Anyone who has ever pulled off the perfect surprise party knows the pressure of all the planning, creativity, and teamwork to make things just right. That pressure mounts when the surprise party will attract national attention and your planning partner is one of the most powerful brands in the world. In the summer of 2016, LS2group had the opportunity to rise to the challenge with McDonald’s and successfully surprise one remarkable girl from Greater Kansas City with the adventure of a lifetime.
Leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, McDonald’s and Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) hosted the global McDonald’s Olympics Kids Program, which brought nearly 100 children from around the world to Brazil to participate in the games’ Opening Ceremony. Hana Allen, a 12-year-old girl from Pleasant Hill, Mo., was one of eight children from the United States chosen to participate.
Much like the other American children attending the games, Hana had overcome incredible odds to be where she is today. After being adopted from China at 16-months-old, she was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition called VACTERL association. She has spent time in and out of major surgeries and several RMHC houses around the country throughout her life. Her medical issues require significant time and attention every day, but haven’t had a negative impact on Hana’s enduring spirit.
Our team had a few short weeks to plan an event where the big news would be revealed to Hana for the very first time, and we wanted to make it a moment she would remember for the rest of her life. With the help of McDonald’s U.S.A., McDonald’s Heartland region, the McDonald’s Heart of America Co-Op, RMHC teams in Kansas City and Greater Cincinnati, the Allen family, a few special people in Hana’s life, a local Olympian, and a couple of elite athletes, we were able to achieve a surprise of a lifetime.
We worked closely with the aforementioned teams to determine surprise logistics and to coordinate decorations, snacks, beverages, and personalized gifts for Hana. Coordinating the actual surprise was a unique challenge, as we wanted to ensure Hana arrived at the Ronald McDonald House in Kansas City without suspicion. We even determined her exact position in the room at the time of the surprise so media could catch the best angle, and where to hide the rest of her friends and family in the House before she arrived.
She was brought to the House with her mother and younger brother under the guise of volunteering and attending a party at the House for volunteers. We coordinated a short program with Heart of America Co-Op President and RMHC Kansas City Board Chair Jim Wagy and McDonald’s Heartland Region General Manager Scott Rockwell, who helped introduce the reveal video, then presented Hana with going away gifts and two tickets to Rio after the video played.
Our team wanted to make sure many of Hana’s biggest supporters and mentors were included in the surprise, even if they couldn’t be there in-person. We worked with Hana’s family to track down six important people from Hana’s life – including her doctor, nurses, RMHC Cincinnati team members, neighbors, and past teachers – to submit a video message about their love and admiration of Hana’s spirit and courage. LS2group’s marketing team combined the messages into one video and helped ease into the Rio announcement, made by her two eldest siblings, near the end of the short film. The last message came from a local Olympian and champion archer who was excited to see Hana down in Rio. The video added a very genuine, emotional component to the afternoon. Watch it here! But grab some tissues first.
We invited a number of local influencers to join in surprising Hana, including U.S. archer and Rio Olympian Zach Garrett and aspiring Olympians Brenna Dowell (gymnastics) and Emma Reaney (swimming), both of whom had recently competed in Olympic trials. Each of the athletes gave Hana a special gift and wished her well on her adventure.
After inviting several local elected officials, State Representative Judy Morgan and Jackson County Supervisor Scott Burnett were able to attend the event to wish Hana well. State Senator Ed Emery and State Representative Rick Brattin also presented Hana with sealed and framed courtesy resolutions as keepsakes from the day.
We worked with our LS2group marketing team to capture the surprise on video and to take photos at the event. This content was shared with the national McDonald’s team and was used to help further the story with media and influencers on social media channels, and with the Allen family following the event.
Our team developed all press materials for the event and pitched far and wide. We secured attendance from several Kansas City media outlets at the event, including the Kansas City Star and all four local broadcast affiliates. We owned the news cycle that day and the next. Our team also pitched and secured coverage in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Albuquerque, N.M. because of Hana’s connections to each market. Check out the Star’s story here and the local NBC story here.
Extending the story
In the days and weeks following Hana’s big surprise, our team worked closely with our McDonald’s partners and Hana’s family to keep the amazing story alive with area media outlets and on social media. We created a special hashtag – #HanaTakesRio – and encouraged attendees to use it when posting about Hana’s trip. It allowed fans to follow Hana on her exciting journey to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and had been used nearly 87,000 times on Facebook alone one month after the big reveal.
We also worked with the team at Hana’s local McDonald’s in Pleasant Hill to put together a small sendoff party, complete with cake and a special FaceTime session with Hana’s Olympics Kids counterpart, nine-year-old Darius from New Jersey, a week after the big reveal. Collectively, these efforts helped showcase the community-side of a global brand and demonstrated the local commitment McDonald’s has to its neighbors.