While the American Red Cross is best known for blood collections and responding to disasters large and small, we are making a new push to save lives and reduce injuries by helping to prevent emergencies from occurring.
One new campaign seeks to reduce the drowning rate by 50% in 50 cities in the next three to five years. This Centennial Campaign marks 100 years of Red Cross swimming-safety education, and the Red Cross plans to teach 50,000 more people in these higher-risk cities how to swim.
The campaign had a coordinated national and local media push, which included a national survey that showed people think they are better swimmers than they are. The survey found that while 8 in 10 people said they could swim, only about half of them can perform basic swimming skills.
This news nugget – and the kickoff of an anti-drowning campaign just before Memorial Day – drew widespread coverage from outlets such as the Today show, USA Today, CNN Headline News, Weather Channel, and the Fox and NBC broadcast affiliate feed services.
While Red Cross chapters across the country did local outreach, an SMT at a Florida pool had 34 bookings with sustained media interest in the following days. This work produced more than 30 national stories and 275 local stories, and the survey even gained attention from Jimmy Fallon and The Onion.
This fall, we are beginning a campaign to reduce deaths and injuries from home fires, which are the vast majority of the nearly 70,000 disasters that the Red Cross responds to annually. These disasters get little media coverage, but to a family that has lost its home in a fire, it is just as devastating as a hurricane.
The home fire prevention campaign, with a national launch in October, includes calls to action for people to be better prepared with escape plans and smoke detectors, and the Red Cross will be distributing and installing smoke alarms in communities.
Our strategy has been to use national launches to raise awareness of these initiatives, but the key to success in both of these multiyear efforts will be sustained events, activities, and targeted statistics at the local level across the country for on-going media outreach and awareness over time.
In both of these campaigns, our message and calls to action are a big part of making a difference and show that, when done right, good public messaging can be an effective way to save lives.
Roger Lowe is SVP of communications at the American Red Cross.