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PR with a Purpose: Not Everyone Gets a Happy Ending

Published on March 11, 2018, at 2:41 p.m.
by Mallory McDonald.

It’s a tale as old as time: Kids grow up and have the opportunity to be anything they want — a doctor, lawyer, astronaut, football star. But what about when they don’t?

In 2013, 2-year-old Sam Benson was diagnosed with DIPG, a uniformly fatal brain cancer. Due to Sam’s age, he was not eligible for clinical trials and was given less than a year to live. In order to make the most of the time they had left, the Benson family went all over the country manufacturing joy for Sam at any cost. After more than 20 trips across the United States, the end was approaching and the family knew it. Near the end, they knelt down before him and pleaded with him to learn what they could do to make him happy. His response: “I am happy.”

The next day, Sam Benson, at age 3, passed away.

But Sam’s death is not where this story ends. Sam’s mother, Erin Benson, decided not to let her loss and suffering be the response to Sam’s legacy. Instead, she took all that pain and anger at her family’s loss and turned it into something positive. From there, With Purpose was created.

With Purpose is a youth and community-led movement dedicated to making sure children with cancer have access to safe and effective treatment options. The Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) was inspired by Erin’s efforts and her creation of With Purpose and selected her nonprofit as the 2018 Bateman Case Study Competition client.

The Bateman Case Study Competition is PRSSA’s premier national case study competition for public relations students nationwide. More than 75 schools compete in the competition every year, and one school in particular is ready to bring home yet another national championship, said marketing senior and Bateman team member Chase Pritchett.

Per its current marketing campaign, The University of Alabama is “Where Legends Are Made” and the university’s recent Bateman teams are legends in their own right. Last year’s team came in second place for its “Change Direction UA” campaign, and the team two years ago took home the national championship for its “In The Chair” campaign, it is safe to say there are large shoes to fill.

“When I learned who the client for this year’s Bateman competition was, I applied immediately,” said public relations senior and Bateman team member Mallory McDonald. “For the first time in three years of different health care, entertainment and higher education clients, I was deeply inspired and determined to do everything in my power to make a difference for the approximately 15,780 kids a year diagnosed with cancer, so that one day, I never have to hear another story like Sam’s.”

Photo courtesy of UA Bateman team

Less than four percent of federal cancer research funding is dedicated to childhood cancer research. This statistic, coupled with Sam’s story, inspired the creation of Alabama’s campaign, UAre.WithPurpose. Everyone has a purpose, and the UA Bateman team members made it their mission to educate their community on its purpose: to help change the inequalities in research and treatment options for kids with cancer.

The campaign kicked off Feb. 15. The team currently has over 2,000 pledges with purpose, created a permanent With Purpose UA chapter, and developed a “Legends With Purpose” mini-series, which is parallel to the university’s “Where Legends Are Made” campaign. This mini-series features influencers from around the Tuscaloosa community, such as President Stuart Bell and Nick Saban. These “Legends” are then paired with children, “Future Legends,” who have had or currently have cancer in the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, community. The UA Bateman team believes that all children should have the opportunity to become legends in their own right.

UA Bateman team pictured with Coach Nick Saban; photo courtesy of the UA Bateman team

Nick Saban, the University of Alabama head football coach, was paired with Jackson X, a local child from Tuscaloosa who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which changed his life forever. In November 2016, Jackson went into remission; however, he must continue undergoing treatment until March 2020 or his cancer has a 100 percent guarantee of returning. According to Coach Saban, “The opportunity to make an impact in any child’s life is special; however, children, like Jack, with their positive attitude and toughness, provide so much inspiration to me and to our team. Jack and an untold number of kids like him deserve a chance to make all of their dreams come true.”

While Jack’s and Sam’s stories end differently, they so easily could have ended the same with more federal research funding dedicated to childhood cancer research. ABC 33/40 chief meteorologist and Alabama personality James Spann joined the UA Bateman’s cause and weighed in on the issue of research funding for childhood cancer.

James Spann

“I have worked in children’s ministry for over 25 years, and know the life disruption and intense grief childhood cancer can bring to families,” said Spann. “With our advanced medical knowledge today, we have to be close to a cure, and federal funding is critical to important research.”

The Bateman competition ends on March 15, but for children across the world, the fight is just beginning, said senior public relations student and Bateman team member Colleen Dolan.

“This is why one of our team’s key objectives was sustainability,” senior public relations student and Bateman team member Emily Baker said. “We wanted to ensure that even after our time on campus has ended, this community will continue advocating for the children who couldn’t. I am thrilled our team has successfully created a UA chapter with a board of dedicated students who will secure longevity and change.”

Baker says it isn’t just The University of Alabama’s purpose to help the thousands of children who have or will have childhood cancer … it’s “your purpose” too. To help in the fight to conquer childhood cancer, you can take the UA Bateman team’s pledge or make a donation before the campaign ends on March 15.

You can also follow the UA Bateman Team’s “Uare.WithPurpose.” campaign on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

University of Alabama Bateman Team 2018; photo courtesy of the UA Bateman team

About the University of Alabama Bateman Competition team:
The UA Bateman Competition team is comprised of Capstone Agency  members. Capstone Agency is a student-run integrated communications firm that includes top communications and business students at The University of Alabama.

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