American Red Cross’ Hurricane Response

The American Red Cross’ Advertising Response to Hurricane Season 2004

In August 2004, Hurricane Charley slammed into the western coast of Florida-only to be followed by Hurricanes Frances, Ivan and Jeanne during a seven week timeframe. This marked the busiest hurricane season and the largest response to a natural disaster(s) in Red Cross history. Just one week before Hurricane Charley made landfall, the American Red Cross’ Disaster Relief Fund (DRF), was at an all-time low, mainly due to a lack of high-visibility disasters on which to base fundraising. This balance was severely insufficient to respond to the onslaught of storms, which beat a path of destruction through Florida, Alabama and other Gulf Coast States with residual storms reaching as far north as Pennsylvania and New York. The Public Relations Team acted quickly to engage in initiatives that would help build trust in the organization and inspire people to donate money to the Red Cross. Advertising was a key component of this initiative, inspiring the media to help communicate the urgent need for people to support the massive disaster relief efforts of the American Red Cross.

Advertising Materials

The American Red Cross Advertising Unit created new public service announcements to leverage the public’s interest in disaster relief and in the Red Cross response to the hurricanes, and to encourage financial donations.

  • Two new 30 second television PSAs and four coordinating radio PSAs were created and developed in-house, saving the organization thousands of dollars in outside costs. These spots have an emotional look and feel, and feature Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The television shows a montage of black and white disaster still photos.
  • American Red Cross President and CEO Marsha Evans appeared in television appeal. A previously used print ad featuring Ms. Evans, a retired Rear Admiral in the US Navy, was repurposed for use as a disaster relief appeal directed to military audiences, maximizing the existing resources available.
  • Various print PSAs, in English and Spanish, were created to encourage continued support for the American Red Cross hurricane relief effort, especially as time passed and media turned their editorial focus to other stories.
  • Actress and American Red Cross Celebrity Cabinet Member Christina Sanchez donated her time to record five disaster relief radio PSAs in Spanish.
  • Additionally, the recent hurricane season marked the first substantial national foray by the Red Cross into online search engine advertising.

TV Commercials:

Johnny Cash Disaster Relief Fund Appeal

Marsha Evans Disaster Relief Fund Appeal

Advertising Placement

In the days leading up to each of the four hurricanes, the Advertising Unit approached media with disaster relief advertising to encourage support in the aftermath of the disasters. These efforts brought significant PSA placements in the initial days following each hurricane. The continued support from many media partners, including national newspapers and magazines, television, cable and radio networks, and other corporations and organizations, was critical to the ongoing awareness that inspired the public, as well as corporate donors, to contribute throughout this devastating hurricane season.


As of September 30, 2004, the American Red Cross received $1,119,053 in television, radio and print donated advertising space. As of November 4, 2004, approximately 85,000 visitors have been directed to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund web page as a result of online search engine advertising. Having successfully shared its critical message with the public, the American Red Cross raised funds that supported its massive relief effort, which opened more than 1,800 shelters, housed more than 425,000 people, and served about eleven million meals and snacks to disaster victims.*

*As of October 27, 2004

The Advertising Educational Foundation is grateful to the American Red Cross for their support and permission to share this case history with users.

Copyright © 2004 American Red Cross. All rights reserved.

Case Histories

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