The American Red Cross Braves the Campaign Storm

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The American Red Cross Braves the Campaign Storm
The American Red Cross Braves the Campaign Storm

Sometimes, life takes an unforeseen turn. So, when tragedy or disaster strikes, marketers must be willing and able to adjust their campaigns at a moment's notice.

“What happens when you have a campaign that's planned, and then all of a sudden, your mission pops up in the middle of the campaign?” asks Kat Powers, communications director for the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts.

The American Red Cross pondered this very question after Hurricane Sandy stormed through and disrupted the organization's holiday campaign. The annual holiday campaign, Give Something that Means Something, encouraged the public to buy  gifts from the Red Cross Holiday Giving Catalog or make a monetary donation in honor of a loved one to benefit those in need. The campaign featured a direct mail catalog, an online catalog, direct email appeals, and a video featuring a claymation figure named Fred who debuted in 2011, says Anne Marie Borrego, director of media relations of the Red Cross.

According to Borrego, after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, the Red Cross decided to forgo Fred and speed up the launch of its Red Cross Storytellers campaign, which the Red Cross originally planned to execute in January 2013. Despite pulling the PSA and commercial elements, the Red Cross maintained the rest of the Give Something that Means Something message and strategies.

“When we were talking about the holidays in December, it just seemed a bit of a disconnect to have the claymation figure out there in a very whimsical way when so much of the country was experiencing this massive devastation. We really felt like it was important to acknowledge that.” Borrego says.

Powers applauds the historic organization's ability to shift gears so quickly.

“The American Red Cross is a [131]-year-old organization that sometimes acts like a [131]-year-old organization. It was breathtaking to watch the speed at which folks turned direction,” Powers says.

“As you can imagine, we can plan for some things, but major disasters we can't always plan for,” Borrego adds. “So, we have an organizational metabolism as such that we can make quick decisions and move fast when we need to.”

Borrego says The Red Cross's agency of record, BBDO New York, also helped expedite the Storytellers advertising campaign, which invited the public to tell America about their Red Cross experiences. The goal was to highlight the organization's mission of serving people in need, says Borrego. After soliciting participation via the Red Cross website, social media, email, direct mail, and through its chapters, the Red Cross sent approximately 300 participants kits, consisting of cameras, instructions, and storytelling tips, to allow them to create their own videos. The Red Cross also asked the participants to jot down their thoughts in a book, which the organization then used for the campaign's print ads. “For a large organization like ours, it's easy to fall into the trap of telling others what we do. With this campaign, we were really able to let the folks who we serve show what our services meant to them, and that's really powerful,” Borrego says.  “It's far more powerful than anything I can say, anything that an actor can say, or anything that can be really scripted.”

On December 10, the televised PSAs started running within targeted markets and on several channels, including AMC, the History Channel, TNT, Fox News, and MSNBC. The videos are also on the Red Cross's YouTube channel, and the 25 uploaded videos have more than 5,800 views.

In addition to being meaningful, Borrego says the campaign was also cost-effective, as the cameras, film, film development, and shipping were all partially or fully donated. She also said the Red Cross was able to avoid Screen Actors Guild fees because all of the storytellers were volunteers.

Based on her experiences at the Red Cross, Borrego recommends that marketers listen to the public's sentiments when tragedy or disaster forces an organization to consider making a campaign change.

“It's important to be aware of the environment, and in our case, we realized that the environment was not appropriate for the animated ads that we had been running in the previous year,” Borrego says. “I think that they probably would have seemed ill-timed or just out of touch with what was going on. I think every brand needs to be situationally aware of the mood of the country and how folks are feeling when releasing a campaign so you don't seem completely out of touch.”

HubSpot pays tribute to the Red Cross

In an act completely separate from the two campaigns, HubSpot created an ebook showcasing the Red Cross's use of inbound marketing through digital catalogs, social, and video. Dan Slagen, head of global marketing relations for HubSpot, says the ebook aimed to drive donations, as well as highlight the Red Cross's inbound marketing efforts and illustrate ways for nonprofits on a limited budget to use inbound marketing. HubSpot also created a landing page within the ebook as a place where people could donate to the Red Cross.

“Whatever your particular company, industry, or vertical, as long as you're educating people around you, that's what we consider great inbound marketing,” Slagen says.

Like the Red Cross expedites its campaign due to Hurricane Sandy, the genesis of the Hubspot ebook was a result of the storm, as well. Before Hurricane Sandy caused major destruction, Slagen says HubSpot published a blog post outlining how companies could advertise and produce effective marketing campaigns during the storm. After receiving backlash from its customers, Slagen says HubSpot apologized, edited the blog post, and gave a donation to the Red Cross. After discovering that HubSpot and the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts were neighbors, Slagen says HubSpot decided to highlight the organization's work through the ebook.

In the ebook, HubSpot says that “marketers should be creating value –marketers should be remarkable.” However, Slagen says generating this “remarkable” value isn't easy.

“People, for the most part, they're not responding to marketing anymore,” Slagen says. “People don't respond as well to cold calling anymore, they don't respond well to email anymore, general conversion rates go down, click-through rates are down across the board. All of these data metrics are showing us that people are starting to tune out general marketing. So when we say marketers should be remarkable, [we think] we should be delighting people, we should be surprising them.”

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