Nonprofit launches ad campaign promoting disabled hires

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Nonprofit group Health & Disability Advocates launched a national ad campaign this week promoting the hiring of people with disabilities. The ads, which are running online, on TV, in print and on billboards, drive consumers to www.thinkbeyondthelabel.com, where they can find information and opt in for a quarterly newsletter.

Barbara Otto, executive director of Health & Disability Advocates, said the campaign's target audience consists of owners of small to midsize businesses that might not have a developed HR department — specifically C-suite executives age 35 to 54. The effort emphasizes the importance of workplace diversity, she said.

“[On the site] we're trying to build a community of employers who can share information and success stories about hiring people with disabilities and connect them with as many resources as possible,” Otto said.

She explained that these resources include state and regional Web sites, where employers can connect with qualified job candidates, as well as information on tax credits for hiring disabled people.

On the site, users can also make a pledge to “think beyond the label.” The pledge requires users to register, and enter e-mail address and state. Visitors also have the option of entering city, company name, company position, number of employees and uploading a picture of themselves. At that point, visitors can opt in to receive e-mails from the site.

Otto said Health & Disability Advocates is developing a quarterly e-mail newsletter that will highlight best practices for hiring, tips for developing company policies and managing a diverse workforce.

“We don't want to bombard our audience with information, but when we do send it out, we want them to pay attention,” Otto said.

The company also has a presence on Twitter and Facebook.

The TV ads feature Alana Wallace, an actress, dancer and disability advocate who uses a wheelchair as a result of childhood polio. The creative is lighthearted, sending the message that all workplaces accommodate difference, like the “copy-incapable” office worker, the “pattern-deficient” dresser and the man with “volume control syndrome.”

The effort, launched February 1, was developed by Chicago-based digital agency Wirestone, the group's AOR. The companies have worked together since January 2009.

“When they came to us, it wasn't to create a campaign, but to develop a brand,” said Brian Addison, director of brand strategy at Wirestone. “'Think Beyond the Label' is a call to action, and it's tied to the core theme of the campaign. We go through life labeling people whether we're aware of it or not. These can range from harmless to hurtful, but in most cases they're not correlated with productivity in the workplace.”

He added that there is a long education process to debunk myths about the disabled that cannot be deployed in traditional media. “So we used traditional media to drive traffic to the site, where we can really spend time with people and get them the information they need,” he said.

For the first half of this year, the campaign's budget is $4.5 million. Otto said the effort's goal is to spend $10 million on media by the end of 2010, but that is dependent on fundraising.

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