Ovarian cancer is known as a "silent killer" because its vague symptoms often are not diagnosed until the disease has started to spread.
While women have a 90% chance of survival if they are diagnosed at an early stage, less than 40% survive more than five years because they delay seeking treatment. Nonprofit groups had begun to question whether their messages were being heard.
"That's what the ovarian cancer alliance had always focused its messaging on... don't ignore the whisper signs," says Annie Atkinson, a communications consultant to the National Ovarian Cancer Association (NOCA). "Female Engineered Marketing [FEM] turned that messaging on its head."
The agency decided to donate its services to the campaign after the disease had touched family members of its staffers.
The result was "Turn up the Volume," which encouraged women not only to increase their awareness, but also to talk with their friends and family, doctors, and policy-makers about the need for more research.
Messages targeted a number of audiences, notes FEM account executive Stacy Hughes. TV, radio, and print PSAs served as the backbone of the effort, and their bold and dynamic graphics were intended to appeal to men and women alike. Messages and the creative were similar in both the US and Canada.
The PR team also wanted to spur more third parties to get involved in the campaign; in both countries, the organizations pushed for corporate sponsorship. In the US, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (OCNA) also rallied support of Johanna's Law, which would put more federal funding toward education.
In addition to the PSAs, Atkinson wanted to find a way to make the effort stand out among other cause campaigns in Canada. "We decided to really put some research on it," she says.
An independent study confirmed what the nonprofit groups suspected: 96% of women could not identify the most common symptoms of ovarian cancer, 12% hadn't even heard of the disease, and 33% wrongly believed that a Pap test could screen for it.
Once the groups had hard data, FEM pitched reporters for both earned and donated media space.
"Our poll was really startling, and the media got the link," Atkinson says. "It brought a lot of attention to the cause."
Canada saw 450 donated radio spots and $250,000 worth of donated airtime, Hughes notes. The PSAs and earned media coverage coincided with September's Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and the annual "Walk of Hope."
Atkinson estimates a 50% increase in participants and a twofold increase in donations (a total of $600,000) owing to the effort.
In the US, President Bush issued a proclamation in recognition of the seriousness of the disease and also declared September Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
FEM will continue to work with both groups in 2006 to extend the campaign. Measurement will be a significant focus in Canada, where the poll will be redone in September to chart changes in awareness. In the US, OCNA will continue to push for support of Johanna's Law.
The strength of this campaign grew from its ability to provide hard metrics to draw attention to an under-recognized problem. The effort also offered an immediate call to action - whether it was pressing local policy-makers to support legislation or donating money.
Women could also participate in the "Walk of Hope."
The importance of the poll was evident in the different results between the US and Canada. With the numbers in front of them, the media did one better than running the PSAs - many outlets produced news and feature stories, as well.
PR TEAM: Ovarian Cancer National Alliance (Washington), National Ovarian Cancer Association (Toronto), and Female Engineered Marketing (Buffalo, NY)
CAMPAIGN: Turn Up the Volume
DURATION: June to September 2005
BUDGET: Pro bono