ANALYSIS: Client Profile - MADD's efforts continue to drive intonew territory

Persistence and passion fuel the activist efforts of aptly

acronymed MADD, whose members hope that powerful mix is the ingredient

to end drunk driving for good. Sherri Deatherage Green reports.



For an activist organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) wears

a lot of establishment trappings. It boasts some two million supporters,

and its annual revenue has approached $50 million. Its donor list

reads like a who's who of organizations other activists might target -

ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, government agencies, the US' leading automakers,

and insurers.



"It's an activist organization on an issue that everybody agrees with,"

observes Bruce Freidrich of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

(PETA), who ran afoul of MADD two years ago with the anti-milk "Got

Beer?" campaign. "Nobody wants to be in MADD's bad graces."



The organization turned 21 last year, just barely old enough to legally

imbibe, thanks in large part to its 1980s efforts to raise the national

drinking age. Candy Lightner, a Sacramento realtor and divorced mother

of three, founded MADD after her daughter was killed by a chronic drunk

driver. PR has been at the forefront of the movement from the beginning,

when grieving moms monitored DWI cases and exposed wrist-slapping

judges.



Lightner served as a highly visible and motivated spokesperson. A 1983

television movie about her life boosted membership by the thousands. She

left in 1985 under murky circumstances, says Martin Wooster, who studied

MADD for the Capital Research Center (CRC), a conservative watchdog

group that keeps tabs on nonprofits. Whether she resigned or was forced

out remains unclear, but Wooster says that MADD later became a "highly

centralized, professionalized, and PR-dependent organization."



MADD continued to effectively push for tougher alcohol laws and

enforcement, popularize phrases like "designated driver," and change

social norms.



In fact, alcohol-related traffic deaths have dropped 40% in its

lifetime.



So what does MADD have left to be mad about?



Plenty, says 31-year-old PR director Tresa Coe Hardt, who will soon

become a mother herself. While she admits that MADD's own success has

created a major PR obstacle, the faithful still believe that one

drunk-driving fatality is one too many.



MADD has updated its policies and communications thrust to become more

inclusive and relevant. The organization removed the stipulation that

its presidents be women (they still must be DWI victims), and added

prevention of underage drinking to its mission statement. Youth-related

activities include developing glitzy presentations for school

assemblies, establishing youth-in-action groups, and the founding of the

first UMADD college chapter in Boston late last year.



A new mix of messages



One of MADD's key communications strategies this year is to boost

awareness of the services it provides to drunk-driving victims. "We are

the biggest crime victims' assistance organization in the world," Hardt

notes. After September 11, MADD partnered with other groups to issue

several press releases providing tips on coping with post-traumatic

stress disorder.



In fact, Hardt's team of four spends much of its time honing PR

strategies to carry out goals set by MADD's volunteer-dominated board.

"Because PR plays such an important role for our organization, I feel

like we have more of a voice," Hardt says, citing that as her reason for

staying at the nonprofit.



After the PR group lays out campaign plans, MADD's marketers find the

money to make them a reality. In the 1990s, some criticized MADD's use

of telephone solicitors to raise funds, but Hardt says that the

organization has tried to shift focus to corporate sponsorships and

government grants.



Still, according to its 2000 annual report, individual contributions and

special events accounted for nearly half its revenue.



Hardt makes a distinction between media relations and media

advocacy.



MADD uses the former to change individual behavior through a plethora of

programs often backed by corporate sponsors. Examples include Tie One On

for Safety, Rating the States, and the recently launched Pasa Las Llaves

("Pass the Keys") campaign targeting Hispanics. Juggling so many

programs means adhering to a calendar, as well as prioritizing reaction

to incoming press inquiries. Despite the time crunch, reporters say that

MADD's PR team responds quickly, and usually sets up interviews with

local chapter officials.



Stirring up trouble



Hardt stops just short of suggesting that some organizations

intentionally draw MADD into public debates to gain exposure for their

own causes. PETA's Freidrich denies that his organization had that in

mind - or intended to promote underage drinking - with its short-lived

"Got Beer?" ads. "The only reason anyone would want to object to this

campaign is to gain publicity by objecting to this campaign, and more

power to them," says Freidrich, adding that MADD refused a conciliatory

$500 donation from PETA staffers.



Media advocacy, on the other hand, is the phrase MADD uses to describe

its building grassroots support for legislative issues. To this end,

Hardt's staff works closely with public policy director Brandy Anderson.

Having won the battle to lower the nation's legal blood alcohol level,

MADD has since pushed a proposed constitutional amendment on crime

victims' rights, and lobbied for a federally funded anti-youth-drinking

ad campaign. To refute claims by liquor and hospitality industry groups

that MADD wants to reinstate prohibition, the organization claims it

doesn't oppose responsible alcohol consumption by adults: It didn't

fight NBC's recent decision to run ads for hard liquor so long as the

spots adhere to strict guidelines.



"We're just as concerned about the Budweiser frogs," Hardt explains.

However, MADD does hope to convince the government to fund a counter

campaign aimed at kids.



But you won't see Hardt or media relations director Misty Moyse quoted

that often. MADD prefers to put its volunteer leaders out front, like

national president Millie Webb, who was severely burned and lost a

daughter and nephew in a drunk-driving accident. "MADD initially was

putting a face on the problem by encouraging victims to tell their

stories," Hardt says. In fact, many people forced to deal with reporters

after becoming victims of drunk drivers later join MADD, and those who

want to continue publicizing their stories receive media training.



Mitsubishi is MADD's partner on Pasa Las Llaves, and communications VP

Gael O'Brien says that personal experience makes MADD members effective

spokespeople. "They believe so totally and completely in what they're

doing that that just emanates from them," she says.



But finding faces to put on the story has become more difficult as the

number of people affected by drunk driving declines. This fact, combined

with the post-September-11 funding crunch challenging many nonprofits,

may put some large MADD chapters in peril, Wooster predicts.



However, MADD seems to have won most of its battles. By pushing

increasingly harsh alcohol laws, MADD risks marginalizing itself in the

eyes of Americans who enjoy a beer after work, Wooster opines. "Is there

a point at which MADD can or will declare victory?" he asks in his CRC

report.



Not likely, Hardt says. "I feel like we will always have new roads

ahead."



MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING (MADD)

Headquarters: Irving, TX

National president: Millie Webb

National executive director: Dean Wilkerson

PR director: Tresa Coe Hardt

Media relations director: Misty Moyse

Public policy director: Brandy Anderson

Marketing director: Doug Kingsrighter

Outside PR support: MADD often works with the PR departments of

sponsoring corporations and the PR firms they employ



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