CAMPAIGNS: Armstrong rides for 'survivorship'

PR Team: Citigate Cunningham and the Lance Armstrong Foundation (Austin, TX) Campaign: Ride for the Roses Weekend 2002 Time Frame: January - April 2002 Budget: $65,000

PR Team: Citigate Cunningham and the Lance Armstrong Foundation (Austin, TX) Campaign: Ride for the Roses Weekend 2002 Time Frame: January - April 2002 Budget: $65,000

Everyone in the free world may know that cyclist Lance Armstrong has taken the Tour de France four years straight since winning a tenacious, underdog battle against testicular cancer. But not everybody knows what the Austin, TX-based charitable organization bearing his name is all about. For the past six years, the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LAF) has sponsored the annual Ride for the Roses fundraiser in Austin, giving fans and cancer survivors the chance to pedal a few miles with their hero. While participation and donations have grown each year, communications and outreach director Bianca Rodriguez admits that LAF's PR goals could have been more clearly defined. "We've always kind of been reactionary in how we approach our PR," Rodriguez says. "We wanted to be a little bit more strategic." Strategy Earlier this year, the LAF beefed up its long-term relationship with Citigate Cunningham's Austin office, and worked to move the focus away from Armstrong the celebrity to the LAF's emphasis on "survivorship," or improving quality of life for those suffering from or recovering from cancer. "While it can be quite easy to get publicity for Lance Armstrong, the challenge becomes moving the focus away from the athlete and to the cancer-survivorship issues his foundation supports," says Citigate Cunningham VP Deb McEvilly. The agency's decision to diversify pitches and provide a variety of spokespeople would serve two purposes. First, the event's April date coincided with Armstrong's training schedule, limiting his availability before and after the ride, notes Sarah Russ, a Citigate Cunningham director. More importantly, it enabled the agency to reach beyond the traditional sports media. Tactics The PR team tailored pitches to national lifestyle editors and healthcare reporters, as well as sportswriters and the local media. The addition of a Rock for the Roses concert - featuring Cake, Crystal Method, and Stone Temple Pilots - allowed further reach to music reporters, who keep a close ear on Austin's vibrant live-music scene. "The story angles were much more about cancer survivors, not just about a cycling event," Rodriguez says. The foundation and Cunningham called in extra hands to shepherd about 100 reporters through three days of events. In addition to the Sunday ride with Armstrong, the agenda included a children's ride, a 5K run, and panel discussions on the importance of clinical drug trials and on other athletes who have survived bouts with cancer. Spokespeople included Armstrong's doctor, coach, and family members. Results The 2002 Ride for the Roses raised $2.7 million and drew 20,000 people - compared to $1.5 million in donations and 10,000 participants last year. Cunningham tracked more than 100 print articles and 200 broadcast stories, not counting hits in the international press. (German and French film crews were in attendance.) Perhaps the most high-profile placement was a front-page cover story in USA Today by sportswriter Sal Ruibal, who gave the PR team high marks for helping him shadow Armstrong as the cycling star interacted with cancer survivors. Future Citigate Cunningham's relationship with the LAF continues. Next year's Ride for the Roses has been scheduled for October, when Armstrong is not training heavily and can be more accessible for pre- and post-event interviews.

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