We are a group of five seniors at Cal-State University, Fullerton studying Communications – Public Relations.  As part of our capstone Public Relations Management course, we were partnered with The R.A.R.E. Project (www.rareproject.org) to plan and implement a public relations campaign.

Initially, we had little to no understanding of rare disease. We met with Nicole Boice, President/Founder and she provided us with an overview of the organization and background of the vast footprint of rare disease. Hearing the story of why the organization was founded inspired us to make a difference. We wanted to get out there immediately and start to unite the world in support of affected kids and their families.

After researching a few possible target publics, we decided to plan a campus event that would help raise awareness among the untapped community of Cal-State Fullerton students. One of our group members, Jordan Sherry, is an active member of the Greek system. This proved to be one of our biggest strengths in overall planning for the event as Jordan was able to reach out to an established network of sorority and fraternity members encouraging them to help us out and learn more. Jordan set up an event invite on Facebook, inviting more than 1,000 Greek system students.

But, why college students? Well, this audience is exactly that, an audience willing to hear what we have to say. There are thousands of students on campus during any given day and nearly 36,000total students that attend the school. Often times, hours of breaks separate classes and they have little to do. We knew that we could tap into our own built up personal networks to gather support. We knew that it is much easier for college students to talk with other college students and convince them to do things. We understand how they think and what they want. We know how to plant a seed which will encourage them to talk with other students about the event. And we know more than anyone that college students love free stuff.

On Wed. Nov. 2, we held our campus event. In partnership with 5 Hour Energy, PopChips, and Buffalo Jeans, we asked students to wear denim in support of World Rare Disease Day (held on February 29, 2012) and stop by our table on Titan Walk, a main thoroughfare running through the center of campus.

To promote the event, we heavily relied on our own networks. Three of the group members are actively involved in the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) which is the largest student organization on campus. We asked the President of the club to post messages on the club’s social media accounts, including Facebook and Twitter. Additionally, we used the Facebook event Jordan sent out to his Greek system network and also spoke to classrooms to let them know what we were doing.

Buffalo Jeans provided us with denim that we set out on the table and asked students to sign to show their support. As they signed the jeans, it offered us an opportunity to give them more information about the Global Genes Project and World Rare Disease Day.  Additionally, we developed a QR code that students were able to scan with smartphones. The code directed them to an entry form for a Nook giveaway and also “liked” the Global Genes Facebook page. This allowed us to not only raise awareness of rare disease, but also grow the number of ‘likes” for the Facebook page in support of 1 Million for Rare (https://www.facebook.com/globalgenesproject)

Our partnership with 5 Hour Energy was the key to our success of the event as a whole. Students immediately noticed the bright red banner of 5 Hour Energy and came over to pick up a sample. As they did, the 5 Hour representatives asked the students to helpt kids with rare disease and sign the jeans. Students were more than willing to participate and curious to learn more. “Why jeans?” was a common question that we were asked. After hearing an explanation, students responded with, “wow, that makes perfect sense” and “genes and jeans, I never would have thought of that, but it’s very creative!” One student stopped by with her grandmother who was deeply touched by what we were doing as she has a granddaughter battling a rare disease.

Planning this event has opened my mind to rare disease and helped me to better understand that this community needs all the support they can get.  Would I consider myself a champion for the cause? That’s simple. Absolutely. I have even extended my passion of the organization into my internship where I have started to rally my  coworkers, convincing them to support the cause.

Overall,  the event was successful. Sure, there were a few setbacks and obstacles to tackle, such as 40 mph Santa Ana wind gusts at times. However, it didn’t deter us from getting out there and talking with the students about rare disease. Several students walked away thanking us, not only for the free 5 Hour Energy and PopChips we handed out, but also for taking the time to talk with them about the cause. Students mentioned that they were going to spread the word to their friends and ask them to “like” the Facebook page and stop by to hear what we had going on.