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VOL. 126 | NO. 32 | Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reader’s Digest Makes Difference-Making Memphis Stop

JONATHAN DEVIN | Special to The Daily News

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Call it the marriage of economic stimulus and National Lampoon’s Vacation, or maybe just “Three Dudes in an RV.” The Reader’s Digest We Hear You America Tour made a stop in Memphis with cash in hand.

The 100-day road trip across the nation will deposit $1,000 checks in communities representing the best of Americana and displaying economic need.

“We were able to check out some of the local music, and the barbecue,” said Jay Ramos, brand manager for Reader’s Digest and publicist for the tour, of his two-day stop in Memphis this week.

“(Memphis) is very alive. People are very friendly. I can see why people would want to live here. It’s something not to miss.”

Ramos and two other RD Ambassadors, guitarist Jayson Harrison and hip-hop dance teacher Mike Amos, completed the first quarter of their tour Monday in Memphis, when they presented Mayor A C Wharton Jr. with a $1,000 check. Tuesday, the trio toured Graceland.

By the end of the tour they will have delivered about $5 million in checks and promotional support. Most of the money will be directed toward community resources like parks, homeless shelters and public services.

Cities were nominated to the tour by citizens on the Reader’s Digest website, rd.com, and the ambassadors are tweeting of their adventures as they travel.

Nominees were asked to briefly explain why their city is both “the very best of America” and why it is in need.

One writer named Marian Bacon posted the following:

“In Memphis, Tennessee, we’re in dire need of funding for our City and County schools but more income flowing for the children especially in the low performing City schools,” she wrote. “If Memphis, Tennessee, had more funding we could hire more quality teachers and teacher’s assistants in order to help children with the basics of reading, writing and math. Our City school children are falling behind in all three of these areas because of the non-financial support from our local and state governments. A good majority of the City schools will be under the State of Tennessee controls if they don’t boost the test scores for this year. I would hate for this to happen now.”

Others mentioned the need for more jobs and city/county consolidation.

“Some people might say that $1,000 isn’t a lot of money, but we can certainly do some good with it,” said Wharton after receiving the check. “One of my passions is early childhood education and we’ll probably use the money on that. This $1,000 will be stretched a long, long way.”

Voting took place from Nov. 7 to Feb. 2. The tour left New York City on Jan. 15 and will end sometime in May. Only the first 50 cities on the tour have been revealed so far, but Ramos said they have already visited other southern cities including Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta. The next stop is Birmingham, Ala.

Although this is the first year Reader’s Digest has done a nationwide tour, Memphis showed up on its radar once before in the annual “Best of America” issue, which featured Graceland.

As a marketing campaign, the tour hits all the right angles, said Crissy Lintner, client services director for Obsidian Public Relations.

“Anytime you have a community outreach element in a campaign, you’re going to get attention,” she said. “One thing that we talk to our clients about is that it’s never good just to sit behind your desk.”

In addition to driving people to its website repeatedly to vote, the social media aspect gives Twitter users a reason to check in often.

The tour brings Reader’s Digest, one of America’s oldest publications, to a generation of young readers.

“When you incorporate the social media component, as people catch wind of it, people will get interested and say, ‘Hmm I wonder what’s going to show up next,’” Lintner said.

But often good corporate citizens deserve the publicity they get and Reader’s Digest has cast a positive spotlight on Memphis in the past.

“We also appreciate a story Reader’s Digest did a few months back on some of our firefighters,” said Mary Cashiola, spokeswoman for Wharton.

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