Interview with Lou Raiola, founder and CEO of Force Multiply
After 32 years of working with some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment, Lou Raiola, founder and president of Excelsior-based Force Multiply, is ready to share what his company does. For the past three decades, he’s been working behind the scenes at major national events bringing together celebrities, such as professional athletes and pop culture icons, with nonprofits to amplify social change through his family-run social-impact agency.
Raiola is a pioneer and was perfecting “cause marketing” before the term was coined. His first national marketing campaign was in the late 1980s when Totino’s frozen pizza partnered with the NFL and launched a promotional line of Pro Set Trading Cards. A key element of the partnership featured NFL star quarterbacks, including Cincinnati Bengal Boomer Esiason, on packaging and special-edition posters and calendars. In the early ’90s, Esiason’s son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Thanks to Raiola’s efforts, 50% of the sale of posters and calendars was donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and the nonprofit’s logo was included on all packaging and promotional materials. It was one of the first times a brand, an athlete and a cause were united in a national marketing campaign.
Raiola grew up on the east side of St. Paul in a blue-collar, Italian neighborhood. His mom was always cooking and feeding neighbors, friends and family; his dad was hard at work at the local brewery. The entire community was like a family.
Raiola graduated Johnson Senior High School as a multi-sport athlete and went on to play hockey and football at St. John’s University. After graduating in 1982, he joined Xerox as a sales representative. Four years later, while reading “What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School” by Mark McCormack, an idea was sparked. He decided to combine and follow his passions for sports and community.
After his early success with Totino’s, Raiola began focusing on what he calls “jewel events” — such as the Super Bowl, entertainment award shows and All-Star games — because they hold the most potential for successful cause marketing. He has partnered the country music record label Big Machine Label Group and its artists with General Mills and Feeding America for “It Takes a Big Machine to Outnumber Hunger” campaign. He worked with Zac Brown and the Grammy Foundation on Campbell’s Labels for Education program. And he organized the “I Stand with the Folds of Honor” campaign with PGA professionals. And that’s just to name a few he produced, as a leading cause marketer, over the past few decades.
In 2017, he launched the Purpose Awards to extend the Social Good category of the Streamy Awards for YouTube stars. The Purpose Awards are a licensed partnership with Dick Clark Productions and recognize internet influencers for doing good. Of the awards, he says, “We have the opportunity to take like-minded individuals who are doing good and bring them together to recognize them and engage their audiences to do more good.”
Raiola notes that Force Multiply exists to unite key stakeholders in their common shared values, working collectively to multiply a social good outcome. “We do this by understanding the company’s values and pair them with a nonprofit and celebrity influencer(s) sharing the same values. Each entity drafts benefit off the other while collectively multiplying the outcome,” he says.
Raiola is focused on making an impact at the local level, as well. He recently launched Green Youth Sports to create access for kids to play and spaces to play in. He says his 8-year old granddaughter inspired him to create the project because he imagined what her world is going to be. As urbanization grows, youth sports decline, and to him,that’s an issue he wants to address.
“I get frustrated going to summits talking about problems only to come back a year later and still have the same problems. … Government and politics aren’t going to drive change. Businesses and brands are responsible for the driving change we want to see. So lead. You have the resources, whether it’s time, talent or treasure. We’re just a family business with our own way to make our dent,” says Raiola.
As the discipline grows, Raiola believes companies need to create cause marketing practices in their organizations, just like PR and advertising, dedicating talent and budget to do it consistently and successfully. Leaving it to other departments as a task won’t have as great an impact as someone focused on it daily.
This story appears in print in our July/August issue. For a complimentary subscription, click here.