Community Outreach: US tour pumps life into American Red Cross blood drive

In an age when nearly anything can be bought or made, the American Red Cross (ARC) foresaw a danger of running out of one of the few resources that didn't seem to fall under the reign of capitalism - blood.

In an age when nearly anything can be bought or made, the American Red Cross (ARC) foresaw a danger of running out of one of the few resources that didn't seem to fall under the reign of capitalism - blood.

With someone in America requiring blood every two seconds, the number of donations wasn't keeping pace with the level that was needed. Moreover, the base of loyal donors was aging. Not only were first-time donor rates dropping, there was a growing need for blood types that were specific to certain ethnicities.

The ARC, already a champion of blood-donor initiatives, felt a pull toward change. "There was a very strong sense that we had to make a concerted effort, something new and fresh, to bring the need-for-blood-donations message to Americans across the country," says Kamenna Lee, director of knowledge management for donor strategy at the ARC.


Because the ARC needed to target specific groups, they had to alter their tactical and traditional approach. Ogilvy PR Worldwide was called in to help tailor the six-month Save a Life Tour campaign toward the desired communities. The basic goals would be the same, with the primary focus being to raise the number and frequency of donors. However, there was the added urgency of having to seek out select blood types, as well as lay the foundation for a donor base that could continue to give for many more years.

"We needed to develop the national overlying support campaign for this tour that would be traveling the country for a six-month period," says Shari Kurzrok, VP of the consumer marketing group at Ogilvy.


Ogilvy sought to take a fun and educational attitude toward blood donation in order to appeal to younger generations. Ads were placed in magazines targeted toward younger ethnic populations, such as Latina and Essence, and the ARC partnered with Nicole Miller, who designed a T-shirt reading "Are you MY type?" for select donors and celebrities.

They also put forth a novel take on conventional publicity events, giving birth to such occasions as the "Chefs' Tasting Challenge" in Dallas, where three local celebrity chefs were asked to create an alternative post-donation dessert to replace the classic milk and cookies. The tour's focal point was the pair of convoys that traversed the country, each of which included a vehicle that acted as a "science museum on wheels" and was equipped with information kiosks and interactive exhibits.


The ARC's original goal was to secure 3 million blood donations over the six-month period. With the help of Ogilvy, they were able to secure 3.1 million donations, which reflected a 7.9% increase in donors under the age of 25 from the same time period last year. Regions through which the tour had passed saw a 10% increase in Hispanic donors and twice as many Asian donors. "We were able to successfully get out to the ethnic audience where the Red Cross had not done so before," says Kurzrok.


With the success still running through the veins of the millions of people who will receive blood donations this year, the ARC will continue to utilize many of the campaign's awareness tactics on a local level, particularly the mobile museums.

"The mobile museums were a centerpiece to the campaign and will be an ongoing public-education tool in local campaigns," says Lee. "They're a great way to reach out on a grassroots level to the local community."

PR team: American Red Cross and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide (New York)

Campaign: American Red Cross Save a Life Tour 2003

Time frame: May to November 2003

Budget: $1 million ($1.8 million, overall out-of-pocket expenses)

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