Brian’s daughter, Brianna, was diagnosed with cancer at a young age. Today, Brianna is cancer free and attending middle school, thanks to research funded by the American Cancer Society. Her story is one of many providing hope in the struggle against cancer, but soon it will serve to help thousands more.
Later this year, Kathy Holdefer of the American Cancer Society will share Brianna’s story on the counter of every location of a major gas station chain in the Midwest using one of the public relations industry’s most powerful tactics – storytelling.
At a University of Iowa Public Relations Student Society of America meeting on January 30, Holdefer explained the importance of this gas station signing on to the American Cancer Society’s Charity of Choice campaign.
“If they said yes to us, we might be their charity of choice for a whole quarter and they usually have people donate between $115,000 to $180,000 during one of these promotions,” said Holdefer. “We would like to have that money to continue to do the great work that we can do… we needed to knock their socks off.”
Representatives of the American Cancer Society proposed their storytelling campaign to 15 employees of this gas station chain. Two variations of donation boxes would be placed in stores, each with a photograph and a quote representing the story of the person on the box.
Each variation of the box corresponds to a different component of the American Cancer Society’s boilerplate: “We save lives and create more birthdays by helping you stay well, helping you get well, finding cures, and by fighting back.”
Brianna’s story is all about finding cures.
While such a campaign can surely tug at the emotions of many potential donors, I asked Holdefer how she hopes to convey the full story of Brian’s daughter in just a few words and a picture. What I didn’t realize was that telling the whole story was never the goal.
Holdefer explained that by framing the theme of each box around one relatable person, the campaign let people fill in what’s missing with their own experiences.
In other words, it does not matter if the audience knows the specifics of a subject’s story. What matters is that each box reminds them that the American Cancer Society still has work to be done and these donations can help save countless lives.
Of course, when non-profit organizations such as the American Cancer Society engage in promotional work such as this, the Corporate Charity of Choice campaign does more than just raise money, it advertises their services.
“We consider the stories that will be on the donation buckets as ‘advertisements’ that let people know what we do, and then they can either support us or ask us to support them,” Holdefer said.
When customers see the story, they also see the call to action encouraging the audience to call their National Cancer Information Center or visit their website to make donations or get information.
The donation box for Steve, who received a routine colonoscopy, best exemplifies the effects that storytelling can have on a group of people.
When the American Cancer Society’s message influenced Steve to go through with his colonoscopy, doctors removed three polyps and a section of his colon to protect him from cancer. Three of his friends followed his example and were also saved from cancer’s grasp.
“Here’s a story about a guy who hears a message from the American Cancer Society, gets his screening, and shares his story,” said Holdefer. “Look at all the lives saved, look at all the cancers that were avoided.”
And ultimately, that’s the goal of each campaign Holdefer works on – to save lives.