Children's Defense Fund hits campaign trail

Through its 10-year-old 'presidential candidate,' the CDF hopes to help uninsured kids in the US

Through its 10-year-old 'presidential candidate,' the CDF hopes to help uninsured kids in the US

The field of candidates intending to take up residence in the White House in 2009 is rather full, even at this early stage. And we have already heard a great deal about what makes some of these contenders different: America just might elect its first woman, or its first African-American president, or even perhaps the first Mormon Commander-in-Chief.

We have not heard much, however, about Susie Flynn, who announced her candidacy in March. She intends to center her campaign around a proposal to bring coverage to the 9 million children in America without health insurance. But the most notable thing about her campaign is that Flynn is a 10-year-old girl.

Alright, so Flynn isn't really running for president. She is instead the centerpiece of a noteworthy PR-heavy campaign from the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), the child advocacy and research nonprofit aiming to bring attention to the plight of the uninsured children in this country through Flynn's faux candidacy.

"The idea behind Susie is that she's running for president only because no other candidate has taken this issue up," says Nayyera Haq, press secretary for CDF. "At the same time, we have a solution that Congress can pass this year."

That solution comes in the form of the All Healthy Children Act (HR 1688), which would guarantee coverage to children regardless of the state they reside in. It would also seek to simplify and consolidate coverage under Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The details of that legislation aren't dealt with in depth, however its initial goal is simply to raise awareness that there are 9 million uninsured children in America, 90% of whom live in working households.

"We don't really push the act too much on the Web site because we don't want to overwhelm people with boring, wonky talk," says Heidi Hess, director for online communications at CDF. "We're assuming people don't know about this issue at all, so we want to provide them with some basic facts and work them towards looking at the solution."

CDF was founded in 1973 by activist Marian Wright Edelman. Over the years, it has promoted a number of initiatives intended to help bring America's children better healthcare, education, and lift them out of poverty. The Elect Susie campaign is only the latest effort, and, as Hess notes, the organization is willing to explore creative and innovative ways of involving supporters and interacting with the public.

Flynn's foray into presidential politics was announced in a number of television spots created by Fallon Worldwide - an agency that has worked on a pro-bono basis with CDF for two decades - with a second phase of campaign ads released in early April on CNN. While Fallon assists on the advertising efforts, the campaign's PR aspects are handled internally.

At the backbone of the campaign is the site, ElectSusie.com, which makes use of a plethora of new media tools. Flickr allows people to share photos of Flynn-related events. Google Maps lets visitors see the location of petition supporters around the country. Profiles on MySpace, Facebook, and Care2 have helped solidify the "Friends of Susie Flynn" movement. So, in short, it's running just like a real modern-day presidential campaign.

"I think one of the reasons we're doing these things is not only to give the look and feel of a real campaign, but also because of the same reason those campaigns do it, to reach out to as wide of an audience as possible," Hess says. "And, of course, many of these Web tools are free, which is a nice price tag for us."

The tools have an added benefit, too. Hess says petition signers must opt in to receiving additional CDF-related communications, meaning they're gathering supporters already interested in becoming more involved. What's more, the Web tools allow the team to sort supporters geographically, so if Flynn has a campaign event in Michigan, the team can easily reach out to local supporters to let them know when it's happening.

The communications team at CDF has also been paying special attention to bloggers in the course of the effort, considering the heavy online slant to the campaign.

That initiative has already paid dividends, including a tongue-in-cheek post on the popular DC blog Wonkette.

Flynn has even been making the rounds on the airwaves, having taken part in several radio interviews (and in case you're wondering, the real Flynn is a 10-year-old girl living in Minneapolis). Of course, there's a long way to go before election day, and the communications team at CDF promises to keep the campaign running at least until that first Tuesday in November next year, unless Congress acts.

"The way that CDF feels, they won't rest until there is a solution," says Hess. "So even if the election comes and goes, CDF isn't going to give up on this."

At a glance

Organization:
Children's Defense Fund

Director:
Marian Wright Edelman

Headquarters:
Washington, DC

Trade Titles:
Roll Call, The Hill

Budget:
Undisclosed

Communications team:
Nayyera Haq, press secretary;
Heidi Hess, director for online communications

MARCOMMS Agency:
Fallon Worldwide (pro-bono, ad)

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