With great funding comes great expectations.
In 2022, USAging received an unprecedented windfall of funds for helping older adults, people with disabilities and caregivers. In the flash of an electronic deposit, the not-for-profit USAging had taken on a challenging new national initiative: making social services more accessible to a segment of the population that is notoriously difficult to reach.
Joellen Leavelle, USAging’s communications director at the time, celebrated one of the largest grants in the not-for-profit association’s history. But even before the cake had been cut and served, she was mulling expectations that came with the money – and the long-term implications for USAging. If the project failed, attracting a similarly large gift would be all but impossible.
The pressure was on.
The grant called for developing a public service announcement (PSA) campaign in support of two USAging programs:
- Disability Information and Access Line (DIAL)
Launched during the Covid-19 pandemic, the national call center and hotline helps people with disabilities to access a broad range of services
- Eldercare Locator
The only national information and referral resource operates across the spectrum of issues affecting older Americans
The PSA campaign would seek to raise awareness of available social services, primarily by driving traffic to call centers that serve as clearinghouses for information about social programs. To succeed, the campaign would have to overcome an entrenched wariness that runs through the program’s target audiences: older adults, people with disabilities, and underserved people, such as communities of color and residents of rural areas.
“People with disabilities often don’t trust their service providers. Or they don’t know what’s available. Or there is a barrier to access,” Joellen said. The campaign would show how USAging delivers valuable resources that are “trusted, vetted, and actually do what people need.”
It didn’t help that Covid and the politicization of public health had further inflamed distrust. A successful national campaign would have to resonate with audiences in red and blue states and with speakers of English and Spanish. In addition, the campaign sought to increase use of services in areas with historically low levels of access.
USAging would have to go where it hadn’t gone before.
From the start, there was a palpable sense of urgency. The association needed a trusted, highly responsive partner that could move fast and work collaboratively – and not raise any red flags.
USAging issued an RFP in January 2023 and kicked off the project soon thereafter. USAging chose a known vendor with “a great understanding of what people with disabilities need,” Joellen said. A few years earlier, the agency had led a successful rebrand of USAging (formerly n4a). Trust is important when you’re “working under intense pressure during a pandemic,” Joellen said. “I don’t want to say it’s all about the people, but it kind of is.”
USAging worked on the campaign throughout the spring and summer. Its agency partner brought to the process a disciplined approach that prevented the process from getting mired in detail. Consistent communication and collaboration maintained momentum.
“We were going somewhere we hadn’t been before,” Joellen said. “They kept us on track.”
The PSA campaign launched in September. Newly developed creative assets – 15-, 30- and 60-second television and radio spots, in English and Spanish – began appearing in major markets, with strong early pickup in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Chicago. The campaign will run until the summer of 2024.
On the heels of the PSA campaign’s initial success, the association received a large government grant to support USAging’s Aging and Disability Vaccination Collaborative. ADVC distributes funds to organizations across aging and disability networks to support vaccination education and promotion initiatives.
Sometimes, great expectations result in great success.
SUBSCRIBE TO THE AMPERSAND NEWSLETTER FOR MORE INSIGHTS FROM YES&: