IntroductionGetting college students to care about a sick little girl is one thing, but how do you get themto take life-saving action three times a day? Every day? For an entire month? That was thechallenge faced by Cardinal PR, SUNY Plattsburgh’s student-run public relations agencywhen they agreed to help Hannah’s Hope Fund win a $250,000 Pepsi Refresh Project grant.Situation AnalysisHannah’s Hope Fund was established when parents Matt and Lori Sames refused to give uphope that their 4-year old daughter Hannah would die from a neurological disorder calledGiant Axonal Neuropathy or GAN. Hannah’s Hope Fund is a grass-roots, 501(c)3 non profitorganization with no paid staff. Its mission is to raise funds for research that will lead to atreatment stopping this horrible disease in its tracks before it’s too late for Hannah and ahandful of others like her. Unlike childhood cancers or other terminal diseases, GAN isconsidered an orphaned disease because it afflicts so few children that it’s not worth theresources for medical research companies. Simply put, projected profits aren’t sufficient tojustify medical research.Children with GAN are born and develop normally until they begin experiencing neurologicalproblems, usually with their feet, between 2-4 years of age. From there, GAN is similar toother neurological disorders such as ALS. Slowly, these children are robbed of the ability towalk, eat and eventually breathe by their mid-20s.In just over two years, Hannah’s Hope Fund had raised close to $2 million for medicalresearch studies and was trying to secure additional funding for FDA clinical trials andapproval. For a small organization run by no one other than immediate family and friends,this feat seemed insurmountable, until Pepsi created a social media based CSR programcalled the Pepsi Refresh Project. Hannah’s Hope Fund had already trumped an August win,beating out national health agencies with huge staffs and budgets to win its first $250,000Pepsi Refresh grant. However, the medical team still needed to be paid to continue itsresearch and the approaching FDA studies would be costly. Attempting a second $250,000Pepsi Refresh Project grant was unthinkable…or was it?
In the fall of 2010 that is exactly what SUNY Plattsburgh’s Cardinal Public Relations(Cardinal PR) agreed to when they took on Hannah’s Hope Fund as an academic service-learning client.The Challenge As the new school year was approaching, the excitement was just quieting down thatHannah’s Hope Fund had beaten out much larger, national organizations in the healthcategory of the Pepsi Refresh contest. The community and Hannah’s Hope volunteers wereexhausted from the month long quest to recruit on-line voters and mobile texters, and quitesimply everyone from Plattsburgh to Albany was sick of hearing about Hannah’s Hope.Cardinal PR’s challenge was to energize and engage an entirely new audience for theNovember Pepsi Refresh contest. A new group of social media savvy constituents wasneeded, one that hadn’t consumed their lives in August voting for Hannah three times aday… namely college students. Hannah’s Hope Fund would prove to be challenging to the Cardinal PR team in morethan one way. The biggest challenge was also the first, explaining to our primary public(college students) exactly what Giant Axonal Neuropathy or GAN is. The team did this bystarting a Facebook group to help spread awareness about the disease. All key messagesregarding the disease had to be short and easily read, because as we know college studentshave the attention span of a tweet. The tactics would need to be short and sweet, theposters and flyers would need colorful fonts with amusing pictures and innuendos such as“Did you do it today?” referring to the text-to-vote method the Pepsi Refresh Project uses.Cardinal PR’s tactics certainly did their job because the campaign led to a second win in theDecember Pepsi Refresh Project for Hannah’s Hope Fund, earning them an additional$250,000 to go along with the original grant from the August win to total a half milliondollars to fund GAN research.ResearchResearch for this campaign relied primarily on secondary research.GAN (Giant Axonal Neuropathy)The secondary research began with understanding GAN. GAN is a disease that affects thenervous system in one’s body. The disease usually starts in early childhood and worsenswith time, eventually shutting down the entire body.Hannah SamesTo understand GAN further Cardinal PR met with Matt Sames, the father of Hannah who’snamesake is Hannah’s Hope Fund. Hannah is a seven-year-old girl with kinky, curly blonde
hair and an energetic personality. When Hannah was four years old she was diagnosed withGAN, the youngest child ever diagnosed with GAN.ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis)GAN can be closely related to ALS. Cardinal PR thought it was important for its targetaudiences to understand the connection between GAN and ALS because even those GAN isextremely rare, a cure for GAN could eventually lead to a cure for ALS.Target Audiences College Students High School StudentsPrimary AudienceSUNY Plattsburgh Students, Ages 18-24Cardinal PR targeted the total student body of 5,859 students. Of the 5,859 students 57percent are women while 43 percent are men. The student body is diverse with studentsrepresenting over 70 countries. The reason why we chose college students as a public wasbecause of their knowledge of social media and technology (25.8% of all Facebook usersare between 18 and 25 years old.)Secondary AudiencePlattsburgh High School Students, Ages 14-18Much like the SUNY Plattsburgh audience the high school audience is tech savvy and wellconnected with social media making them a good target for the Pepsi Refresh Project.Friends of SUNY Plattsburgh Students, Ages 18-24We also reached out to friends of SUNY Plattsburgh students who attend other colleges anduniversities primarily in New York State, but also around the country. Since collegestudents’ social media networks exist beyond the structural boundaries of Plattsburgh, weengaged these existing relationships to help make Hannah’s Hope Fund go viral.In addition, the education phase for this age group was quicker because we didn’t need tospend the time explaining how to vote via text or Facebook, since college and high schoolstudents were already adept with the technology.
Competing Factors Among AudiencesLike all college students, Plattsburgh students are targets for numerous social welfarecauses urging students for their support. During this semester just some of the competinghealth organizations included: St. Jude’s Up Til’ Dawn, American Cancer Society’s Relay forLife, and Colleges Against Cancer, which made it difficult to streamline attention to rally thecampus to support Hannah’s Hope.Key MessagesVote 3 Ways, every day to save Hannah!Cardinal PR developed this slogan to influence and motivate the college audience to votethree different ways everyday for the entire month of November to stay involved throughtechnology and social media.Students could text vote, vote online through the Pepsi Refresh web page, and through thePepsi Facebook page.You’re on Facebook and texting everyday anyway…and it doesn’t cost a cent.We realized we weren’t asking students to do anything they weren’t already doing everydayanyway. It would be easy to just take a minute while you’re already Facebooking or textingto vote for Hannah…and besides, it’s free.A Cure for GAN could lead to a cure for other diseases like ALS.Cardinal PR thought it was important to inform the target audiences that discovering a curefor GAN would not only help the small number of GAN sufferers, but the same research hadthe potential to help cure other common neurological diseases as well.Goal, Objectives, and OutcomesGoal: To Have Hannah’s Hope Fund win the Pepsi Refresh 250K Grant forNovember 2010.
Objective 1: To build a connection to Hannah’s Hope Fund among SUNY Plattsburgh andlocal high school students during the Pepsi Refresh Contest throughout the month ofNovember.Objective 2: To educate our audiences that their help finding a cure for the orphaneddisease GAN would cost them nothing except a few minutes of their time throughout themonth of November.Objective 3: To motivate our audience to take action and vote all three ways, every dayduring the Pepsi Refresh Contest throughout the month of November.Strategy 1: Engage college and high school students via a social media campaign.Rationale: While older social media audiences are growing, college and high schoolstudents are still the largest audience for Facebook and have constant access to mobilephones for texting.Tactic 1: Develop a new Facebook page for Hannah’s Hope Fund and post current, regularphotos and updates about Hannah and other GAN children to make an emotionalconnection with our audiences. Include information about the on-going medical research.Provide direct links to the Pepsi websites for voting and detailed voting instructions for howstudents can vote all three ways, every day.Tactic 2: Produce, film and direct a video to post on YouTube and the Hannah’s HopeFacebook page, as well as distribution via email and personal Facebook wall postings,calling out to students to vote all three ways. The short film utilized campus opinion leaderssuch as VP of Student Affairs, Bill Laundry, the Student Association president, and GreekLife leaders.Tactic 3: Create a Hannah’s Hope Twitter Account. Post daily comments and reminders onTwitter to build a HHF Twitter following.Outcomes: Over the course of the semester the Hannah’s Hope Fund Facebookaccumulated 4,408 fans. This tactic was our most valuable asset in the campaign. TheHannah’s Hope Fund Facebook Page was also linked to the Twitter Page HH4GAN. This pagehas accumulated 114 followers and played a role in spreading awareness about thenonprofit. Our video was distributed to thousands of Facebook friends, email contacts andon YouTube.Strategy 2: Engage college and high school students via face to face personal encounters.Rationale: We found that most college students were willing to help out, especially whenthey realized how easy it was and we weren’t asking for a financial donation.
Tactic 1: Gave a short pitch and voting instructions at the premiere and all Novembersubsequent showings of the heavily anticipated Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part1 movie. Got audiences to vote on the spot and asked them to remember to vote daily untilthe end of November.Tactic 2: Tabled in the Angell College Center, urging students to vote on the spot, anddistributed educational quarter sheets on Hannah’s Hope and ways to vote in the PepsiRefresh contest. Engaged students by blowing bubbles, which are incorporated in theHannah’s Hope Fund logo.Tactic 3: Distributed educational quarter sheets on Hannah’s Hope and ways to vote in thePepsi Refresh contest at all major collegiate sporting events including basketball and hockeygames. In addition to engaging sports fans 1:1, announcements were made over theloudspeaker during halftime breaks.Tactic 4: Tabled at Sunday brunch at SUNY Plattsburgh’s main dining hall, where all on-campus students needed to eat on weekends. Requested students vote on the spot as theywere waiting to swipe in.Tactic 5: With instructor approval, Cardinal PR students made announcements before orafter their classes reminding students to vote.Tactic 6: Distributed educational quarter sheets on Hannah’s Hope and ways to vote in thePepsi Refresh contest urging students to vote on the spot in residence halls in the evenings.Tactic 7: Distributed business cards with instructions on how and where to vote at the mallfood court on Black Friday, coffee shops, and to college-aged students while standing in linefor rides at Universal Studios and Disney World.Outcome: We reached thousands of moviegoers awaiting the start of the latest Harry Potterfilm at close to 20 showings. In addition, literally thousands of students were engaged inbrief 1:1 personal conversations over the course of the month.Strategy 3: Design visual communication materials to remind students to vote daily.Rationale: Since this contest depended on an engaged audience throughout the entiremonth, it was difficult to maintain the enthusiasm and momentum. The campaign neededto be sustained via numerous strategies throughout November.Tactic 1: Developed screen savers placed on all college computers in the computer labswith information on how and where to vote.
Tactic 2: Put up lawn signs around Plattsburgh with the Hannah’s Hope logo and websitereminding passersby to vote.Tactic 3: Cardinal PR students wrote reminders to vote for Hannah and the text votenumber on white boards in lecture hallsTactic 4: Created and hung humorous posters with sexual innuendos of students sayinghow many times a day and where they “did it”.Outcome: It’s difficult to calculate the value of these tactics. We did receive a number ofcomments about the posters, but have no hard numbers to substantiate their value. Thebest we can say is they were a part of a successful campaign.Strategy 4: Engage college and high school students via a traditional media campaign.Rationale: Although social media and face to face encounters are the primary means ofreaching our audiences, a small, traditional media campaign would also be helpful toreinforce our messages throughout the month.Tactic 1: Submitted press releases to the student-run newspaper, Cardinal Points, as well asthe local newspaper, The Press-Republican.Tactic 2: Created and aired three radio PSAs that ran on the student radio station WQKE FM,WOKO FM, and WIRY AM.Outcome: Similar to the above tactics, it’s difficult to place a value on these tactics as well.The local newspaper ran several articles, although the college newspaper decided not to runthe story. WOKO, the station with the largest listening audience in our area ran several PSAsas did the local AM station and the college station. Again, the best we can say is they were apart of a successful campaign.Evaluation Since this was a student-run campaign, by the time the end of the semester came,students had dispersed for winter break. As such, no formal evaluation was completed.Throughout the month of November Hannah’s Hope Fund was always in first or secondplace in the running to secure one of the two grants. Over Thanksgiving break when SUNYPlattsburgh (and SUNY Albany) students were on break, the campaign lost momentum andvotes. By the time students returned, November was over and Hannah’s Hope had slippedto third place, just out of the winners circle. Additionally, there were some outsidecontingencies that resulted in Pepsi evaluating and revising the entry and voting rules forthe contest as requested by Hannah’s Hope supporters. After frustration, tears and angerfrom the Sames family, Cardinal PR students and all Hannah’s Hope supporters, Hannah’sHope summoned the energy to enter the December contest as well. This decision was
undeniably the right one and proved that the work done in November was irrefutable.During the month of December as students continued the campaign amidst finals and theholidays, Hannah’s Hope finally with success and secured a second $250,000 grant! For Cardinal PR, the overall experience was a valued one. Throughout the campaign,Cardinal PR learned many valuable lessons, such as dealing with clients, communicatingwith fellow practitioners and maintaining a professional image. Having the chance to workwith an actual client and helping them achieve their goal was the most rewarding feelingimaginable.