PR brings new life to St. Jude's mission

"There's nothing more we can do." Jordyn's parents heard those devastating words in November 2009 and lost hope for their little girl who had been bravely fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

"There's nothing more we can do." Jordyn's parents heard those devastating words in November 2009 and lost hope for their little girl who had been bravely fighting acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer, for seven years. Doctors told the family to go home and make memories with their daughter. She had only weeks to live.

As the holiday season approached, Jordyn's mom saw a commercial for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The spots featured St. Jude patients with celebrities and asked shoppers to support the facility during our annual Thanks and Giving campaign.

Jordyn's mom wondered if maybe all options hadn't been exhausted. The family quickly received a referral to St. Jude. After talking to our doctors about a new clinical trial under way, they took a flight to Memphis that night.

We like to call this a "St. Jude moment" - when miracles happen at the intersection of our fundraising, marketing, and PR efforts to raise money and awareness for our mission of finding cures and saving children.

Moreover, with a fluid global charitable landscape, complicated by economic fluctuations and an increasing number of organizations, marketing and PR play a vital role in ensuring St. Jude breaks through the clutter and stays top of mind as a giving choice.

That's critical because, while most hospitals rely on insurance reimbursements and grants to operate, St. Jude relies on donors to provide 75% of the money we need to continue our groundbreaking care and research efforts.

Childhood cancer kills more children in the US than any other disease. The late entertainer Danny Thomas founded St. Jude because he believed "no child should die in the dawn of life." His vision was to build a hospital like no other: a pediatric research center where doctors and scientists work together to conduct breakthrough research that can be quickly translated into pioneering care for sick children.

He also promised that no family would ever pay St. Jude for the care their child received.

That unique model gave rise to a fundraising organization, ALSAC, which exists solely to raise money for St. Jude. Last year, we raised more than $700 million through an array of fundraising programs that reach supporters as young as pre-schoolers participating in a St. Jude Trike-a-Thon to senior citizens choosing to leave a legacy gift to us.

But fundraising alone doesn't differentiate us. By hiring our first CMO last year to lead our efforts to strengthen our brand, integrate fundraising and marketing, expand outreach to new audiences, and keep current supporters engaged, we are leveraging marketing and PR opportunities in new ways.  

We took the gift of the Fox Sports Supports selection of St. Jude to entirely new heights for a charity during the 2010-11 NFL season, raising more than $1.2 million and generating 1.1 billion-plus impressions through social media, airings of the PSAs we helped produce, on-air mentions, and media coverage. Loyalty from our country music fans also is growing, thanks to country star John Rich. By winning The Celebrity Apprentice this past season, he not only raised $1.4 million for St. Jude, but helped us gain 10,000-plus social media subscribers in a matter of weeks.

In 2012, we'll celebrate the 50th anniversary of the opening of St. Jude. Again, we are planning a multi-channel approach to leverage this historical event in order to tell the hospital's story through compelling patient accounts, celebrity partners, and highlights of our pioneering research and care.

These opportunities are little St. Jude moments. We work to maximize them by developing strategies that raise our profile and engage audiences. Awareness of our mission is great, but conversion to fundraising is vital.

In the end, we measure our success just like any other organization: the strength of our brand, our share of voice, and our revenues. More than anything, however, our success is measured in children's lives. Children like Jordyn, who flew to St. Jude in the dead of night with a glimmer of hope.

Once at St. Jude, our doctors performed a pioneering bone marrow transplant and Jordyn's cancer went into remission. She is still cancer-free today. Last year, she even co-starred in her very own Thanks and Giving commercial. St. Jude moments indeed.

Richard Shadyac Jr is the CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising organization of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Prior to that role, he was a practicing attorney for 27 years.

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