Championing the Boobies: Missy Ward and Affiliate Marketers Give Back
I always say going on a long drive with someone tells you a lot about them. When you walk 60 miles with someone it reveals even more. Last year I was shanghaied into walking such a distance with Missy Ward, founder of Affiliate Marketers Give Back, during which she fractured her foot but still persevered. But not out of some personal aggrandizing need to grab attention. Rather it was her passion for a cause that drove her forward. That cause is the fight against breast cancer and itâ€™s one she is championing again this year.
I sat down with Missy to discuss what drives her.
What spurred you to take up the fight against breast cancer?
Every choice is personal. For me over a decade ago someone I know very, very well was going to her routine doctorâ€™s exam. She didn’t know much about checking for lumps and while she was there her doctor found a lump in her left breast. Since she was young and there wasnâ€™t a history of cancer in her family the doctor said it was probably nothing. Unfortunately when the tests came back it wasn’t nothing, it was breast cancer.
I watched this girlâ€™s life totally change at that point. She had something that everyone is afraid of.Â It’s the big C-word. When it enters your life directly or through a friend it changes things permanently. I watched her go through the fear, anxiety, and pain of treatment, just trying to keep it together with this thing, this disease, looming over her. It broke my heart; I just wanted to be there to support her. Since I couldnâ€™t fix her, the only thing I knew how to do was to start doing some fundraising in hopes that one day no one else would be stricken with this horrible disease.
Over the course of years, while I have been involved in doing what I can to raise funds and awareness, I have seen other family members and friends stricken by the disease. Gosh, you know I have a nine-year-old stepdaughter; the thing that I want most in this world is to help eradicate breast cancer by time she gets boobies.
How did Affiliate Marketerâ€™s Give Back start?
For the last ten years or so I’ve been raising funds for the Susan G. Komen and the National Breast Cancer Foundation on my own as well as through Avon sponsored events. I really didn’t have a good way to help raise a lot of money to be donated. When I started I was a single mom just trying to keep my head above water. I donated my time to the Avon walks and helped raise funds that way.
Shawn (Shawn Collins, co-founder Affiliate Summit), my business partner held similar beliefs as to why fighting breast cancer was important. Both of us have been impacted by breast cancer in our lives.Â We felt it was an important cause and we wanted to step-up efforts and really generate support. We had a natural platform with Summit. Over the years we have done different things, like wearing crazy shirts or having goofy events, to help fundraise and increase awareness.
The one thing that affiliate marketers do really well is when there is a cause that everyone can get behind we band together in support. Whatever else bad that’s going on within the industry, whether it is personal rivalry or politics, gets put aside when affiliate marketers rally around a cause. So I figured what better way than to turn to the industry where I formed my career and see if I could get people together and really start turning up the fundraising efforts.
In 2007, I decided to do my first 60 mile breast cancer walk and it made sense to me to launch a site that could bring attention to the event.Â When I launched Affiliate Marketers Give Back the idea was to make the site a central place where people and companies could easily participate.Â I was also hoping I could get some people to do the walk with me.Â I was having little bit of a recruiting problem at the time.
For that first walk one person stepped up to the plate: that was my friend Connie Berg from Flamingo World (pictured below, standing on left, with Missy Ward). All it took was a little poking, prodding, and pushing until I finally mowed her over and she said yes. We did the walk together and raised about $40,000 that year.
Last year I started drumming up forces early to do the walk again. Thanks to the site and Connieâ€™s example we had more interest. 16 people originally signed up. We raised a ton of money doing the walk as a team and it was one of the proudest moments I’ve had in this industry. To see the folks from every aspect of our industry: affiliates, networks and merchants participate. We even had Laura Przybek from Buy.at come all the way from London to take part.Â It was definitely one of my highlights and we raised almost $60,000 all totaled. It’s something I’m so proud of and Iâ€™m looking forward to drumming up our efforts again this year.
That’s three walks in three years, how do you keep yourself motivated both physically and mentally?
Well I do run after two kids every day. I try to take care of myself. I walk and run in the mornings.Â I do a five mile run in the morning after I drop the kids off at school and I try to do some weight training. Itâ€™s been really cold here in Orlando this winter, in the 30s when I wake up in the morning, so Iâ€™ve had to hit the treadmill at the gym instead.
Whatâ€™s funny is that sometimes people have no idea how tough it can be. They are just like, â€œWell it’s just walking; it’s not like you’re runningâ€.Â Well you’ve been there with me and you know that people have to keep in shape to complete it. It’s no easy task.
Thatâ€™s why a team is important. You have to be able to motivate each other.Â This is why I was so thankful to have had Connie with me during that first walk. When you’re at the 30 mile mark and you realize you’re only halfway there and that there is another day and a half of walking, it can take the wind out of you. To be able to rally with the people around you, knowing it’s for a great cause, helps you get over that hump. You say to each other that youâ€™re going make it then grab a beer afterward or rub each other’s feet and of course you remind each other what you’re doing this for.
What was the most cathartic moment for you from the last walk?
Member of 2008 team pictured above, see more here.
When I wound up taking that stupid step off the curb while Tweeting because I wanted all of our people who donated to feel like they were actually taking part in the walk with us, I realized that my foot felt really bad. Of course at that moment I didn’t know it was broken. Then it started swelling up to the size it was when I was nine months pregnant. Still, despite all of our injuries the way the team pulled together to help each other make it through the walk was amazing. That moment at the end when, even though at some point we were all spread out throughout the walk, we stopped so we could cross the finish line together as a team was the most amazing experience for me. The love I have for you guys is never ending.
Do you ever find yourself getting frustrated while trying to motivate people around the cause?
I think that everyone has to find ways to put bread on the table for their family. Having been a single mom no one understands that better than me. What I’m doing with Affiliate Marketers Give Back is make an easy way for folks who may not necessarily have the time to walk for three days straight to pitch in. Here people who might not know how they can participate can have a central resource with all sorts of information. It also makes it easier for companies to give contributions. I want to be a facilitator. I am proud to do it and I’m honored to do it. I just want to have people participate in whatever way they feel comfortable.
Do you ever get frustrated with either the progress being made towards eradicating breast cancer or with people’s education levels about the disease?
It seems to me the treatment for breast cancer really hasn’t changed much in the last ten years.Â The treatment of cancer through chemo, through radiation, through surgery remains the same. Hopefully with continuing efforts and funding we will create a treatment breakthrough and one day eradicates this disease.
What I have seen change are people’s attitudes towards the disease. They realize it is so much more rampant than they thought. I remember years ago when women didn’t talk about it as a general topic, much less bring it up if they had breast cancer. I honestly didn’t even know when I had family members pass away from breast cancer. It was a hush-hush thing. People just didn’t talk about it or weren’t aware of it. Nobody talked about boobies as much as they do now.
For me, if I could get all of our Affiliate Summit attendees to lift their arms during the keynote speech and feel their boobies twice a year then at least everyone there is doing a self-exam. Anyway I can be out there to promote awareness, to get folks to get themselves checked out, is extremely important because as we all know an ounce of preventionâ€¦
Someone was teasing me last year at Summit. They mentioned that Katie Couric went on TV and did a live colonoscopy. Her husband had passed away from colon cancer and that was her turning point, to raise awareness about colon cancer. The person who was teasing me suggested that I should take off my shirt and show everyone how to do a breast exam live at Affiliate Summit.
But seriously, it’s so important that people get themselves checked out whether it’s men or women.Â For me, beyond fundraising, making everybody aware that they have to be vigilant, they need know how to check themselves out, is crucial.Â And if they don’t know how, they need to ask their doctor to teach them how to self-exam the proper way.
Recently Jeremy Schoemaker, Owner Shoemoney, stepped up with an auction on eBay where he offered to wear a companyâ€™s shirt for the length of Summit as a fundraiser, which is very impressive. Is it difficult to get guys interested in supporting the cause?
Jeremy Schoemaker and Train Signal present check to Missy Ward at Affiliate Summit.
Back at Affiliate Summit East in Boston we were asking people to give $10 donations and passing out â€œI Gave Backâ€ buttons in return. It was easy to get money from women but it was not so easy to get guys involved. So I started going up to the guys and asking, â€œWhatâ€™s the problem, you don’t like boobies?â€ When you put it to the guys like that they suddenly found it very easy to give.
When Jeremy told me what he was planning to do I was taken aback. Our friendship has grown stronger over the last year and he came up with this idea without any prodding. I was so proud of him. And proud of the guys from Train Signal for matching the donation because as they told me they had employees and family members affected by breast cancer and wanted to really show their support. Together they raised $10,000 which was just huge.
You’re a guy why did you take part in walk?
Well, with people flying all the way from London to basically my backyard in order to participate in an event for such a great cause, there was just no way I could pass. Everyoneâ€™s passion was obvious and I couldnâ€™t just sit back on the sidelines and say I hope it goes well for you.
So, am I am hearing rumors about you coming out of retirement?
Three years ago I said that I was done with managing programs. I needed to focus on the things that we were trying to grow, like Affiliate Summit. Plus, there are so many awesome OPMs available that really the industry doesn’t need another one. Last December as I was laying out what I want to accomplish in 2009 realized I had a little bit more bandwidth. I figured a great way for me to approach fundraising this year and stay connected with the issues in the day-to-day affairs of the industry was to take on one client. The idea is that I would manage their program and in lieu of the fees that they would pay me to manage a program, all the proceeds would instead go to National Breast Cancer Foundation.
I’m excited about the responses that I’ve gotten, with over 50 merchants who are interested in participating. It’s nice to be able to kind of sit back and look at them strategically. To think about which one I can really help grow and still earn a ton of money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation. It’s an exciting win-win situation.
What would your advice be to people who feel they don’t have enough opportunity to make a difference whether it is for breast cancer or any other good cause?
I think there are a number of things that folks can do that really are painless giving. People come up to me all the time and say, â€œI am so over my head with my business that I don’t have any bandwidth to walk with you or to get involved with anythingâ€. For me it’s very simple: if it’s a cause you believe in even something small like putting a penny from every dollar towards a cause is a painless way to give back.
The idea is to contribute what you can whether it is purchasing a button or a shirt or simply donating time to a cause. There are always a number of different events going on at Affiliate Summit that don’t take a lot of time. For instance, the last Affiliate Triathlon took about an hour; people signed up, and had fun with the events. Again it was painless giving.
Of course I welcome more walkers and they can always pop up an Affiliate Marketers Give Back banner on their site.
If anyone has any ideas for things they are doing locally to help take on breast cancer I would love for them to be featured on the website.Â The site isn’t about me and what I am doing it is about featuring what the industry is doing to give back. I would encourage folks that are doing something wonderful locally and paying it forward to call me, e-mail me, heck Twitter me (just not while I am walking), and let me know what they’re doing. I would love for the site to be used as a central location to help people get going with their efforts.