ANALYSIS <b>Organizational Case Study</b>: Alzheimer's group aims efforts at baby boomers

As more than 70 million baby boomers get ready for retirement, the Alzheimer's Association is targeting the group with a $20 million campaign to raise funds and awareness. Over the past two decades, the growing senior population has called increased attention to one of the world's most dreaded diseases. And with more than 70 million baby boomers nearing retirement, the Alzheimer's Association (AA) is responding dramatically. In February, the 24-year-old organization launched an aggressive $20 million integrated marketing campaign to change the way people think about the disease and to raise the funds needed to educate potential donors.

As more than 70 million baby boomers get ready for retirement, the Alzheimer's Association is targeting the group with a $20 million campaign to raise funds and awareness. Over the past two decades, the growing senior population has called increased attention to one of the world's most dreaded diseases. And with more than 70 million baby boomers nearing retirement, the Alzheimer's Association (AA) is responding dramatically. In February, the 24-year-old organization launched an aggressive $20 million integrated marketing campaign to change the way people think about the disease and to raise the funds needed to educate potential donors.

Alzheimer's was identified just 100 years ago and currently afflicts 4.5 million Americans. Yet many people still don't know how recent medical advances have changed the outlook for its victims. Much, if not most, of what is known has resulted from efforts by the relatively young organization, which has funded more than $150 million in research grants to find a cure. The PR and advertising portion of the branding effort is $5 million, an increase over the $2 million budget the previous year for PR. Of the $5 million, about $3.5 million is for PR and communications this year. The draft budget for the next fiscal year is $7.5 million, of which about $4.5 million will be for PR. The group is also aggressively targeting baby boomers for the first time, along with Americans already in their 60s, says Kathryn Kane, SVP for brand management and marketing. "Right now, a lot of [baby boomers] are not even thinking about the disease," says Kane. "Most simply tune it out. But boomers often lead social change, so we want to get it on their radar screen. Our communications goal is to make the disease less frightening to people by telling them of the incredible progress we've made in science. We want to make its prevention and cure the top item on their agenda by giving them hope, as well as information." Goals and challenges In view of the recent progress in research and treatment, one goal of the effort is to get people to change their ways of life and be ready for the breakthroughs expected in the next 10 years. "That involves adopting a proactive lifestyle to ensure they age the way they want to," says Kane. Thus the campaign theme, "Maintain Your Brain." "Big percentages of people don't know the disease can be diagnosed and that treatments are available," Kane says. "Many things can be done with their support, and we want to give them a sense of empowerment about it because boomers can be the first generation to face the future without the threat of Alzheimer's." The other basic challenge for the Chicago-based association is its own survival. Three years ago, after realizing there was confusion involving its 220 chapters, it consolidated them into 80 to avoid mixed messages reaching the public, on which it depends for the bulk of its donations. Tracking studies showed the association had no identity and low name recognition, Kane says. As a result, many contributions intended for the national association never reached it. In preparation for the drive, the group conducted a consumer-awareness survey in December 2002. It indicated that half of Americans know someone with Alzheimer's, but that their understanding of it was very low, says Chuck Merydith, the former PR director, who left the group late last month. The agency search began last June with the help of MatchWorks, a New York-based agency search firm. Jan Boyle, managing partner of MatchWorks, says it advised the association that because this was the first time it was "going to market," it needed to find a combination of partners with different skills, with emphasis on PR and fundraising experience in the public policy field. "We were looking for a PR firm that could provide strong strategic leadership in counseling and direction for a not-for-profit organization that was in transition," says Boyle. "It had to have a proven understanding of social and public policy trends, specifically those associated with healthcare and disease management." MatchWorks established a strict set of criteria. Besides having an understanding of the behavior of a highly diverse audience, says Boyle, "the firm we wanted had to have the ability to develop a focused and compelling positioning for the organization to drive all internal and external communications. "The agency had to have an in-depth understanding of not-for-profit marketing and the challenges involved in reconciling the needs of the social mission with the need for fundraising," adds Boyle. And to help AA coordinate those PR goals with its nationwide affiliates, the chosen agency needed to be able to build a responsive field-marketing system for the association's 80 chapters. During a four-month review that began last June, MatchWorks screened eight firms, narrowing the field to two. In a "final assignment," Omnicom's team of Porter Novelli, direct marketers Rapp Collins, and fundraisers Changing Our World bested Interpublic's Weber Shandwick, McCann-Erickson, and MRM Partners. Seeking to boost support "The inclusion of baby boomers for the first time significantly increases our constituency and supporters," says David Zucker, director of PN's CauseWorks, who is heading the PR efforts. "Our message explains four basic ways they can help themselves. Basically, they need to be aware of available information about the disease, know there is good reason for hope, get personally involved in the effort to cure it, and be an advocate for it. "Individual behavior relates to health - what's good for your heart is good for your brain," Zucker says. "With an understanding of the progress that's been made and the tremendous momentum we now have, the scenario is a hopeful one. But supporters need to get involved by writing to Congress for more government support and funding for research. That kind of collective effort can lead to an ultimate cure." Those points - especially the significant progress that has been made - will be further detailed to a variety of audiences at a major science conference in Philadelphia in July, Zucker says. "Our hope is that by continuing to get those messages out through a variety of channels that are targeted to the baby-boomer audience, we will be making this issue much more relevant to them and make them more likely to support the association, especially with donations," he adds. In its public affairs activities in Washington, DC, AA is seeking more federal funding for research into treatment and prevention. It also opposes a ban on the federal funding of stem-cell research, which is believed to offer hope for finding a cure. AA has the world's largest research program for the disease outside the federal government. To help raise that funding, the group is working on establishing a coalition of partners around the country. "So far," says Kane, "we have 150 organizations representing 50 million Americans who have all signed a pledge to help support the campaign. We were able to talk to a Senate subcommittee in April." The group is seeking $1 billion from the government for clinical trials and to test possible treatments more quickly to find out who is at risk and how to intervene sooner. It doesn't expect to get more than a 3% increase over its present funding of $680 million, but it is targeting "influencers," primarily policy makers, boomers, and high-end donors, Kane says. "We'll also be doing media relations and advertising with [publications such as] The Hill, which we've never done before. "Our ultimate goal," she adds, "is to cure the disease and put ourselves out of business." PR contacts SVP for brand management and marketing Kathryn Kane Director of comms, brand management and marketing Dianne Dunn PR agency Porter Novelli

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