How a cancer nonprofit is using Comic Con in bid for new donors

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Blood cancer charity DKMS is branching out to reach a younger, more diverse male audience in its latest campaign to increase signups for its bone marrow registry.

After studying its donor registry, the organization found that young men tend to be the best donors but also noticed a lack of ethnically diverse donors. DKMS partnered with New York Comic Con, FNTSY Sports Network, and Revolt Music Conference to reach that audience.

"Young males from 18 to 30 are the most chosen donors; we found statistically that young males get chosen five times more often," said David Tratner, VP of marketing and communications for DKMS. "Because we have a unique message and a unique ask, we asked how do we target millennial males. We came up with three different ways: sports, Comic Con, and music."

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DKMS chose these three partners because their events began at about the same time and they reach a diverse, young male audience. The campaign is "a little bit of an experiment" for the nonprofit, Tratner said. DKMS worked with Marino, its U.S. AOR, on PR for the campaign and with Area 23 on its Comic Con booth.

At New York Comic Con, which is set to begin on Thursday, DKMS will have a booth with a "superhero casting call," where attendees can sign up for an "audition" to join the registry, which includes an on-the-spot mouth swab. DKMS will also educate attendees at the booth about bone marrow and stem cell donation.

"We're not selling a product; we're a not-for-profit trying to save lives. It's a message that resonates," Tratner said. "We were trying to figure out the trick to reach that group. The most successful way to get them to register is to have a conversation with them starting with an email, or seeing our ads and banners. That gets them into the tent to talk to us. Instead of the direct ‘save a life' message, we said give us your email or mobile number and let's have a conversation."

DKMS and FNTSY Sports Network began the partnership in week two of the NFL's season, which began on September 14. It has placed donors and DKMS staffers on the FNTSY Sports Network's programming, including its video, radio, and digital programs, to talk about fantasy sports and being a donor.

The organization is hoping to reach a diverse audience at the Revolt Music Conference, which features artists including Queen Latifah, French Montana, and 2 Chainz. The conference is part of hip-hop mogul Sean Combs' music TV network Revolt. DKMS' presence at the conference will also include a video.

"For us, working with diverse groups like Latinos and African-Americans, it's an education process first," Tratner said. "We just can't walk into a new community and say, ‘You need to register.' We have to explain who we are. In the case of Revolt, it's an investment in the community for people to understand what DKMS is, why they need to swab, why you need to register, and that it could save a life."

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The nonprofit also works to educate the audiences properly, including about the fact that bone marrow and stem cell donation are not the same as giving blood. Tratner added that DKMS will collect email addresses and phone numbers of people who are undecided about signing up so potential donors can learn more.

DKMS will communicate regularly with those who sign up about how the process works, including dispelling myths about donating bone marrow and stem cells. Tratner acknowledged that many of those emails won't be opened, but said he hopes seeing DKMS regularly in an inbox will keep it on the minds of potential donors.

"We're out there trying to reach them to save lives, but we have to be careful with that kind of message," Tratner said. "We can't just go out and put it in their faces. People hear that all the time; it's a trite thing to say. But at the end of the day, that's what we're doing. If more people sign up, we will save more lives. Thats a fact and that's the message I want to get out there."

This story first appeared in PRWeek. 

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