Organization PR: Fertile Hope aims to teach doctors about chemo risk

When two-time cancer survivor Lindsay Nohr Beck was told she needed chemotherapy, her thoughts turned to the risk of infertility.

When two-time cancer survivor Lindsay Nohr Beck was told she needed chemotherapy, her thoughts turned to the risk of infertility.

Knowing she eventually wanted to bear children, she sought advice from doctors, but repeatedly found herself facing a lack of awareness on the subject. She wondered if she was slipping through the cracks when it came to getting information regarding cancer and infertility or if there were a gaping void in the market. When a 1999 study confirmed that less than 10% of doctors inform patients of infertility risks, Nohr Beck decided to found Fertile Hope to offer support to men and women facing infertility due to cancer treatments. "There were [many] organizations addressing cancer and a number addressing fertility, but where the two overlapped, there was nothing," says Nohr Beck, also executive director. Recognizing a main problem facing at-risk individuals was the steep cost of sperm, embryo, and egg freezing, Fertile Hope created a financial-assistance program called Shared Hope, which would increase access to harvesting and freezing resources through discounted services and free fertility drugs. Having limited funds, Fertile Hope called upon Larkin/Volpatt to help spread the word.

Strategy Sharing Hope's initial concern was making sure patients were empowered with enough information during the critical window between diagnosis and treatment. Larkin/Volpatt realized that to do this, it would have to educate the people in the trenches - the oncologists and social workers who deal with the patients every day. By targeting the healthcare industry, not only could Fertile Hope inform medical professionals about the resources available to patients, it could also reach out to those who weren't involved with the program, so they could help, too. "It's not about the distribution of money; it's about the distribution of services," explains Michael Volpatt, partner at Larkin/Volpatt.

Tactics Larkin/Volpatt got started on the message development, realizing it would need extra time to pass through the various legal departments of the companies involved. Once the press release was approved, it was on to an inexpensive media outreach, or "smile and dial," centering on the 15 marketplaces in which it had reproductive endocrinologists lined up. While focusing on national and regional trade publications, Larkin/Volpatt also secured a well-timed placement in The Wall Street Journal, opening the story up with talk of insurance coverage for the procedure and the high cost of the harvesting and freezing process. "We took an informational approach, but we also tugged at people's heartstrings a bit," says Volpatt.

Results The Journal piece saw immediate national syndication, and the American Cancer Society gave a well-respected nod when it wrote a piece on Fertile Hope. In the end, Larkin/Volpatt's straightforward PR campaign put placements on radio, TV, or broadcast in all 15 markets it targeted, as well as national media - and all for the low, low price of free. Sharing Hope has also seen its fair share of results, and the response has been higher than expected. Where most phone calls used to come from survivors expressing regret for not having had access to the program earlier, now the majority of calls are from current patients wanting to know more about their options.

Future As of press time, Sharing Hope had approved 17 people for its services and was looking to increase the number steadily. Now that the word is out, it hopes to boost regional media coverage, as well as the number of participating reproductive centers. "Where we once had survivors in a very passive position, we now have an oncology community actively and proactively passing along this information so that patients are able to act on it," says Nohr Beck.

PR team: Larkin/Volpatt Communications and Fertile Hope (both New York) Campaign: Sharing Hope Time frame: May to October 2004 Budget: $5,000

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