Interview: Doug Staples

SVP strategic marketing and communications, March of Dimes

SVP strategic marketing and communications, March of Dimes

The March of Dimes has entered the blogging environment by hosting an online community, Share Your Story, for parents of premature babies.

Currently 55 parents are sharing their stories on shareyourstory.org via blogs, communicating directly with their peers, and, in the process, helping the March of Dimes with outreach and awareness. Doug Staples, SVP of strategic marketing and communications, talks with PRWeek.com about the impetus for Share Your Story, the March of Dimes' overarching online communications strategy, and the organization's plans for the future.

Q: How did the March of Dimes come up with Share Your Story?

A: About three years ago, we started looking for the most critical health issue we should focus on. We surveyed the landscape and found that premature births have been going up for about two decades. They've gone up 29% since 1981, but no one really knew why. So we launched a multi-pronged campaign, funding things like research, programs in hospitals, and education for women who are pregnant. From that, we decided to create a community enabling people who have had a premature baby to talk to each other.

Q: Do you find people are more willing to share their stories in this blog-focused online environment?

A: The whole trend of what's going on online made the timing right for it. We just added blog functionality two weeks ago, and 55 people have now starting blogging on Share Your Story. The world is ready for it, and that's always important when you introduce something new.

Q: Are people who are writing blogs on Share Your Story commenting on others' blogs?

A: Definitely. It's an amazing support system for these moms and dads. Premature birth is in a place where breast cancer was 15 years ago. It's a widespread problem, but people didn't talk about it all that much because it's seen as a personal issue. It hadn't been that easy to find someone to talk to about it. But it seems like people really want to talk about it [now].

Q: Does this personal part of the communications work well in tandem with March of Dimes' more educational message?

A: A lot of [volunteers' initial] motivation in the March of Dimes early on was wanting to help others who were less fortunate. It was people who said, "Well, all of my kids are healthy, but I would like to help these people with birth defects." There was less involvement directly from the people who were actually affected. This website has provided a way for people who have had a premature baby or some other issue with their child to communicate with others. They can now come forward, participate in the organization, and meet other people.

Q: Is there any current plans to help these bloggers meet in person?

A: One of our big PR windows is Prematurity Awareness Month in November, with the third Tuesday serving as our media day. We have events going on in all sorts of cities by our chapters, combined with a national event in Washington, DC or New York City. And 20 of these moms have decided, without any prodding, that they want to come and meet each other. They were going to call it a reunion, but since they never met each other before, they're going to call it a union.

Q: How has the March of Dimes' communications strategy changed in the past couple of years?

A: The online realm has changed from an information library to being something much more interactive. We have always provided a lot of health information and statistics. So the first thing we did online was put our whole information repository there for people to come look at or download. Then we built a community where these folks could talk to each other and we could get feedback from them. That's what happened with the Share site. I suspect the future holds opening up more interactive communities. Maybe our volunteer leadership or our walkers want to talk to each other.

Q: How are you attracting people to the site?

A: We are doing some offline outreach about it like a print PSA in American Baby magazine and places like that. We also have a flyer we can give out in communities. But a lot of it happens virally through word of mouth online.

Q: What is the overarching goal of Share Your Story?

A: We want it to grow and make us closer to the people who need and receive help. It's practical, in terms of hearing feedback from the people you're striving to serve, but it's also inspiring and motivational for people to read about these stories and realize there really is an urgent need here.

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