Note from Beth: The American Red Cross launched a user generated ad campaign featuring unscripted stories created and filmed by real people helped by the organization. The first ads are part of the organization’s holiday giving campaign and feature people impacted by home fires and flooding. Additional TV and print ads, which are personal accounts of how those featured have been touched by the Red Cross, are being released as public service advertisements (PSAs). The ads, which tell the stories of people across the country, show the entire scope of the organization’s work: blood collection and supply; support to America’s military families; help to vulnerable communities around the world; disaster relief; and health and safety training and education. More background in this New York Times article.
I was curious about some of the behind of the scenes strategy and tactics used by the staff to launch this campaign. So, I asked Wendy Harman, Director of Social Strategy, who connected me with her colleagues Anne Marie Borrego, Director of Media Relations, and Chris Andrews, Senior Advertising Associate to answer a few questions.
(1) So, you’re encouraging your donors/stakeholders to create their own content or user-generated content. What is your definition of success? Why are you doing? What value does it provide?
Our goal from the beginning was to demonstrate the breadth of the Red Cross mission from a human perspective. We set out to find authentic personal stories about Red Cross services in the hopes that more people will know about and be inspired by all the things we do. We are not there just for huge disasters, but we are making smaller impacts in real lives every day. We hope this campaign inspires people to connect with the Red Cross mission and illustrates the affect their donations of time, money, and blood can have on real lives.
(2) This is a pretty high engagement ask, what was your strategy in identifying stakeholders to ask to do this or did you send it out broadly?
The people featured in the ads were chosen from more than 1,200 people who submitted their stories online. We sent them each kits with journals and cameras and asked them to share their stories. As people began to share their experiences, we looked for powerful stories that illustrated the mission of the American Red Cross. We talked to hundreds of participants and looked for people who were eager to share their stories.
We ended up with a list of about 300 storytellers. We sent them all a storytelling kit with video cameras, directions on filming and tips on sharing their stories on camera.
As participants sent back their footage, our creative team identified stories that were most easily translated and understood in the limited time of our PSAs.
(3) How did you vet, if it at all, the material that your supporters generated? Anything that you had to ask them to edit or that you decided not to share?
They sent us the raw footage. Many of the story tellers sent us footage that was well over an hour. The challenge was in editing it down.
(4) Any cultural shifts required in taking this approach to a PSAs that are not produced in-house/internally or by an agency?
We actually worked with BBDO to produce the spots. They assisted with the editing, but the people who we served were the creators of the content.
(5) What are some of the most effective PSA’s that you received and why do you think these are more effective then you could create in-house?
It’s hard to pick a favorite. So many of them are quite moving—people telling their stories of tragedy and loss, or how they were saved by a friend or even a complete stranger. Allowing those to speak for themselves is more compelling than anything we could script ourselves. They are why we do the work we do.
(6) Your advice for other nonprofits … how to be successful if you are doing something like this?
Trust the people you serve. We asked a lot of these storytellers and we were overwhelmed by their courage and willingness to share. When we gave them a camera and a request for a story, we weren’t sure what we would get back. From the first day we reviewed footage, we were blown away by the emotion and power of these stories. We couldn’t have scripted better ads.