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Reaching a Targeted Diverse Audience Campaign

Media Campaign for Bone Marrow Donor Registration Drive to Save Lives

Vinay Chakravarthy, a 28-year-old South Asian-American physician with life-threatening leukemia, urgently needed a bone marrow transplant to survive.

An urgent need to find a marrow donor match to save a young doctor’s life engaged our agency in an unprecedented campaign to give localized media relations support in cities across the U.S. to help grassroots volunteers hold successful community registration drives to boost the number of South Asians on the National Marrow Donor Registry. Vinay Chakravarthy, a 28-year-old South Asian-American physician with life-threatening leukemia, urgently needed a bone marrow transplant to survive. South Asians have historically had one of the loWest chances of finding a match with a committed donor of any racial group, due to low numbers on the national registry and poor follow-through when called upon to donate. Statistics indicated that out of 6.6 million registered donors on the national marrow donor registry, only 92,000 Were of South Asian origin (from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan or Sri Lanka), putting Vinay’s chances of finding a donor match at one in 20,000, compared to one in 15 for a Caucasian. Vinay’s diagnosis galvanized family and friends to organize local marrow donor registration drives across the country. Attempts at national publicity Were not, however, helping local campaign turnout, prompting one family member to our agency to provide local media relations support to help Team Vinay volunteers hold successful community registration drives in 20 states. We had three days to promote the first South Asian marrow donor mega drive in California. We had eight Weeks to help Vinay.

We partnered with another agency to create a strong project team that could work quickly and flexibly together. Roles were determined, with us taking lead with client and donor drive volunteer contacts, public relations strategy and counsel, research, interviews, copywriting for all media communications, and electronically issuing media releases provided by us and assigning call team responsibilities for targeted media markets. If a media “hit” requested an interview or more detailed story, it was turned back to us for follow-up.


Success hinged on a two-tiered focus: recruitment and retention. 

  • Target audience: Healthy individuals of South Asian origin, between the ages of 18-60, willing to donate to anyone who needed a transplant. 

  • Objective: “to increase the number of committed South Asian marrow donors on the national registry.”


(Click image to enlarge)


(Click image to enlarge)


(Click image to enlarge)

We researched bone marrow donor statistics and interviewed directors from the National Marrow Donor Registration Program and the three Asian-focused marrow donor associations to get reliable source quotes, build relationships with the associations, and clarify statistics and information that had been used on Team Vinay’s Website and in a national press release. Wording was revised and distributed to Team Vinay family spokespersons and drive leaders so there would be no discrepancies if a reporter called a national association to confirm information. We interviewed Team Vinay volunteers who had held successful donor drives to discover key success factors and lessons learned. We also identified and contacted three former South Asian marrow donors who agreed to give interviews with media if requested. Existing media outreach consisted of a single press release and videos posted on the Website that Were too long to fit broadcast parameters. We quickly developed public service announcement scripts (15 and 30-seconds) to customize and issue to local radio stations in a donor drive area. We analyzed the Website and made recommendations for a more robust media section that would add a photo gallery so visual media could access photos to support their stories. WE also noted that public service announcements should also be posted for easy media access. Since no audio PSAs existed, we reviewed Team Vinay’s video PSAs and determined that the audio tracks could be utilized if edited. We created two recorded audio PSAs from existing videos, one :20-second and one :30-second spot, which Were posted on the Web.

In the upcoming Weeks, we wrote more than 100 press releases, media alerts, radio PSA scripts and media pitches customized to local donor drive areas in Southern California, San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Houston, Las Vegas, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Boston, New Jersey, New York and others. We also drafted a boilerplate release to promote drives at college campuses when students returned in August. We wrote interview guidelines and distributed to volunteer drive leaders and family spokespersons, gave counsel on how to communicate when a local drive was cancelled, obtained permission from a hospital for a news crew to film a marrow donation procedure, arranged interviews for family members, donor heroes and marrow association directors to talk with print, radio and television reporters for more in-depth stories.


As we gained print, radio, television coverage coast to coast, including Southern California, San Francisco and the Bay Area, Seattle, Houston, Las Vegas, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Boston, New Jersey and New York, unknown supporters joined “Team Vinay” and their grassroots effort resulted in one of the most successful, privately organized marrow donor drives in history. After holding 425 registration drives in 20 states, Team Vinay added more than 24,000 South Asians to the national marrow donor registry, increasing the community’s representation on the registry by nearly 25 percent in eight Weeks. Results Were significant enough that the National Marrow Donor Program added a South Asian section to their Website and awarded Team Vinay the NMDP Leadership Award for minority recruitment. Vinay found a 9/10 match with a donor whose commitment was so strong he moved up his stem cell donation process to fit the recommendation of Vinay’s doctor. Vinay Went to transplant on August 24, 2007, and was home in a month. By the time Vinay Went to transplant, three other South Asians waiting for bone marrow transplants found matches of their own with people who registered at Team Vinay donor drives.

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