Enhance Your Image Through Issues and Advocacy
by Sandra Gordon
Editor's note: Following is a case history of how the National Easter
Seal Society focuses upon specific issues - largely communicated via PSAs
- to generate greater public awareness for its overall programs and mission.
Ms. Gordon was formerly senior vice president, of corporate communications, for the National
Easter Seal Society, headquartered in Chicago. She was responsible for developing
and implementing their strategic marketing plan, including advertising,
public education, corporate sponsorship and media relations programs. The
Easter Seals PSA campaigns developed under her supervision have received
numerous awards and wide acclaim within the disabled community. Prior to
joining Easter Seals, Ms. Gordon was assistant vice president for communications
at the Schwab Rehabilitation Center in Chicago. and director of
public and media relations for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons in Rosemont, Illinois.
For many organizations, a primary goal of the past several years has
been to create a greater public awareness of the agency or association - to
build greater name recognition and public knowledge of its products or
services. To do this, most organizations have sought to establish a successful
advertising, marketing and public relations mix. Often what is missing
is a focus on the issues that an organization represents.
An editorial in the Chronicle of Philanthropy recently challenged fundraisers
to create an enduring sense of philanthropy. "In Hebrew, the word
'tzedakah' means charity and philanthropy," writes Irving Warner.
"It also means, among other definitions, justice and righteousness."
Warner reminds fundraising professionals that they are "supposed
to create the climate and conditions necessary for the creation of philanthropy
to create tzedakah."
The same is true for associations and agencies working to increase the
general public's awareness of their services and products. While advertising,
marketing and public relations provide a basis for building and enhancing
an organization's image, promotional campaigns are often short-term and
easily forgotten - unless they are based on issues of public concern.
Carefully crafted, multi-media public service campaigns can be extremely
effective tools for publicizing issues, and the same time, positioning
an agency or association as a resource or industry leader among its target
audiences. Issues-oriented campaigns are also invaluable in solidifying
long-term relationships with corporations and other agency sponsors.
Easter Seals Challenge
In the mid-eighties, the National Easter Seal Society learned, through
a Gallup poll measuring the public's awareness of non-profit organizations,
that almost 90 percent of the general public recognized the Easter Seal
name. But, among this same group, only a third could identify what the
With this knowledge, the National Easter Seal Society began its successful
collaboration with Camphell-Mithun-Esty Advertising in Minneapolis. Working
from an initial "creative blueprint," Easter Seals designed a
series of annual fundraising and public education campaigns that focused
on public attitudes about people with disabilities. The business goal was
"to encourage contributions." Another goal for Easter Seals was
to reposition the agency as a respected advocate for people with disabilities
within the disability rights movement.
An additional consideration for Easter Seals was the fact that the organization's
national network of affiliates offers a variety of services; no two Easter
Seal Societies are identical. And, while each separately incorporated Easter
Seal Society is dedicated to enhancing the independence of all people with
disabilities, each society tailors its services to meet the needs of the
community it serves.
To unify Easter Seals' message, we identified the most universal barriers
to independence told by people with disabilities, and used them for our general
public service and advocacy campaigns. These were:
- Public prejudices and negative attitudes toward people with disabilities
- Access to employment opportunities
- Accessible housing, transportation, public facilities, and telecommunications
Implicit in the creative work was the understanding that people with
disabilities would be portrayed as everyday people living everyday lives,
independently, with support from Easter Seals. This was a deliberate and
significant departure from many organizations' fundraising appeals to
people's pity for "victims," or portrayals of "brave,"
"inspirational," courageous individuals.
Easter Seals' message for the general public, for the business community,
government officials, and the people the organization serves, is a realistic,
positive portrayal of children and adults with disabilities.
Creating Issues-Oriented Campaigns
Over a five-year period, the National Easter Seal Society has created
a body of public service and advocacy campaigns that have focused on the
disability issues identified in the original planning process. Each multi-media
campaign includes a television spot, radio PSAs, and a series of print
ads. As a testament to their effectiveness, these campaigns have been widely
used in disability rights publications. Each campaign also has won national
advertising and public relations awards and each has received media exposure
valued at several million dollars.
Easter Seals' original "Friends Who Care" campaign included
television and radio PSAs, as well as a series of five print ads and posters
that point out how name-calling hurts, and how kids with disabilities are
A curriculum was also developed to augment the media materials and distributed
to some 20,000 elementary schools through a $350,000 grant from Ronald
McDonald Children's Charities. Our goal was to assist teachers and administrators
in their efforts to integrate children with disabilities in their classrooms
and school systems. These campaign materials were recognized by Media Access
as a special merit award winner in November, 1989.
In October, 1990, Easter Seals launched a multi-media campaign designed
to point out the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which disabled Americans
are discriminated against in everyday activities. "Awareness is the
First Step Towards Change" was released to the electronic and print
media as part of Easter Seals' overall effort to promote the implementation
of newly legislated civil rights for disabled Americans. The Disability
Rag, one of the disability rights movement's most outspoken publications,
featured "The First Step" campaign's posters in its "Kudos"
Targeting the Issues
When former President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990, it was a landmark day for Easter Seals
and the coalition of disability groups that had worked to develop legal
guarantees of basic civil rights for more than 43 million Americans with
With the ADA, Easter Seals has an unprecedented opportunity to sharpen
the focus of its multi-media public service and advocacy campaigns. The
civil rights covered by the ADA - equal opportunity for employment, accessible
public accommodations and public transportation systems - werre issues that Easter Seals'
national network of affiliates have worked for many years to address.
These are social justice issues that, when addressed, will make it possible
for the children and adults with disabilities that Easter Seals serves
to live and work independently.
Easter Seals 1992 campaigns highlighted the issues addressed in the
Americans with Disabilities Act. For the first time, advocacy and fundraising
campaigns have been merged to create a year long series of TV, radio and
print PSAs.The campaign, "Because Public Transportation is for Everyone"
thanks the general public for making accessible public transportation possible
for all citizens.
"The ADA: It Took an Act of Congress" campaign points out
how the employment, public access and telecommunications provisions of
the law will benefit everyone as we integrate people with disabilities
into the mainstream.
Our current campaign, "All of Us Have the Ability to Make a Difference,"
conveys the message that all Americans, including those with disabilities,
have an obligation to vote, volunteer and speak out.
Raising Funds and Awareness
The annual 20-hour National Easter Seal Telethon's current format reflects
Easter Seals' increasing emphasis on advocacy and disability issues. Twenty
percent of the telethon's segments are devoted to advocacy and public information.
They feature profiles of children and adults receiving Easter Seal services,
cover topics such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and include the
Society's television PSAs.
The telethon also provides Easter Seal corporate sponsors with an opportunity
to showcase the advocacy and issues-oriented projects they have supported.
Each year, one or more corporate sponsors underwrites a public education
Over the past five years, Enesco Corporation, a giftwares firm, has
sponsored both the "Friends Who Care" and "First Step"
attitudes campaigns, as well as underwriting a 15-minute videotape on the
ADA called "Nobody is Burning Wheelchairs."
Other corporations have tailored issues-oriented campaigns to dovetail
with their own markets. For example:
- Eddie Bauer, the upscale retail clothing chain, sponsored a campaign
that provides a guide to campaign opportunities for children with disabilities.
- Amway Corporation worked to create a checklist for parents that identifies
possible developmental delays in young children.
- Century 21 Real Estate Corporation has underwritten an accessible housing
These programs and their corporate underwriters are featured on Easter
Seals' Telethon, and they are also promoted as part of media campaigns
addressing disability issues.
Focusing on disability issues and providing resource information for
corporate sponsors have proved successful for Easter Seals from a financial
standpoint as well. Corporate sponsor gifts have increased by almost ten
percent each year over the past ten years, to a record of almost $20 million
- a 25 percent increase over the previous year. Last year, in a very difficult
time, our telethon set a new record of $43 million.
In the fall of 1990, as part of creating an overall marketing communications
strategic plan, the National Easter Seal Society commissioned an image
study. Louis Harris and Associates conducted quantitative and qualitative
research to measure public recognition of the Easter Seal name, mission
and overall effectiveness at achieving its mission.
What Easter Seals learned was that a full 71 percent of the public,
72 percent of households with disabled persons, 90 percent of Easter Seals
donors and 87 percent of leaders reported awareness of the Easter Seal
And, within ten years of the Gallup poll that showed only a third of
the public knew what Easter Seals' did, the Harris survey found that 59
percent of the general public and 63 percent of households with disabled
persons could "volunteer in their own words a description of the mission
of the Easter Seal Society."
Easter Seals' multi-media, issues-oriented advocacy campaigns were introduced
in 1987, shortly after the original Gallup poll. Clearly, if one looks
at the 1990 Harris survey, these campaigns have had a significant impact
in creating and enhancing a greater public awareness of Easter Seals' mission
Still another way to judge the long-term success of our PSA campaigns
is to review the evaluation data compiled after each campaign has been