that you’ve never worked in?
MSN's Wonderwall, which is our title sponsor, really came from Eva. She had a contact at MSN, we made a presentation, and it really worked for them. Then each one of the events has an exclusive media partner. We have E!, Access Hollywood, and L.A. Confidential Magazine here in L.A.
What are some of the challenges you've faced in taking this event to the U.S.?
There is no question the economic situation in the U.S. is much worse off than we see it in Canada. Charitable giving is in moderately good shape in Canada. In the U.S. it’s much tougher. First and foremost, the challenge is convincing people to participate. It’s not like we’re asking people to raise $2,500 to participate in a walk. It’s $25,000. So it’s helping people get over the sticker shock. We need to convince people it’s not as bad as it looks, and we provide them with as much support as we can to get them to the goal. Other challenges are finding good partners—the hospitals, suppliers, and vendors in the marketplace—that understand the cause and are willing to give you a little bit of a break.