Case Study: #TeamStrub 2015 - 50 States, 100 Days
On May 15, 2015, I left Greenville, S.C., in a 2007 Honda Accord to travel solo to all 50 U.S. states over the next 100 days. Below is a photo from Day 1.
During this trip, my objective was to volunteer with youth-related organizations in all 50 states, and use social media to document and share the adventure.
The original idea for a solo, cross-country roadtrip came to me Dec. 31, 2012, over a few adult beverages at my studio apartment in Binghamton, N.Y. I decided that night to set a goal of visiting the lower 48 states during the summer of 2013.
Through the winter and into the spring of 2013, I decided to postpone that road trip a year, and travel around the U.S. in the summer of 2014 -- which I did, from May 29 to Aug. 25, 2014, starting from Binghamton, with a first stop in Burlington, Vt., and a final stop in Wilmington, Del. (I've written at length about that trip in other blog posts on this site.)
That trip largely inspired this second, 50-state, 100-day adventure. I also drew inspiration from an experience I had with an organization called 'Pay Away the Layaway' in Greer, S.C., in Dec. 2014; and my role in Raleigh, N.C., with the Binghamton University Alumni Association's Global Day of Service in the spring of 2015 (pictured below).
I first started physically planning the 50-state trip -- known henceforth as just "the trip" -- in Feb. 2015. The first step is to use a website called myscenicdrives.com to sketch out the physical route. From there, I used a Google Docs spreadsheet to list out the dates and cities in order, as well as Google Calendar to physically lay out the sequence.
The most important piece, however, is the spreadsheet. It was here that I filled in the different organizations that I reached out to, one by one, along with individual contact information, and a color-coding system to indicate the status of each 'lead' -- white was 'haven't emailed yet;' yellow was 'emailed, haven't heard back,' orange was 'email conversation in progress,' red was 'they said no,' and green was 'confirmed.' The color coding and sequential nature of the document allowed me to prioritize contacts, a process that continued until the very last day of the trip.
As the document evolved, I used the same color-coding system, on the same sheet, for local media outreach, as well as outreach to local Minor League Baseball teams in relevant cities. I ended up throwing out -- I believe -- 12 first pitches at minor-league baseball games. (Don't quote me on that number.)
As May 15 approached, I quit my job as the General Manager of a Sbarro at the Haywood Mall -- the largest mall in South Carolina -- and throttled all my time and energy into confirming meetings. I didn't properly document this figure, either, but I estimate I had about 50% of the stops confirmed when I left South Carolina, including most of the first stretch. I did not have full confirmation from State No. 2 -- Georgia -- or State No. 7 -- Tennessee -- but time pauses for no one. Most of the end of the trip -- I'd say from State 40, forward -- was nowhere near confirmed; this would need to be done from the road.
Sponsorship proved much more difficult than I anticipated, and so I ended up departing without any sponsors. Most of my outreach went unanswered; the few companies that did reply let me know that I needed to have completed this outreach much, much further in advance. I didn't think that emailing in February about a May departure was too late; it turns out that it absolutely is. However, I did have a connection at the Hard Rock Cafe through my father, Charlie Strub; after several high-level discussions, Hard Rock Cafe agreed to provide to me a meal at each city I visited that had a Hard Rock Cafe. There would be no compensation provided, other than food (no alcoholic beverages), and some sort of souvenir at each stop. At the first Hard Rock Cafe stop in New Orleans, I chose to take with me a small teddy bear with a tiny t-shirt that said 'Hard Rock Cafe New Orleans;' I would go on to collect the same bear, with a local t-shirt, at each Hard Rock Cafe I visited that summer. I was not permitted to say that I was "sponsored" by Hard Rock Cafe -- only that the trip was "supported" by their brand. I staged photos at each Cafe I visited, and live-streamed at most of the stops, including a full tour given by senior staff in Memphis and San Diego. I had the same beverage every cafe -- a Strawberry Lemonade, which is phenomenal, especially in the middle of the summer in San Antonio and Honolulu -- and made sure to artistically include it on my Snapchat story every time. Hard Rock Cafe never mentioned me or the trip on any of their social media channels.
In addition to Hard Rock Cafe, I had pitched to quite a few brands before the trip began, including multiple popular name-brand hotel chains; one where I had a very high-level connection. My ask was relatively modest, especially of the hotel chains; I would've been overjoyed to trade summer-long media mentions for a warm, safe place to sleep each night. I attempted to reach car companies, including Honda, the brand of vehicle I would be driving all summer. I was in contact, and had multiple productive conversations with, a startup that handled on-vehicle advertising. All of my outreach was inevitably rejected or, mostly, ignored. I pressed on.
As a one-man operation, media was a summer-long challenge for me, particularly early in the trip. It turns out most local media find it hard to believe that one man is going to volunteer in all 50 U.S. states in 100 days. I did obtain media coverage in Greenville, S.C., before the trip began, including one afternoon television interview that delayed my departure on May 15. The first interview from the trip came from the Montgomery Advertiser in Montgomery, Ala., at Peter Crump Elementary School. Ironically, this was one of only two times during the trip that I was photographed not in the #TeamStrub yellow t-shirt (I was wearing a smock to protect clothing from paint, which was our activity that morning). [The second photo came at Impression 5 Science Center in Lansing, Mich., where I staged a photo with their volunteer coordinator of me wearing an orange Impression 5 t-shirt. I was, and still am, very protective of the yellow 'I AM HERE' brand.] The first earned television media from the journey came in State No. 6 -- Mississippi -- from a station in Jackson that missed the morning interview window. I had to return to the Jackson YMCA that afternoon for an interview and to stage images, which is why that first story doesn't show me doing the activities I was there to perform (preparing meals for kids).
Media coverage began to pick up steadily as the summer went on, and media organizations began to see that this trip was, in fact, for real. There could have been significantly more media if not for some unfortunate circumstances. Notably, the day I visited Wichita, the local airport was opening a new terminal, and a new Wal-Mart was opening across town, so the local media we'd planned became unavailable. I was also offered the opportunity to appear on a morning interview show in Anchorage, but not until the day after my flight left for Hawaii. I did consider moving my flight back, but such a maneuver would've been cost-prohibitive for a solo, unsponsored traveler.
The most media in a single day came in Binghamton, N.Y., on July 30, when I was interviewed by every local television station, as well as a local radio station. In 2007, I graduated from Binghamton University, and I lived in Binghamton for 11 years before departing for that first trip one year prior, so I knew stopping in Binghamton would be a valuable and meaningful use of my time, and could bring a lot of attention to the Magic Paintbrush Project. However, the story was not picked up by the Press & Sun-Bulletin, the local newspaper in Binghamton where I had worked for seven years, because of a decree from the paper's new Executive Editor that they don't offer coverage to people passing through the area. By the way, here is an article from the Press & Sun-Bulletin about the recent Bon Jovi concert in Endicott. I was disappointed the paper chose not to highlight the Magic Paintbrush Project and the special event that director Jen O'Brien had set up. You can donate to the Magic Paintbrush Project here.
The final 25% of the trip or so led to the most earned media attention. After a small featured photo in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and all the media except the paper in Binghamton, the story was picked up by various outlets in Burlington, Vt.; Lowell, Mass.; Wilmington, Del.; Baltimore; Charleston, W.V.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Lexington, Ky., as well as my "home town" of New York City/Long Island. The final remaining city was Asheville, N.C., where I had set up a "grand finale" whirlwind tour, to visit six different organizations around the city in one day. I prepared a special press release detailing the big day. The media never replied, and there was no coverage of the final stop until the Greenville (S.C.) News wrote a follow-up piece the following week.
Tracking data about the trip was a priority, but became increasingly difficult in the final stretch of the trip. I kept a separate spreadsheet with financials and daily data about mileage, etc., but reviewing that spreadsheet today shows that I lost track of these data points as I embarked on visiting seven states in eight days after Binghamton. As of Day 78, I had been averaging 153 miles per day -- a number that likely decreased with the shorter trips through the Northeast. Through Day 78, I had traveled 11,990 miles in the car -- a number that, of course, did not include the lengthy flights from Seattle to Anchorage, Anchorage to Honolulu and Honolulu back to Seattle. I estimate the final, physical cost of the trip at around $12,000 -- a number that, of course, does not include foregone income. The trip would've cost more had I not slept in the back seat of my car 14 times -- the first, in the rental car in Anchorage; the most memorable, being July 4, after a six-pack of Budweiser and falling asleep to light rain and fireworks at a Wal-Mart in Dickinson, N.D.; the last, outside a Home Depot in Baltimore.
I have not aggregated data about the total views, etc., from all the videos from the trip, mostly because the vast majority of exposure about the trip came from the earned media along the way. It's near impossible to quantify the views from a broad variety of television stations, listens from radio interviews, story reads from print and digital newspaper avenues, and so on. (Below is a photo from Wilmington, Del., where the trip was picked up by ABC 6 on TV; WDEL on the radio; and the Wilmington News-Journal in print.)
I've written and spoken extensively about the impact the trip has had on my life and career, and the details of each of the 51 stops (50 states, plus a bonus stop in Huntington, N.Y.) are laid out in '50 States, 100 Days: The Book.' In addition to the writings, there are extended interviews (shot via GoPro) and 2-minute-or-less Snapchat interviews (shot via iPhone 5S) all stored on my YouTube channel and Facebook page. My Instagram features well over 100 photos from the trip -- including every Hard Rock Cafe I visited -- and there is a smattering of archived live-stream content on my YouTube channel as well. (The technology to automatically save live-streams, Katch, was not introduced until I got to San Antonio, Texas, so there are no preserved live-stream videos from the beginning of the trip.)
After the trip ended, I rested for several days before pursuing marketing/communications/social media jobs in Greenville, S.C. Unable to secure a job in my field, I accepted a job offer to work for a consolidated design studio with Johnson Newspaper Company in Watertown, N.Y., and moved to Watertown in Oct. 2015. '50 States, 100 Days: The Book,' the e-Book, was published in Nov. 2015. My first social media speaking gig came in Jan. 2016 at Periscope Summit in San Francisco. From late Feb. to April 2016, I executed the #StrubSnapSwaps Snapchat collaboration, a 50-day Snapswap project that grew my daily Snapchat views more than 600%. In May 2016, I accepted a role as a traveling social media consultant with Humana, and moved from Watertown to Louisville, with a start date of June 1 -- an experience I will write about in the next blog post.
Learn much more about the journey by reading the book, watching or listening to any of the interviews I've done about the journey, or poking around a bit more on TeamStrub.com. There is a state-by-state list that details each nonprofit I visited, where you can immediately find more info about the organization I worked with in your state. And of course, connect with me on social media -- the best place is Twitter -- for all the latest news and info.
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