A fundraising walk for one of the most prominent charities in the U.S. has been a signature event in the New England region for over 33 years. The iconic Walk usually attracts participants with brightly colored balloons, cheering volunteers, and an army of individuals walking for a common cause: to conquer cancer, together.
When COVID-19 began to spread, the Walk had to make the difficult decision to close down the standard course to ensure the safety of their community. The quintessential in-person Walk was transformed into a virtual Walk that encouraged participates to “Walk Your Way” from wherever they are most comfortable—be it their neighborhoods, treadmill, or favorite nature trail.
Brodeur Partners adapted quickly to the drastic change, re-writing their strategy almost mid-way through the public relations campaign in the spring. Instead of focusing on driving in-person media on Walk Day as they had planned, the team shifted focus to hone in on the heart of the Walk itself—the people.
Participants were encouraged to brainstorm virtual fundraising opportunities, walk in their own socially distanced areas, and download an app to log progress, show support, and track their goals.
In this new virtual setting, Brodeur Partners set out to complete the following objectives:
- Encourage and drive Walker registration and fundraising for the Virtual Walk Day;
- Secure more feature coverage to attract Walkers and showcase the teamwork and community of the Walk;
- Promote the community behind the Virtual Walk and reinforce that the Walk benefits all forms of cancer research and patient care at a major Boston hospital.
The Brodeur “Relevance Roadmap” approach uses tools from behavioral science, customized research, creative communications, and cutting-edge digital technology to develop a brand so compelling and relevant to an audience that it will make a lasting connection.
Brodeur’s Relevance methodology is based on a simple premise: reason alone rarely carries a company or movement to its ultimate destination. “Thinking-based” or “rational” elements of messaging are often the least effective when it comes to changing minds and behavior. The Relevance Research emphasizes four different assets: Thinking—the measurable, tangible impact; Sensory—user experience; Community—opportunities to connect and interact; and Values—personal philanthropy and potential civic engagement.
In order to enhance the Walk’s awareness amid the pandemic, Brodeur matched different strategies and tactics to each of the four Relevance quadrants.
- Thinking – Hyper local coverage and Hospital Differentiation: Reach out to the community with stats and facts, promote community and individual fundraising events in hyper-local media outlets, leverage hometown releases for amplified coverage in the local market, and showcase the Hospital’s impact on patient care and support.
- Sensory – Walker Features and Walk Day Coverage: Identify strong virtual Walk stories to promote community and engagement, identify patients and families who have benefited from the Hospital’s research and care, and engage with local media to drive registration and fundraising.
- Community – Community Engagement: Promote community involvement, showcase that we are all “together against cancer,” and emphasis virtual community events.
- Values – The Faces Behind the Walk: Identify Hospital staff stories and showcase unique virtual staff and Walker involvement.
Brodeur Partners built out their new strategy into a three-pronged tactical approach:
- Secure hyper-local coverage that connects with Walkers on a personal, community-driven level to emphasize the mission of the Walk, even from a virtual setting;
- Utilize regional coverage to drive overall awareness of the virtual Walk and encourage registration;
- Facilitate media coverage to reinforce the messaging around the Walk’s success, strong community, and adaptability.
The main driver for the new strategy was focused on the faces behind the Walk. Brodeur Partners sought to identify meaningful, unique stories of Walkers and community members who were able to join together to celebrate the mission of the Walk safely.
The team spent hours each week diving through Walker registration reports to hand-pick engaging narratives, connect with Walkers, and listen to their personal stories. Throughout the course of the campaign, Brodeur Partners identified 196 Walkers, and listened to over 80 different Walker stories.
The time-intensive process yielded personal accounts of cancer battles, community involvement and courage against a deadly disease that has impacted so many people.
By telling these stories in hyper-local media outlets, Brodeur Partners was able remind people that the Walk was more than just a virtual event, but a true community of like-minded individuals working together to defeat the odds. Even though there is a pandemic, cancer doesn’t stop. And neither does the Walk.
As Brodeur Partners began to share their collection of Walker-oriented stories, the agency learned that the media was not only hungry for non-COVID-related content, but that they were eager to showcase positive stories of communities coming together virtually. Coupled with pandemic fatigue, new community-driven messaging helped propel the Walk forward in the media and create differentiation among other similar nonprofit events. The strategy resulted in a jump in coverage across the board.
Promoting a virtual event completely remotely was a new challenge for Brodeur Partners. Historically, the agency had relied upon in-person interviews to promote Walk Day and drive media coverage. Now, Brodeur Partners had to come up with a new solution to saturate the media and drive results leading up to Walk Day.
Whether Walkers were holding a virtual cooking class to raise money, dressing up with masks to walk with their “quarantine crew,” or hiking up a mountain to honor a lost son, Brodeur Partners used these stories to engage with hyper-local media, broadcast, and radio media. Instead of asking the media to come to them, the agency approached the media with submitted photos, interviews, and written commentary. By gathering the assets themselves, Brodeur Partners helped to show support for the Virtual Walk and exemplify the community dedicated to the cause of curing cancer.
Even though the Walk changed course to a virtual setting, the lack of a physical backdrop for Walk Day did not diminish media coverage opportunities. Media publications were eager to write about personal stories that were unrelated to the pandemic.
Through tailored pitching, broadcast placement, and hyper-local stories, Brodeur Partners was able to secure a total of 1,117 media placements, surpassing the past year’s total of 771 placements. Unique coverage, including both broadcast placements and feature coverage, more than doubled from 2019 with 437 placements in 2020. Hyper-local feature stories jumped drastically, up from 88 placements in 2019 to 243 placements in 2020.
The 2020 Walk resulted in:
- A total of 1,117 media placements
- An estimated hundreds of thousands of impressions online, in broadcast and in print
- 243 unique Walker feature stories with 19,613,449 impressions
- 194 Broadcast placements with 766,574,241 impressions
- 447 calendar listings in local publications with 176,565,991 impressions
- 233 Press Release pick ups with 101,398,834 impressions