For millions of Armenian Americans, April 24 is a day to honor the 1.4 million Armenians who were killed by the Ottoman Turkish Empire beginning in 1915.
Although many historians consider this the first instance of genocide in the 20th century, the US, Turkey, and the UN have still not recognized it as such.
As this year's 90th anniversary approached, and the number of survivors dwindled, it became increasingly important to raise awareness, says Ken Sarajian, co-chairman of the Joint Committee for the 90th Anniversary of the Armenian genocide.
"Our themes became recognition, justice, action, and prevention," he adds. MWW Group had been involved in successfully promoting the 75th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, so Sarajian says the committee turned to the agency to help give the event the attention it deserved.
Because there are rallies for every anniversary of the Armenian genocide, MWW had to find a way to make this year's event stand out.
"We had to breathe new life into the issue and get people, as well as the media, interested in it," says Bill Murray, SVP and head of the public affairs practice at MWW. One of the ways to do this was by tying this genocide to the recent situation in the Darfur region of Sudan, as well as to other current events.
Murray says that the PR team also decided that it would have to take the story beyond politics. "We needed to make it a human-interest [story]," he says.
In addition, the team decided that it would reach out to not only the media, but to the Armenian-American community, as well. "We wanted to spread the message in other ways," Murray says.
To generate pre-anniversary interest among the Armenian community, MWW set up a blog where visitors could share personal accounts of the genocide and details about the events surrounding the anniversary.
MWW also helped to produce a video presentation about the genocide, including decades-old footage of survivors. The video was used as an educational tool for the community, media, and legislature.
Murray says that they also utilized author Peter Balakian, who was on a tour for his book about the genocide, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response,
to generate attention for the anniversary.
To bring out the human side of the tragedy, MWW set up media interviews with survivors now living in a senior facility in Brooklyn. "These were children who remembered this," Murray says. There was also heavy media relations work to get coverage of the vigil in Times Square on April 24.
News about the anniversary was published in such outlets as The New York Times, New York Post, and New York Daily News. Editorials were also placed in the Newark Star-Ledger and the Daily News.
More than 400 people attended the vigil in Times Square, drawing a huge amount of media attention. "Basically every camera you could think of showed up," Murray says. "It was a tremendous turnout."
Sarajian adds that the turnout for the event was beyond his "wildest dreams. We knew the message was getting out."
After the anniversary, New Jersey's State Assembly passed a resolution to officially recognize the Armenian genocide.
Sarajian says the committee is currently using the video produced by MWW as an educational tool during visits to area schools. "We're still trying to raise awareness for all genocide," he says.
Though the committee is currently not working with MWW, Sarajian says he hopes to work with the firm on future projects.
PR team: The Joint Committee for the 90th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide (New York) and MWW Group (East Rutherford, NJ)
Campaign: The 90th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide
Time frame: January through April 2005
Budget: More than $100,000