How Justin Bieber shed spotlight on MADD's message

Debbie Weir, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, speaks to Diana Bradley about plans for its 35th anniversary and how the association leverages digital.

When Justin Bieber was arrested for driving under the influence, MADD responded with a blog post.
When Justin Bieber was arrested for driving under the influence, MADD responded with a blog post.

One of the organization’s top 2015 initiatives is to get all states to require first-time driving-while-intoxicated offenders to install ignition interlock devices [a mechanism like a breathalyzer] in their vehicles. What is the PR strategy behind this?
We launched the campaign in 2006 and, since then, we have gotten the law passed in 24 states. In some states, fatality numbers for drunken driving have gone down 40% since the law was implemented.

If we are trying to get an ignition interlock bill passed in a specific state, we segment our supporters in that area and email a template letter to them so they can fill it out and send it to their local legislator. Volunteers at chapters nationwide also add a personal touch by meeting with legislators and law enforcement to push for the bill.

We also pitch stories and op-eds to local newspapers in states where we want to pass the bill. We have lobby days where staffers, volunteers, and affiliates in that state gather. And we hold a press conference in each state where we want the law passed.

This year marks the organization’s 35th anniversary. What are your plans for it?
Colleen Sheehey-Church joined as our new national president and spokesperson in January. The national president is always a victim and has a story to share that makes a difference in our impact and progress.

Sheehey-Church, for instance, is a bereaved mom whose son was 18 years old when he was killed in a drunken-and-drug driving crash in Connecticut.

We also updated our mission statement to include drugged driving: The mission of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to end drunken driving, help fight drugged driving, support the victims of these violent crimes, and prevent underage drinking.

Drug driving is a top-of-mind issue for people right now, so we have garnered more interest by including that in our mission. In addition, we now have an official tagline: No more victims. We want to prevent, protect, and serve victims. But we want no more future victims.

Is fundraising up or down?
Overall, there hasn’t been a big surge in donations since the downturn of the economy in 2009. Corporate support is down and events such as our walks are stable.

However, online donations have increased. We use our website and social media pages to recruit more volunteers, get donations, or activate an action alert. For many victims and survivors, the first touchpoint they have with us is through our website. In 2014, we had a 17% increase in followers on Facebook, and a 39% increase on Twitter.   

We attribute that to instituting a content marketing strategy of using cross-channel platforms to tell compelling stories of victims. We also show how they are turning that pain into purpose and becoming volunteers or advocates on behalf of the association.

Last year, when Justin Bieber was arrested for driving under the influence, we responded with a blog post. With that piece, we saw a 400% traffic increase to our site because celebrity blogger Perez Hilton retweeted the statement to his followers – a huge audience we may not have otherwise touched.

In addition, many of his fans were tweeting #WeWillAlwaysSupportYouJustin, so we created a hashtag that trended higher that said, #WeWillAlwaysSupportYouMADD.

We often respond to high-profile DUI arrests with a statement. This allows us to remind people that it is completely preventable and unacceptable to drink and drive.

What percentage of funding goes toward salaries at the organization and how large is your communications team?
In 2013, 75% of funding went to programs and services, and 25% went toward overhead and management costs. We have seven marcomms pros at the national office in Dallas with one joint comms manager of government affairs in DC. The association does not use any external PR agencies.

In what other areas are you looking to create awareness?
We provide support services to victims and survivors. We have a live, 24-hour helpline for victims, survivors, or citizens to call us on. 

You published a report in January claiming ride-sharing service Uber helped prevent crashes. But ProPublica and gossip site Valleywag reported that Uber had been contributing financially to MADD, making it sound like the report was biased. How did you respond to this allegation?
Within the first week of releasing the report, we had about 30 million positive audience impressions from resulting media coverage.

These claims were isolated incidents. We responded to Valleywag’s allegation that we were "backing away from the report," by correcting them to say we were not.

Last July, we partnered with Uber to raise awareness and reduce drunken driving. We still support our partnership and the report. We have consistently said the data is correlative, and those correlations are valid at showing that Uber is having an impact.

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