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Endangered Syndrome

Industry: Public interest & Non-profit
Style: Minimalism
Why is this work relevant for PR?

The Canadian Down syndrome Society had a specific goal – to build awareness and spark a dialogue about a serious issue the public wasn’t concerned about – the dwindling resources being devoted to the Down syndrome community as their population declines. With less than $5,000 in media to build awareness, the campaign focused on architecting a creative idea that would be so breakthrough and provocative it would earn widescale media and force a public conversation.


A rapid increase in pre-natal screening for Down syndrome, along with near universal termination rates, means the population is declining. To the extent that it’s predicted to be extinct in Iceland by 2091.

Considered a medical achievement by some, this quiet revolution is having a devasting impact on the current Down syndrome community. Because as the population shrinks, so do the resources, health care, and social services they desperately need.

Down syndrome is a niche condition, which means most people don’t have a personal connection to the community – and aren’t aware of their growing funding gap. The Canadian Down Syndrome Society (CDSS) had the objective of raising awareness of this niche issue among the general public, by forcing a conversation that people outside the community weren’t having or engaged in – all with next to no budget.

Describe the creative idea (20% of vote)

The Down syndrome community’s shrinking population and funding means that, based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s own criteria, they would qualify to be on the endangered species list. So, the CDSS took the intentionally subversive act of applying –making our cause unignorable.

Introducing Endangered Syndrome: a digital campaign that illustrates why, for the first time in history, a group of people applied to be on the endangered species list. Launching with a social video featuring real people with Down syndrome advocating for the education, healthcare and employment resources they aren’t getting. Our Down syndrome heroes wore animal inspired costumes – dramatizing the point that just like endangered animals, there are endangered people in need of support and resources too.

The intrusiveness of the campaign ensured it would garner earned media in North American media outlets, to spark a debate about an issue that wasn’t being talked about.

Describe the PR strategy (30% of vote)

We had to make the issue at hand meaningful to the public, because they had no emotional connection to Down syndrome. Down syndrome’s population decline had a striking parallel to another, well-loved cause: endangered species. Research revealed that people with Down syndrome could in fact qualify as endangered species. However, wildlife organizations receive 100X more funding than Down syndrome organizations in North America ($350MM2 vs $3M3 respectively).

We used this tension to craft the key message: if endangered animals receive so much attention, support and resources – than why aren’t a group of people who face the same risks receiving the same help? This was an unexpected, uncomfortable comparison that we knew would erupt a firestorm of social engagement and coverage.

We knew PR targeted news outlets would latch on to something so provocative, to spread the news story on Facebook and Twitter

1 WWF, 2018
2 CDSS and NDSS,

Describe the PR execution (20% of vote)

The campaign launched on Canadian Down Syndrome Week knowing we could capitalize on a moment when receptivity is naturally high.

While the conversation began with the video, it was amplified with PR coverage on major Canadian and International news outlets. News stories were also shared widely across Facebook and Twitter. In fact, Endangered Syndrome became a trending topic on Twitter from organic engagement alone.
This was the CDSS’s third year raising awareness through PR, so we targeted the same news, human interest, health and family-oriented outlets that had already covered the CDSS and believed in our mission.
The video drove to an educational microsite, where the public could sign the petition to show their support/donate. To deepen the conversation, all online news stories were moderated 24/7, allowing the CDSS to engage those commenting on the campaign and educate them in the social channels where they were asking questions.

List the results (30% of vote) – must include at least two of the following tiers:

The campaign’s provocative message kickstarted an avalanche of press and online discussion. As a result, the campaign achieved the following:

- Tier 1: Media Outputs (to building awareness)
o Earned half a billion media impressions with only $2,000 invested in media with coverage on major Canadian and International news outlets, to drive public awareness of a niche issue.
o Earned 93 pieces of coverage, including coverage on all major Canadian news outlets on digital, radio and TV as well as International media.

- Tier 2: Target Audience Outcomes (to drive engagement)
o Garnered a 1470% increase in conversation compared to the daily average Down syndrome discussions.

- Tier 3: Business Outcomes (to drive donations)
o The campaign increased online and telephone donations by 77%, compared to 2017

In the end this campaign succeeded in getting this hidden issue the attention it deserves.
Chief Creative Officer:
Art Director:
Account Supervisor:
Account Manager:
Director of Photography:
Other credit:Senior Strategist: Eryn LeMesurier
Broadcast Producer: Judy Hamilton
Digital Strategist: Shelagh Hartford
Chief Strategy Officer: Shelley Brown
Casting Agency: Jigsaw Casting
Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2019
Shortlist PR
Not-for-profit / Charity / Government
Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2019
Shortlist PR
Social Behaviour & Cultural Insight
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