The more success Rotary achieves in its efforts to end polio, the harder it is to make the world aware that there’s still urgent work to do. It’s an ironic challenge that comes with the turf of being a Rotarian.
At the 2011 International Assembly in San Diego, Calif., USA, Past RI Vice President Monty J. Audenart suggested that incoming Canadian district governors tackle that challenge by launching an initiative in North America to raise public awareness about the need to finish the job of ending polio. That prompted districts in Canada and along the Canadian-U.S. border to develop a weeklong awareness campaign called Polio Wake-Up Across the Continent, which started on World Polio Day, 24 October.
“A cartful of dreams can’t go anywhere without a team of horses to pull it,” says Audenart, a member of the Rotary Club of Red Deer East, Alta.
Past District Governor Tanya Wolff served as project leader. She began by creating a new group on Facebook to provide a place for people to share their ideas and plans for the week of World Polio Day. “Facebook is where the future of Rotary lives,” explains Wolff, who received the 2011 YMCA Peace Medallion in her hometown of Sarnia, Ont., for her work to end polio. “It’s where we can teach and encourage future members of all ages.” District Governor Brian Carmichael and past district governors Richard Clarke and Ann Lee Hussey challenged members of Rotary, Rotaract, and Interact clubs to be creative in developing polio-awareness projects in their communities as part of Polio Wake-Up Across the Continent.
Facebook users posted images and messages about their efforts, which sparked other online conversations about polio. The new page also encouraged visitors to create personalized “This Close” advertisements by uploading photos of themselves at ThisClose.net, and to use the ads as their Facebook profile pictures during the initiative.
“Polio awareness is our job,” Wolff says. “Eradicating polio from the face of the earth is our responsibility. We were able to see by the level of participation that Rotarians, Rotaractors, and Interactors spread the word to thousands of people.” An added benefit, she notes, “is that a lot of Rotarians learned more about using social media. I hope they will see the benefit of using sites like Facebook and Twitter as membership marketing tools.”
After World Polio Day, Wolff gathered the images that Rotarians and volunteers had shared on Facebook and through email and used them to create a video record of the initiative, which she posted on Facebook and YouTube.
Although social media were essential for building momentum, Wolff says the project also needed a more traditional tool: television. She called on past district governor and media guru Jennifer Jones to lend her expertise.
With help from a multidistrict public relations grant from Rotary, Jones designed a plan for advertising on the CBC, which became the first Rotary national Canadian TV campaign. It included a 60-second public service announcement produced by Rotary International to promote the final push to end polio.
Using the theme of “This Close,” the ad shows people from around the world, including public figures such as Jackie Chan and Jane Goodall, holding up two fingers to emphasize how close Rotary and its partners have come to eradicating the disease. Voices echo throughout the spot, saying, “We are this close to ending polio. We are this close to changing the world. All we need is you.”
“Knowing that raising awareness across all of North America through television media was cost prohibitive, we decided to take a small step and test the waters with a national TV campaign on CBC,” Jones says. “We knew that if we could create a successful campaign in Canada, it could possibly be replicated in a broader capacity.”
In addition to the 60-second spots broadcast on the CBC main channel and CBC News Network in October, the $50,000 deal that Jones negotiated included an agreement by the CBC to air the announcements again, free of charge, during January and February, as Rotary approached its anniversary on 23 February.
“It was an opportunity for more than 10 million people to view the good work of Rotary,” Jones says. “I believe we have moved the needle and created awareness within populations in Canada who had no idea of our largest corporate project. That will be a legacy of this campaign and will, I believe, turn into additional funds raised.”
Jones points out that the effort included a component to measure its impact: The marketing firm Ipsos Reid agreed to conduct surveys in Canada before and after the campaign. The results will show its effectiveness in building consumer awareness.
Reflecting on the critical push to end polio, Audenart says: “No runner competing in a race looks off into the stands during the last few seconds before reaching the finish line. We must stay focused to the end.”
Watch “This Close” ads.