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Using PR to Fight Pediatric Cancer

The largest student-run philanthropy in the world needs a solid and efficient public relations committee. And that is exactly what the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, affectionately known as THON, has. Benefiting The Four Diamonds Fund, THON is year-long philanthropy that raises money to fight pediatric cancer. The fundraising season for THON culminates in a 46-hour long no-sitting, no-sleeping dance marathon in February.

Raising over $7.8 million in 2010, THON has raised more than $69 million for The Four Diamonds Fund since their partnership, which began in 1977. The Four Diamonds Fund is an organization dedicated to offsetting medical and non-medical costs for the families of children diagnosed with cancer at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, as well as advancing pediatric cancer research.

In order to consistently raise millions of dollars each year, THON relies heavily on its Public Relations Captains and Committees to inform the public about its efforts and educate others about pediatric cancer. Here are all the ways public relations play a crucial role in the largest student-run philanthropy in the world:

  • Media Relations: Six Media Relations Captains inform the local community, state media, and national media about THON’s efforts throughout the year. Multiple press releases are sent out weekly to the media by these Captains to get THON coverage in newspapers, magazines, blogs, and on TV and radio stations.
  • Street Teams: These Captains work with their committee to spread awareness about THON events around the Penn State campus and community. By using marketing strategies, these students get their peers excited about events leading up to THON weekend.
  • Photography: By taking pictures at each THON event and throughout the 46-hour dance marathon, the Photography Captains and committee members document all the effort that goes into every part of THON.
  • Administrative Assistant: The Administrative Assistant serves as the Public Relations Overall Chairperson’s right-hand person. By taking minutes at the meetings, attending a THON focus group, and providing inspiration to the PR Captain Committee in the form of stories of different Four Diamonds Families each week, the Administrative Assistant keeps the PR Captains and their Overall Chairperson organized and on track.
  • Graphic Design: The two students who serve as the Graphic Design Captains take care of designing not only gear for the Public Relations Captain Committee, but also helping the other 14 Committees by designing for them as well. Aside from T-shirts and gear, they also work on other significant projects such as event advertisements, THON Weekend invitations, floor passes, press passes, and posters.
  • Events Management: Many events benefit THON leading up to the weekend of the dance marathon, and three Events Management Captains work with their committee to ensure these are executed flawlessly. Some major pre-THON events that help raise awareness for THON include the 100 Days ‘til THON celebration and the Mr. and Mrs. THON Pageant.
  • Publication Management: These Captains take care of the Diamond Guide, a publication sold during THON Weekend that serves as a guide to all things THON, both for visitors and Penn State students. These Captains are exceptionally skilled in graphic design and layout.
  • Alternative Media: The rise of alternative media has resulted in the creation of this position for two Captains to manage THON’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Two Captains manage these social media sites, with the Facebook page having nearly 5,000 friends and the Twitter account having 6,700 followers. Additionally, they have also launched a blog this year that provides an inside look at how THON happens.

All the efforts of these hard-working students come to a head during THON Weekend, as over 700 students give up sleeping and sitting for 46 hours all For The Kids. I will be writing a second part to this blog post after THON Weekend, this year taking place February 18-20, to recap what has to be done that weekend, all on very little sleep.

To learn more about THON, please watch the video below or visit www.thon.orgContact Colleen or follow her on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: When Colleen first told me she wanted to write about a non-profit she was working with, I wasn’t sure it was a fit for the blog. The more she told me about THON and the PR effort behind it, it didn’t take long for me to see how this story could benefit students and non-profits – and it’s just a great story. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Colleen’s THON coverage following this year’s event.

About Colleen Hanrahan
Colleen Hanrahan is a senior at Penn State majoring in public relations and minoring in business and psychology. Hanrahan is a Director of Business Affairs for Happy Valley Communications, Penn State’s only student-run PR firm, Director of Chapter Development for the Penn State Chapter of PRSSA, and a Peer Mentor for Penn State’s College of Communications. Hanrahan hopes to move to New York City or Washington, D.C., after graduating in May 2011.

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