Sticking Up for Breast Cancer Research
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Sticking Up for Breast Cancer Research

The challenge was to raise awareness and leverage this new partnership to maximize the donation to City of Hope, while also demonstrating the product equities of Post-It super sticky notes.

Paul Holmes

In 2003, 3M, the maker of Post-it notes, launched Post-it super sticky notes with a new adhesive technology that holds stronger and longer to vertical surfaces. The following year, 3M embarked on a new fundraising partnership with City of Hope Cancer Center, a nationally renowned cancer and research treatment facility in southern California. As part of this partnership, 3M introduced a new version of Post-It super sticky notes imprinted with a pink ribbon – the universal symbol for breast cancer awareness – with a portion of the sales going directly to City of Hope to fund breast cancer research.

The challenge was to raise awareness and leverage this new partnership to maximize the donation to City of Hope, while also demonstrating the product equities of Post-It super sticky notes. With this in mind, 3M and Hunter Public Relations (HPR) worked together to build an integrated marketing campaign, spearheaded by a comprehensive public relations effort. This initiative, called “Sticking Up” for Breast Cancer Research, incorporated several marketing disciplines—out-of-home advertising, website enhancements and a highly successful viral e-mail component.

When developing the strategy behind the campaign, 3M and HPR needed to address several challenges since this was the first time Post-it brand was executing a breast cancer cause-related marketing campaign. Since scores of companies conduct cause-related marketing campaigns in support of breast cancer awareness and research, 3M and HPR needed to find a unique, engaging way to make this cause-related partnership stand out amidst strong competition.

While working to raise awareness for breast cancer research and City of Hope, 3M needed to put some additional focus on the “super sticky” equity of Post-it super sticky notes to set it apart from the original Post-It notes. 3M needed to establish with targeted consumers (women ages 25-54) a connection between Post-It notes and the fight against breast cancer.

In order to gauge the reaction of consumers and the media to the “Sticking Up” for Breast Cancer initiative, 3M and HPR conducted extensive secondary research by using multiple search engines to scan newspaper archives for both positive and negative articles written about previous breast cancer cause-related marketing campaigns. This research enabled 3M and HPR to gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding breast cancer cause-related initiatives and to anticipate potential media criticism and consumer questions. With this in mind, 3M and HPR were able to adapt the campaign and messaging as necessary (e.g. find a spokesperson with a tie to breast cancer, communicate how Post-It notes tie in to breast cancer, etc.).

Understanding the importance of early detection in treating breast cancer, 3M conducted a survey to find out what percentage of women regularly monitored their own breast health. HPR hired an independent research firm to conduct an online survey of 17 questions, which was e-mailed to a sample of 5,000 women at least 18 years of age.

The survey received responses from 1,441 women and the key findings were as follows: 37 percent of women over the age of 40 did not remember to schedule an annual mammogram, 50 percent of all women surveyed did not remember to perform regular breast self-exams and over 50 percent of women surveyed said that a regular reminder system would help them better remember to schedule clinical medical exams, regular mammographies or monthly breast self-exams.

With this in mind, 3M and HPR developed the Post-It Software Notes Breast Exam Reminder Program, which could be downloaded for free at The reminder system would send women regular Post-It Software Notes reminders that would “stick” to their desktop and let them know when to perform a breast self-exam or schedule a clinical medical exam or mammogram.

3M also revamped the Post-It web site to include key survey findings and tips to help women better remember their breast health. The reminder program along with the website enhancements helped to further establish the connection between Post-It notes and breast health. It provided an additional media angle and the opportunity to communicate to women how Post-It notes can serve as a solution for monitoring breast health.

The PR team’s main objectives included to: increase sales of Post-It super sticky notes imprinted with a pink ribbon, thereby increasing the donation to the City of Hope and generate high-impact media coverage to build equity for the Post-It brand, thereby laying a strong foundation for the brand’s 25th anniversary in 2005.

To address the brand challenges, HPR recommended building the World’s Largest Pink Ribbon out of 75,000 Post-It super sticky notes on a billboard in Times Square – a larger-than-life “reminder” of the importance of breast cancer research. The World’s Largest Pink Ribbon would provide a compelling media angle and stunning visuals to help make 3M’s partnership with City of Hope break through the clutter of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Once the ribbon was completed, HPR would host a media day during the first week of October to kick-off the start of Breast Cancer Awareness Month prior to other cause-related breast cancer awareness events. The ribbon would stay on view throughout the month as a creative way to raise awareness for breast cancer research and create buzz around Post-It super sticky notes. Standing over 70 feet tall, the notes on the ribbon would withstand 30 M.P.H winds, torrential rain or any other elements the month of October brought to Times Square. This would provide an ideal opportunity to demonstrate product equities in a unique and dramatic way in one of the country’s most high-profile venue.

To mark the completion of the pink ribbon, a celebrity would be chosen to place the final Post-It super sticky note on the ribbon and serve as the spokesperson for the “Sticking Up” for Breast Cancer Research initiative. HPR recommended TV Personality Daisy Fuentes to serve as the spokesperson. Due to sensitive issues surrounding breast cancer cause-related marketing programs, it was imperative that the spokesperson have a connection to breast cancer.

Fuentes, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor, was the perfect choice. In addition to having a personal tie to the cause, she is bilingual, which extended potential outreach to include Hispanic audiences. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanics, which makes it even more important to raise awareness among this group of women. Through this program, 3M hoped to communicate to all women that Post-It notes, which have been synonymous with “reminder” for nearly 25 years, can help women remember to perform breast self-exams and mammograms – both key to early detection and breast cancer survival.

According to 3M, sales of pink ribbon Post-It super sticky notes exceeded sales projections by approximately 80 percent during the key sales period of October. And because public relations was the primary marketing vehicle for the World’s Largest Pink Ribbon campaign, the Post-It brand team is fully aware that the public relations efforts are largely responsible for the extraordinary sales of this product. These robust product sales resulted in a $300,000 donation to City of Hope, a much larger donation than was originally anticipated based on earlier sales projections.

With more than 60 million impressions to date from public relations tactics, the “Sticking Up” campaign for City of Hope Cancer Center and Post-It super sticky notes secured national coverage on Good Morning America, The Tony Danza Show, CNN Headline News, Good Day Live and garnered international coverage in Canada, Russia, Japan, Singapore, Australia, India, Qatar, Jamaica and the Philippines.

The program also received placements in Newsweek and Woman’s World and was featured in all top 10 DMAs and 17 of the top 20 DMAs in the U.S. The program also reached many Hispanic women since Daisy Fuentes is bilingual. The program received Hispanic media coverage in all top 5 DMAs and in several key Hispanic media outlets such as Hoy, La Opinion, El Diario and Despierta America — the largest Hispanic morning show in the U.S.

In total, the “Sticking Up” campaign garnered more than 117 million impressions to date for all integrated marketing tactics, which includes public relations initiatives, the 3M website, the billboard, City of Hope publications and FSIs done by City of Hope. Furthermore, the viral e-mail “call for submissions” created significant buzz for the World’s Largest Pink Ribbon and the pink ribbon Post-It super sticky note, as more than 3 million people visited in response to this initiative.

According to Nielsen/Net Ratings, was one of the fastest-growing sites on the Internet during the last two weeks of August as a result of this campaign. Additionally, after being displayed on the Times Square billboard for the entire month of October, all 75,000 Post-It super sticky notes remained in place, clearly demonstrating the effectiveness of Post-It super sticky notes to more than 1 million people per day, and over 37 million people throughout October.

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