CAMPAIGNS: Erasing a stigma, colon screening - Public Affairs

Client: Cancer Research Foundation of America (Alexandria, VA)

Client: Cancer Research Foundation of America (Alexandria, VA)

Client: Cancer Research Foundation of America (Alexandria, VA)

PR Team: Garrett Yu Hussein (Washington, DC)

Campaign: Spread awareness of screenings for colorectal cancer

Time Frame: October 1999 to March 2000

Budget: $200,000

It’s the very definition of an ’invasive’ procedure. First, a blast of

air into the rectum, followed by the insertion of an optical scope and

30 minutes or so of probing - all accompanied by continuous air


Just thinking about a colon exam is enough to make most people


But it saves lives. Although more than 56,000 Americans die each year

from colorectal cancer, the disease is 95% curable when detected


The Cancer Research Foundation of America therefore embarked on a

mission to raise awareness. ’We wanted to spread the word about the

importance of screening,’ says Sharon Reis, a founding partner of PR

firm Garrett Yu Hussein.


With a goal to designate March 2000 as the first annual National

Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, agency and client had only five

months to pull off the effort. Garrett Yu had to hurdle the wall of

stigma surrounding screening. The agency therefore conducted a survey of

more than 100,000 people 50 and older exploring attitudes about

colorectal cancer that provided a benchmark measure of awareness and

perceptions about the disease.


Garrett Yu enlisted the support of 34 partners representing a variety of

target audiences, including physicians, health professionals,

minorities, seniors and government. The campaign’s signature profile

consisted of a logo and the tagline: ’preventable, treatable, beatable.’

The tagline communicated the central campaign message that a healthy

lifestyle and diet combined with regular screenings help prevent

colorectal cancer.

Various celebrity spokespeople were enlisted. Barbara Barrie, ’Nana’

from the sitcom Suddenly Susan, and Eric Davis, right fielder for the

St. Louis Cardinals - both colorectal cancer survivors - helped spread

the campaign message and gave a face to the disease. The stars’

involvement made it easier for people to discuss getting screenings.

The core of the campaign, to create a National Colorectal Cancer

Awareness Month, rested with the politicians. A mid-morning event in the

foyer of a congressional building attracted lawmakers, cancer group

representatives, colorectal cancer survivors and doctors (including US

Surgeon General David Satcher). Local vendors donated crates of fruit,

which were spread out on red and white checkered table cloths, creating

a fruit fare.


It’s too early to measure screenings, but the agency says the cancer

group has seen a dramatic increase in requests for information. And the

Senate passed a resolution declaring March the first annual National

Colorectal Cancer Month. Nearly one in 10 Americans heard or read a

story about colorectal cancer during the month; coverage totaled

874-plus media outlets in 38 states with about 40 million media

impressions. Carolyn Aldige, president and founder of the foundation,

was quoted in a Time magazine cover piece featuring Katie Couric.


Plans are to keep tweaking the campaign, Reis says. Long-term efforts

will focus more on promoting the idea of regular screenings among

physicians and healthcare professionals.

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