Money & Business

One Association's Really Big New York Times Play

By / Nov 19, 2012 (NYTimes.com screenshot)

In a first for The New York Times, the newspaper sold a large “open letter” overlay that covered most of the paper’s home page. The buyer? The National Parks Conservation Association.

Sometimes, a strong ad campaign can be the difference between a message getting lost or breaking through.

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) took that to heart when it published a very large ad on The New York Times home page Sunday.

First off, here’s the ad (click for larger):

This ad, the largest to ever run on the front page of NYTimes.com, reached 750,000 people on Sunday, informing the site’s visitors about the plight that national parks would face if the nation were to go over the so-called fiscal cliff.

As part of our ongoing funding campaign, we saw an opportunity to engage the American public surrounding the threat of the fiscal cliff facing our country.

To hear it from the NPCA’s vice president of communications, Linda Rancourt, it was a well-timed extension of a long-running messaging campaign to raise more money for the National Park Service, which accounts for 1/14th of 1 percent of the federal budget, despite encouraging $30 billion in private-sector spending.

“As part of our ongoing funding campaign, we saw an opportunity to engage the American public surrounding the threat of the fiscal cliff facing our country,” Rancourt told Associations Now. “The inspiration for the ad came from our design shop staff, and what made it possible was a generous donation from an anonymous donor who is a national parks lover and advocate.”

The group says its target is decision-makers who will play a role in voting for changes to the automatic cuts set to take place January 1. To that effect, the group is also using social media—Rancourt said “the issue has taken off like greased lightning on Twitter”—as well as reaching out to editorial writers, encouraging its 750,000 members to take action, and sending copies of the ad to every congressional office.

The New York Times‘ advocacy-advertising account manager, Daniel J. Guerra, says the ad’s style was intended to update an advocacy approach common to the newspaper’s advertising—the “open letter”—for the online format. It’s one that they could see other organizations using.

“We wanted to expand this environment online, and this home page execution was what we came up with for an online equivalent,” Guerra explained. “This allows advertisers to reach our politically and socially active audience on multiple platforms.”

As for the NPCA, Rancourt said the group’s prevailing message beyond the current campaign—over the past seven years, in fact—has revolved around the ongoing fiscal threat to the national park system.

“One of the most effective messages we have used over the years, during times when budget impasses have threatened to shut down the federal government, is that national parks could be closed and unavailable to visitors,” she said. “It is a hard-hitting, emotional message, and a very effective one.”

How has your association used advocacy advertising to boost the impact of your public-facing messaging? And how were the results? Let us know in the comments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now and a former newspaper guy. More »

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