How to Save Two Lives: MSF Implements Students’ ‘Because Tomorrow Needs Her’ Campaign

During the Ebola crisis, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was on the front lines providing emergency care for patients. While a slew of charitable donors have financially supported the lifesaving efforts of MSF, younger donors have been more elusive with their gifts. The organization’s communications challenge, then, was to create a campaign to draw younger donors – and to do so on the constrained budget of a nonprofit organization.

That’s where the students from the master’s program in Strategic Communications came in. For their Capstone project, three student groups were tasked with attracting younger donors to the organization. One group in particular created a communications strategy that focused on MSF’s healthcare initiatives for women and children in the developing world. The team was comprised of Suzanne Fee, Maria Elena Lopez-Frank, Charlene Perilla, Robert Macquarrie, and Alicia Stevens. They intended to engage female donors in general and millennial women in particular by focusing on the stories of the women who have benefitted from MSF’s aid work.

Suzanne Fee

Research and Insights

Prof. Mark Truss was the instructor for the market research course Insight Discovery in the Strategic Communications program. Truss guided each of the groups as they conducted key research in order to inform their messaging. His class curriculum covers the four steps of research necessary before one embarks on creating a campaign: desk research, social media research, qualitative research, and quantitative research. He says that the ultimate goal of this fact-finding is to “gather some insight into what might be a motivating, compelling messaging strategy in order to get the [target] audience to behave in a certain way.”

Alicia Stevens

The team directly applied these practices to their project. “At first, we were using a kind of hero campaign,” says Alicia Stevens, who was the liaison between the team and MSF. “As we got to know the organization better, we realized that that was really not the right messaging.” The student group relied on their research as well as data provided by MSF to inform their strategy: “The field workers, they feel like their goal is to change policy with regard to the developing world. It's a much different goal than trying to get a millennial excited by a heroic story so that they'll donate.”

A New Side of MSF

Macquarrie discusses an insight the team discovered: “They're known for their crisis response. What they're not quite as well-known for is women's and children's healthcare.”

Robert Macquarrie

The team began to realize that this area of focus was not only a significant part of MSF’s story but also that these initiatives would resonate with female donors. “Men have the language of the locker room,” Macquarrie says, whereas “women relate differently to these issues. When the team talked about [MSF’s initiatives for women], the four women in the group became very passionate about it. They expressed an empathy for women around the world – and that was really compelling.”

An Emotional Appeal

Stevens says of MSF’s work with women’s healthcare, “If the mothers don't survive and thrive, the children have almost no chance of surviving themselves. So it really comes down to needing to fortify infrastructure for women's health, which then leads to community health, regional health, and ultimately global health.”

Lopez-Frank says via email, “When it came time to name our campaign and hashtag...we went through a lot of ideas – most [with] ‘health’ in the title, but nothing seemed quite right. I realized that some of the most successful hashtags are inclusive. That’s how ‘Because Tomorrow Needs Her’ came about,” she says of the tagline and hashtag that she coined.

Maria Elena Lopez-Frank

Truss admired the team’s positive and emotional appeal. “It was about humanizing what MSF does and bringing it to a very personal level,” he says. “What they were learning is that they had to somehow bring [MSF’s patients] to light so that people could empathetically relate to them. Once you empathetically relate to someone, you understand their situation, and that might trigger motivation to participate and to help out.”

A Confluence of Ideas

Jason Cone, director of communications at MSF, says that this approach “struck a balance.” “We're dealing with pretty heavy stuff. So as soon as they [proposed the campaign,] we felt it appropriately conveyed a sense of urgency – but also a sense of future possibilities.” Coincidentally, MSF had already moved in the direction of more prominently featuring their projects focused on women and children. Cone says, “We had been working on this project, a combination book and multimedia project.” However, he says, “We hadn't had as much time to galvanize a campaign – or even a tagline.”

They proposed a highly visual digital and social media campaign. Stevens and Macquarrie brought their nonprofit sector and fundraising experience to the project. Fee and Perilla offered their agency and consulting expertise; Fee worked on the creative direction and digital media strategy while Perilla focused on channel planning and research analysis. Lopez-Frank wrote the advertising copy, and her insight about the need to focus on women and their stories drove the strategy that sparked the creative execution.

Charlene Perilla

“In the creative that we presented, we did pick [an image of] a woman who was carrying a baby who was a Syrian refugee. We wanted to convey a sense of urgency,” says Fee, who was responsible for the look and feel of the campaign. “We also wanted to show – here's a woman, here's her story, here's how she became a midwife, here's how she made a difference. Our idea with these individual stories was to build that relationship [between MSF and donors].”

“Working collaboratively is a great opportunity for students to learn from each other and weigh different perspectives,” says Strategic Communications program director Trudi Baldwin. “Our program aims to mirror the real world where people from different disciplines are often teamed to create solutions for communications challenges. We like to say ‘there’s no one right answer’ because it’s about the tremendous diversity of experience that students bring, and the creativity that comes with sharing ideas and offering arguments to arrive at a solution that ultimately best achieves the objective.”

Bringing the Campaign to Life

The proposed campaign struck a chord with the client. “As soon as I came out of that presentation, I said to the team, ‘Please share all of this with us,’” says Cone. He says that they felt not only that they could immediately implement it but also that it converged with the book and multimedia project already in progress.

With their newly launched Because Tomorrow Needs Her campaign, MSF has employed a significant portion of these Strategic Communications students’ suggestions. Cone says, “We used the tagline and the hashtag. We used a lot of the language that they had used in the original PSA [public service announcement] that they had made. We definitely implemented the tone.” He says that they also incorporated the students’ concept that, by providing care for a woman today, you could save two lives tomorrow – the mother’s and her child’s. “We adapted that into a number of banner ads that we're putting online in the next several weeks.”

The multimedia photojournalistic project Because Tomorrow Needs Her launched on Wednesday, March 4th with a panel discussion at Pace University. The event description said, “[Women’s healthcare needs in the developing world] have not been adequately addressed. MSF has demonstrated that it doesn’t have to be this way; that simple, inexpensive interventions carried out by trained health staff can save many of these women.” It combines MSF’s rigorously assembled content with the tone and direction that the Strategic Communications students suggested.

Truss reflects on the unique nature of the students’ work: “MSF was a real passion project for a lot of these students. My observation was that, for the students working on this, this was more than a Capstone project for their master's program,” he says. “It gave them the feeling that marketing can, in a big way, help people around the world.”