The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) celebrates its 140th anniversary this year. When Hurricane Katrina hit, plans for its rebranding and relaunch - which finally kicked off last month - took a backseat while the agency, which isn't in the business of disaster relief, responded to the dire need.
Mobilizing literally overnight, the ASPCA united hundreds of animal welfare groups and nearly 20,000 volunteers and managed a media relations campaign that helped raise more than $15 million to save tens of thousands of animals and rebuild local resources in the Gulf Coast.
Jo Sullivan, SVP of development and communications, and her team worked around the clock for almost two months. "We had a bed and a shower," she recalls. "How could we get tired when [others] were neck deep?"
Communicating about complex and often unsavory animal welfare issues is challenging. Colleagues agree that Sullivan's talent and enthusiasm are invaluable.
"I've never worked with someone who's not just passionate, but so excited," says Eric Rayvid, who was senior account supervisor at GS Schwartz (the ASPCA's agency) until March, when he became the ASPCA's senior director of communications. "She always sees the light side without making it cliché."
"She's a master at capturing words and images that create empathy," says Edwin Sayres, ASPCA president and CEO. "She was instrumental in getting the fundraising side of [the Katrina effort] set up. The issue [now] is how we rebuild. These organizations won't want to look at our press clippings. They need funds. She comprehended the spectrum of funding [needs] and communicated it."
Saatchi & Saatchi worked with the ASPCA on its rebranding, and EVP Jane Quelch notes Sullivan's ability to energize others.
"She keeps an infectious and genuine enthusiasm for the cause," Quelch says. "You [do not] feel she's using the ASPCA as a job. It's a passion, and she applies her skills to that passion."
The new communications strategy focuses on a positive aspect of animal welfare: the animal/human bond. The idea originated with Dr. Steve Zawistowski, SVP of national programs.
"Animal welfare is tough," Sullivan says. "In fundraising, it helps to talk about the dark side, but we needn't solely talk about it. The 140th [anniversary] was an opportunity to talk about the celebration of the animal/human bond - an emerging theme in our PR."
Riding the trend of associating colors with causes, the grassroots campaign "Enlighten America for Animals" launched April 10 in New York, Chicago, LA, and Philadelphia - all top media and donor markets. Icons, such as the Empire State Building, were lit orange (the ASPCA's new color) as part of the effort. Katrina delayed planning, but the campaign will continue annually and aims to attract corporate sponsorship.
Sullivan came up through fundraising without a formal PR background. When Sayres came on board in 2003, he discovered a "superstar" and quickly united PR and fundraising under her.
"She single-handedly produced probably 70% of [our] income," Sayres says. "Communications and fundraising have to be strategically linked. We added PR and communications to her plate for us to be as efficient as possible."
Though Sullivan "inherited" PR, she grasps its power and strives to integrate messaging.
"We haven't always been the greatest [at] tying public [and] member messaging," she admits. "The more integrated we are, the better we disseminate information. PR helps elevate the status of animal welfare - whatever the issue. [And the more we elevate] those stories, the easier it is to raise money."
ASPCA, NYC. Began as senior director of direct marketing. Now serves as SVP of development and comms
English language consultant, Warsaw, Poland
Moore Comms. Group, Greensboro, NC. Senior
manager, client services