In fall 2005, the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation shortened its name to the Christopher Reeve Foundation (CRF) and launched the new tagline "Go Forward," words of encouragement Reeve used in one of his final interviews.
The group, which supports spinal-cord injury research, is well-known among adults who grew up watching the actor. But to sustain viability in the future, as is the case with all groups that rely on donations, it needed to raise awareness - and funds - from the next generation.
To highlight the new name and slogan, CRF teamed with its AOR, MWW Group, to come up with a fun, fashionable campaign to get a younger audience behind the legacy of the famed Superman star and activist, who died in October 2004.
After Reeve died, Warner Bros. and DC Comics wanted to honor him, so they agreed to let CRF use the Superman logo for free for three years.
CRF and MWW decided to incorporate the popular "S" design into something the group's supporters could wear. But how?
"The Lance Armstrong Foundation had done the bracelet and done it really well," says Maggie Goldberg, VP of PR at CRF. "Why replicate that?"
Instead, the team decided that dog tags would be the way to go, seeing as they could be worn around the neck or clipped on bags. It could be a fashionable way to reach out to a younger demographic. The tags featured the logo, and Reeve's name and the new tagline on the back.
The team also sought to leverage its relationship with the WB network, specifically through its Superman-based show Smallville, to grab a younger audience's attention. Reeve had once done a cameo on the show.
The PR team created a 15-second PSA starring Annette O'Toole, who was in Superman III with Reeve, discussing the new tags and how their purchase would go toward funding to help achieve Reeve's goal of finding a cure for paralysis. The PSA aired after the October 20 episode of Smallville and was linked to it, so it would play again whenever the program repeated.
"It was a great plug," says Goldberg. "People came right to our website."
The PR team also made a list of 100 top celebrities to reach out to about wearing the tags as a show of support, mainly targeting those who had previously shown an interest in the foundation.
"We didn't just want to send people tags to have their agents stick them in a drawer," says Carreen Winters, SVP at MWW, adding that "we're targeting [celebrities] across all demographics," including Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and Eva Longoria."
As celebrities are a "really solid and proven avenue" for attracting the attention of teens and young adults, CRF posted pictures of stars wearing the tags on its website, Winters explains. MWW also conducted intensive media relations, including to long-lead titles, about the tags' availability, the fact that they made great gifts, and about all the stars that were wearing them.
In the few hours following the initial Smallville airing, more than 5,000 sets of tags were sold. To date, sales of the tags have raised about $400,000 for spinal-cord injury research.
Moreover, CRF has secured commitments from two dozen celebrities to support the tags, with pictures of Wilmer Valderrama and Nikki Hilton wearing the tags on the website.
Us Weekly, Time Out New York, and other mainstream media have covered the tags, as have comic trade publications, such as Wizard.
Both MWW and CRF will combine the tags with other efforts and keep coming up with new angles to promote them.
"We're incorporating the tags in everything we do," says Goldberg, adding that a website just for the tags or a viral approach could be on the horizon.
PR team: The Christopher Reeve Foundation (Short Hills, NJ) and MWW Group (East Rutherford, NJ)
Campaign: Go Forward for the Christopher Reeve Foundation
Time frame: July 2005 to present (ongoing)
Budget: $60,000 annual retainer