CAMPAIGNS: CASA shines light on volunteer drive

PR Team: National CASA Association and Publicis Dialog (Seattle) Campaign: Volunteer Awareness and Recruitment Time Frame: October 2000 - April 2002 Budget: $350,000 (fee) plus a $50,000 pro bono contribution More than 60,000 trained volunteers work to help the nearly 9,000 US children reported abused or neglected every day. They're part of the National Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), which currently has more than 900 programs nationwide. Although officially designated to look after the best interests of children in court, CASA has gone beyond its traditional strategies to raise awareness of child abuse. During its 25-year history, CASA, which grew out of a Seattle judge's concern over making decisions for such children without sufficient information, has successfully advocated for more than 1 million children. But there are still only enough volunteers to help one-third of the children who need help, so CASA had its sights set on recruitment. Strategy To help get more people interested in volunteering, Publicis Dialog decided that it was best to position CASA as a national resource on child abuse and as an organization that offers hope to mistreated children. To that end, the agency opted to look beyond the news media, and leverage the power of nationally known personalities, and targeted dramatic TV programs to deliver CASA's message. Tactics In April, CASA hosted the first National Light of Hope event in Washington, DC. Visitors were invited to help light nearly 9,000 candles, spelling out the word "HOPE," which represented each child reported abused and/or neglected every day in the US. Members of Congress spoke at the event, and local children's bands and choirs performed throughout the day. Publicis Dialog promoted the event through local and national media relations, video and radio news releases, and a radio media tour. And some 100 local CASA chapters held related events in their communities. In collaboration with CASA programs throughout the nation, Publicis Dialog published a book, Lighting the Way: Volunteer Advocates Speak Out, to share real-life stories of CASA volunteers. The firm and CASA negotiated with Pulitzer Prize winner Anna Quindlen to write the foreword and help promote the book. Free copies of the book were offered in exchange for a $25 donation, and the book was promoted through a radio media tour and radio interviews in each of the volunteers' home markets. The agency also produced a TV PSA starring Judging Amy star Amy Brenemann, and pitched it to CBS. It then met with the writers of the show to lay the groundwork for a CASA-inspired storyline, says Aimee Knox, SAE at Publicis. Results Placements appeared in Family Circle, Redbook, and many local publications, according to Knox. But more importantly, volunteer inquiries increased 22%, and actual recruitment was up 17% over the previous year. As a result, CASA's local-program PR satisfaction rocketed up from 60% "unsatisfied" to 80% "satisfied." A release generated nearly 5 million impressions, and the radio tour netted more than 2 million. The firm also obtained a rotation of the TV PSA with the CBS network, and it had more than 100 airings. Interviews with Quindlen on CBS' The Early Show and NPR's Satellite Sisters helped to sell 20,000 copies of the book within six months. The Light of Hope event resulted in more than five minutes of TV airtime in Washington, DC, and more than 20 million media impressions nationally, Knox adds. The bottom line, according to CASA's chief communications officer Jim Clune, is that "before the campaign, we really had been struggling to make people aware of us. Our in-house PR efforts were hit and miss...and our gains in volunteers were flat. We generally had a 4.5% increase in the number of new volunteers. After this drive, we had an 11.3% gain." Future Publicis Dialog is currently working on implementing new programs for CASA, including a national essay contest, a second book, and the second annual Light of Hope event scheduled for New York next April.

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