The Pitch: JDRF Makes The Case With Reality TV

July 2, 2012       Mark Hrywna      

When it comes to television programming, most nonprofits rely on direct response television (DRTV) and not a reality show. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) can thank a reality show appearance for boosting its profile, as well as providing it with a new online campaign. New York City-based JDRF was featured on the sixth episode of The Pitch, which aired during the Memorial Day weekend on the network AMC after the hit show Mad Men. It was the only nonprofit brand, among eight, to be featured on the reality series.

Two ad agencies were charged with de­veloping a grassroots digital campaign to position JDRF as an organization focused on people with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) of all ages, and at all stages of the disease.

“In our particular case, we try to channel the absolute maximum to our mission, and that leaves minimal dollars to education and marketing. This was a great opportunity for us to get the word out on a bigger stage without the investment, other than time,” said Chief Marketing Officer Scott McCormick, who along with President & CEO Jeffrey Brewer and Executive Vice President of Development Mania Boyder appeared in the episode.

Bob Reid, executive director of JDRF’s Los Angeles chapter, contacted McCormick about the possibility of being on the show. One of his advisory board members had a connection at AMC and heard about the show and the possibility of considering JDRF.

“You never know with a reality show, but it came down to we don’t have that many opportunities to get that T1D (Type 1 Diabetes) and JDRF story out there in a significant way,” said McCormick.

McCormick said the 40-minute epi­sode portrayed a fairly real timeline, with filming beginning in February at a JDRF briefing with the two ad agencies — Omaha, Neb.-based Bozell, and Muse Communications in Culver City, Calif. — before a final presentation less than two weeks later. JDRF had been in discussions with AMC since before Thanksgiving about being on the show.

The campaign by Muse was called One Less Prick, a reference to the numerous times a day a diabetic must prick their finger to monitor their blood sugar. Bozell presented Be The Voice of One, focused around the theme of one, as in Type 1 Diabetes, in addition to Who is TOD?, an acronym for Type One Diabetes portrayed as a character who makes life difficult for diabetics. McCormick said producers did a good job of keeping JDRF and the story of T1D in focus. While both firms did a great job, he said Bozell’s campaign had the potential to connect not only with the JDRF community but also the greater T1D community.

The Muse approach would’ve gotten attention but also would’ve been a campaign that got an equal amount of equal positive and negative reactions, he said.

Bozell’s activity around the show was pro bono but McCormick said JDRF continues to have conversations with the agency about how to work their pitch into a campaign. The original proposal included many items, including a television rollout and other activities that McCormick said JDRF doesn’t have the marketing dollars for right now.

JDRF received several thousand dollars in contributions as a direct result of the show, according to McCormick, but it was the awareness and the broad audience that they sought more than anything. Web traffic has been up as have social conversations, according to McCormick, with as much as three times the normal Twitter activity for JDRF around the show and within 24 to 48 hours of the May 27 broadcast.

Some negative feedback can always be expected, McCormick said, but the preponderance of feedback was positive. “From the T1D community, we pretty much had universal approval and excitement about it,” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised that Voice of One line was being picked up so rapidly, even just in conversation.” NPT