In the running to win $1M with sweaty PR storytelling
When our not-for-profit client Xceptional was nominated for the Impact Challenge to be in the running to win $1 million they came to Filtered Media for social media and PR storytelling to help win the hearts and minds of the voting public and judges. Director of social enterprise, Louisa Sampson, details how our creative approach to partnerships helped this social impact start-up get the top prize!

Google’s always on the lookout for innovators using technology to tackle social challenges. Every year, they offer $5.5 million via the Impact Challenge to support startups building a better future through technology.

This year, Xceptional, an award-winning technology services firm (and social impact client of ours), was one of ten organisations nominated.

Since December 2017, Xceptional has been employing people with autism for software testing, data analytics and software engineering on behalf of large-scale clients, helping big business recognise the cultural advantages and commercial benefits that come with neurodiversity.

In September they pitched their idea to the team: a world-first app that uses activity-based job interview assessments for businesses to use when considering people for data, analytics, problem-solving, pattern recognition or code-based roles, for example.

We were thrilled when Xceptional was chosen as one of ten finalists with a chance to win $1 million in funding to get their idea off the ground, and ultimately help thousands more people with autism into the workforce.

However, we had our own challenges:

  • We only had three weeks to convince the general public and judges including Google’s Vice President, the Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia, and Australia’s Chief Scientist that Xceptional was a worthy winner from a strong pool of charitable contenders.
  • We were competing for media air-time with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex who were in Sydney for the Invictus Games.

On your marks, get set, go! Filtered Media’s social impact PR storytelling team went hard and fast to get Xceptional the publicity it deserved; and ultimately, help it win $1 million.

To get the results, we had Mike run over 45 kilometres in a blue suit from his home in Asquith after a local Hornsby Advocate newspaper interview, to North Ryde for a stop at Optus, across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to visit Macquarie Group then on to Westpac, WiseTech, Fishburners and ABC. He finished exhausted but elated outside Google with a photoshoot that had him leaping onto the front pages of the Daily Telegraph online and other syndicated outlets.

Our in-house videographer and photographer captured footage of Mike’s exceptional efforts after Channel 9 requested it and Sky Business News show Your Money aired the visuals the next day during an interview with Mike in his freshly laundered blue suit. One of the judges at the final Google Impact Challenge awards night commented on Mike’s marathon and publicity efforts as clear demonstration of his passion and determined commitment to Xceptional’s vision.

Now that’s brand storytelling with results that matter.

The hero of our story: Mike Tozer, father of two, entrepreneur and World Record holder

Like Xceptional does with its clients, we decided to play to Mike’s strengths in telling the Xceptional story. Our strategy brought together Mike’s past achievements as a half marathon World Record holder, his media profile from appearing in the ABC TV series Employable Me, and his impressive business connections forged since launching Xceptional in Australia.

Xceptional’s CEO and Founder is no stranger to the media limelight: Mike Tozer was already well-known in media and running circles as “the guy in the blue suit”. He is the official World Record holder of fastest runner of a half marathon in a business suit. He’s attracted local and national media interest by competing regularly in a tailor-made three piece blue suit to raise awareness of how things can be harder but achievable for people with autism or Fragile X Syndrome, like his son Josiah.

Mike was also recently featured on ABC TV’s Employable Me, where he helped Tim, a young man with profound pattern tracking ability and autism, navigate the world of job interviews with a Jenga™ game and other activity-based assessments that play better to the strengths of people with autism than verbal interviews.

The Employable Me series helped propel Xceptional’s profile and led to many connections with business leaders like Westpac, Optus, Macquarie Group and WiseTech Global, among others, who are playing a big part in reducing the 65% underemployment rate for people with autism in Australia.

Making the most of partnerships with high-profile business connections

Our challenge was to secure public votes and generate publicity for Xceptional in the final sprint to the Google Impact Challenge winners’ podium.

Mike was keen to do a run through Sydney in his famous blue business suit.

We needed a way for the run to really tell the story of Xceptional and leverage the powerful business connections he’d made to lend credibility to his story: so we suggested a marathon route including thank you stops at the head offices of high-profile businesses in Sydney actively employing people with autism, and/or supporting Xceptional’s work.

The 45km route included stops at the offices of Optus, Westpac, WiseTech, Macquarie Group, Fishburners, ABC and Google.

We invited employees from each partner to take a photo with Mike in his suit, and promote their support for the worthy cause in their own corporate EDMs and social media channels. We helped partners create shareable info about Xceptional, and provided easy instructions for their employees and clients on how to vote in the Google Impact Challenge.

It was a way to publicly thank the business community for their support and set an example to others.  It was also a chance to leverage the significant audience reach of those big brands to raise awareness of the fact Xceptional was ‘in the running’ to win the Impact Challenge with their co-promotion support.

And so our low-cost, high impact PR campaign leveraging existing brand partnerships was on the blocks and ready.

Our Xceptional results

Pounding the streets of Sydney for 45km via Australia’s biggest business head offices paid off. Mike’s marathon got great exposure.

  • Our in-house videographer, Drew Grigg, filmed the run.
  • Sky News interviewed Mike the day after his run (in a freshly laundered suit!).
  • The marathon effort was profiled in tech press like Gizmodo and Lifehacker, reaching thousands of computer-savvy readers.
  • Our photography of a tired, spent man in a sweat-stained suit leaping for joy featured on the front page of the Hornsby Advocate newspaper with a positive feature story that got syndicated onto the Daily Telegraph online.

Back at Google, a major part of the judging process involved a 90-second pitch to a panel of judges, and hats off to Mike who wowed them with his personal passion and determination to change the status quo.

In addition to the human impact, the judges were impressed by the real business results Xceptional has already achieved. Our campaign got a mention: one of the judges noted how Mike’s marathon and publicity efforts went above and beyond, proving Xceptional’s dedication to the cause.

The Filtered Media team erupted into spontaneous cheers and applause when we got news that Xceptional was chosen as a Google Impact Challenge winner of $1 million — being part of telling such an important story was rewarding to all of us, personally and professionally.

Full credit to the tireless efforts, determination and strategic focus of Mike Tozer and his Xceptional team, we’re grateful they chose our social impact brand storytelling team to help tell their remarkable story that will impact people with autism for generations to come.

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