A New York public relations firm was promoting a fashion show that will benefit AIDS causes.
PR pros in a Washington agency were volunteering to help AIDS- and HIV-related causes such as a campaign to promote condom use.
And worldwide, PR was applying its talents Thursday to raise awareness for World AIDS Day
in an attempt to halt the spread of a virus that affects 33 million people around the globe.
It is not, of course, the first time the forces of PR have gone into battle on behalf of worthwhile causes. Public relations efforts fighting the AIDS pandemic are in keeping with the pro bono work done throughout the profession’s history, says Arthur Yann, vice president of public relations with the Public Relations Society of America
PR firms regularly provide pro bono services for institutions that needed assistance but can’t afford it, he says. Their work has prevented consumer injury and illness and advanced worthy causes.
PR’s unrecognized fight for good causes
“It’s unfortunate that this aspect of our profession goes so unrecognized,” Yann says, “but the fact is that public relations has changed attitudes and behaviors toward some of the world’s most pressing social issues, from breast cancer awareness to drinking and driving to smoking and obesity.”
World AIDS Day serves an important role in battling a disease whose spread is largely affected by the infinite variables of human behavior. Various campaigns’ goals ranged from raising money to urging minority gay and bisexual men to get tested for HIV.
Matthew Kneller, communications manager with Nike, said the company created several new product
s in partnership with (RED)
, a nonprofit organization that is partnering with the private sector to raise awareness and money to help eliminate AIDS in Africa.
Since 2006, (RED)’s partners—among them Apple, Bugaboo, Gap, Hallmark, Dell, and Starbucks—have raised $140 million for Global Fund, a public/private partnership working to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.
“The production of [HIV-related products] and the selling of this helps raise awareness,” Kneller says. “It’s just a great organization for us. It’s a great partnership. We’ve raised awareness on an important topic.”
The Los Angeles Times
listed a number of other fashion companies that were releasing and promoting products in connection with World Aids Day.
In a phone interview from Geneva, Tunga Namjilsuren, team leader of the communications unit at the World Health Organization, told PR Daily the day is important in raising understanding of AIDS worldwide.
“You can see a lot of press stories, and almost every organization working on behalf of HIV/AIDS are doing some sort of communications effort and public relations and marketing efforts today,” Namjilsuren said.
A flood of coverage
The day brought a flood of stories about new scientific trials, and it brings messages from notables including Bono and President Obama.
“It’s basically the highest point in the campaign of the year-round activities around the world,” Namjilsuren said. “It really gives the momentum for the community to speak up and express their concern.”
The communications staff at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
found a variety of ways to get the word out, ranging from contacting the press to preparing blogs for AIDS.gov, said Susan J. Robinson, associate director of communication science. It has promoted testing and spread the message of new hope for fighting HIV/AIDS
It “translated” information from press releases to Twitter, and it provided banners and buttons that people could post on Facebook or their websites.
The CDC also is hosting Twitter chats with leading doctors at #NPINchat and #WAD11.
World AIDS Day provides “a tremendous opportunity for us to focus on HIV/AIDS prevention work abroad but also domestically,” Robinson says.
For a day in which every other corporation seemed to be lending a hand in the fight against AIDS, some of the messaging was problematic from a reporter’s perspective.
Many organizations issued press releases without contact names or numbers. In several cases where PR pros were
named, those people weren’t available Thursday morning. Websites included forms for reporters to fill out rather than a contact number or person to phone.
Work to be done
In some populations, even cultures where the disease has killed millions, the effort can be a hard sell. The objective is to change the minds of those whose fear deters them from getting tested and treated to prolong their lives.
Says Namjilsuren: “From WHO’s perspective we’re celebrating a decade of HIV progress, but at the same time we’re very concerned about the trends for the future.”
Did your firm do pro-bono work for World AIDS Day? Tell us about it in the comments section.
Russell Working is a staff writer for Ragan Communications. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @RussellWorking.