BBDO Wins Red Cross Review

Account is fee-based and pro-bono

The American Red Cross, in the process of its own marketing transformation under new management, has selected BBDO N.Y. as its first integrated agency of record. In a new way of working at the non-profit, BBDO will provide a combination of fee-based and pro-bono services and the account will utilize traditional paid advertising in addition to donated media.

The Omnicom agency won the business in a review overseen by Peggy Dyer who joined the company nearly two years ago in the newly-created post of chief marketing officer. Dyer had most recently spent 10 years as a marketer at Allstate Insurance Co. and had also worked at Citicorp, Sara Lee Corp. and Quaker Oats Co. Review participants and spending on the business was not disclosed.

Dyer is part of the management team assembled by Gail McGovern, the former president of Fidelity Personal Investments and evp for the consumer markets division of AT&T, who became CEO at the Red Cross in April, 2008. McGovern has moved fast to reinvent the organization, taking it from $209 million deficit, when she arrived, to break-even now.

Over the past couple of years, given the earthquake in Haiti, tsunami in Japan and the Midwest tornadoes and flooding in the U.S., the Red Cross has had high visibility. But while Americans support the charitable organization during those times—the Red Cross is  completely funded by private donations–BBDO’s mandate is to build awareness of its full breadth of services.

“The Red Cross is the strongest non-profit brand in the U.S. But we need to make it more relevant as a 21st century brand, particularly in non-disaster times,” said Dyer, who adds: “Without a doubt this is the most complicated and difficult brand I’ve ever dealt with. It’s hard to describe the services because it’s more of a promise of something, more of an emotional benefit.”

In addition to international and local disaster relief, the Red Cross provides half the nation’s blood, teaches CPR and first aid skills and assists the military and their families.

Dyer is also centralizing Red Cross’s local marketing activities to conform with the national concepts developed by BBDO. The agency will produce online and offline work like social media, consumer advertising, business-to-business work and collateral materials. The first advertising is expected in the fall which is traditionally a busy time for the Red Cross, given the hurricane season and coming holidays.

Dyer said BBDO stood out in the review because of its insights not only about the Red Cross but also the public service sector in general. She was also impressed with the agency’s “roll-up the sleeves” approach to the pitch.

John Osborn, BBDO N.Y.’s CEO, said agency staffers went along with the Red Cross as they dealt with the more routine local disasters and situations in Brooklyn and the Bronx, that don’t make the news, and also went down to Alabama to help with the homeless after April’s tornado. Pitching the business became larger than the N.Y. office.

“When the Red Cross opportunity came along, BBDO people, not just in New York, but  around the country wanted to be involved," he said. "If not working on the business, they told us if there’s a disaster on the ground, I want to volunteer.”