• Joe Culotta

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

I’m sure you all have heard the saying, “all good things must come to an end” and unfortunately, I’ll be saying goodbye to some amazing co-workers, volunteers and some of the strongest cancer survivors I’ve had the privilege to work with. Effective in January, I’ll be leaving my role as the Director of Communications at the American Cancer Society. That being said, I wanted to take a moment and look back at my accomplishments at ACS and how this experience has impacted my career.

I was able to work with so many remarkable cancer survivors that came from all walks of life. They allowed me to help share their stories to the public and give hope to those who are currently battling cancer. There were so many times that I would sit in my car alone after their interview and quietly cry about their story battling cancer. Those moments made me realize that getting upset about little things such as a barista screwing up my coffee order or my delivery package not getting to me on time really wasn’t worth getting upset over. It wasn’t worth it to me because I would hear and help share stories of people who went through so much pain and suffering to beat a deadly disease.

There were so many great moments during my time at ACS but there’s a few that stand out to me because these moments are what made me a better communications professional.

COVID-19- Pivoting and Adapting to Unexpected Changes

When COVID-19 hit the United States in March, events were getting cancelled and/or postponed. Events are a big part of our team’s efforts in helping raise awareness and funds for the mission and even though our events weren’t happening, we had to figure out a way to get our mission stories out to the public and we had to do it fast.

Our team huddled up and took a look at the challenges that were ahead of us: less reporters in the newsrooms due to layoffs and airwaves getting clogged with either COVID-19 or 2020 election stories. We had to cut down our dependance on local media for our stories because newsrooms were busier than normal covering a pandemic that nobody knew anything about.

We had to do what every communications team had to do: pivot and adapt to unexpected changes. We became journalists and hunted down the stories of hope, asked all the questions, wrote the stories and then shared them on our social media platforms. Our mindset was “if the media isn’t available, let’s do the work ourselves.” This plan made a significant increase in our social media engagement and online donations.

Jacksonville Hope Lodge Grand Opening

One of the services that ACS provides is free lodging for cancer patients that have to travel for their treatment. One of the ways they help with easing the burden of travel expenses is letting patients stay at their Hope Lodges in select cities. Earlier this year, ACS opened the doors to their newest Hope Lodge in Jacksonville. Below is a video tour of the facility that I shot and edited.

I was part of the team that managed the ribbon cutting event and led the media relations efforts. It was a month-long planning effort and we all did our parts to ensure our guests which included our CEO and other executives, national board members, and donors were satisfied with their experience touring the new facility.

The event went better than we expected and got way more media attention than I hoped for. I was able to get every local TV station and several print publications to attend and cover the event which resulted the Lodge to be fully booked for days and months ahead.

Road to Recovery- Teamwork makes the dream work

The one piece of work that I’m most proud of is my yearlong efforts to recruit more new drivers for ACS’s Road to Recovery campaign. Road to Recovery is a service provided by the American Cancer Society that gives cancer patients free rides to treatment provided by a volunteer driver. The goal was to educate our audience about the service and then ask them to sign up and become a driver.

With the help of a co-worker, we were able to find volunteers in the market who were able to discuss their experience driving patients to their treatment. One volunteer that we highlighted has done over 500 rides. I made it a personal goal to make sure we hit every TV station and major newspaper in the market.

Thanks to the awesome volunteer drivers and their comfort to talk about their experience, we were able to achieve our media coverage goal and recruit 55% more drivers than the previous year. This campaign is very special to me because it won the Florida Public Relations Association Judge’s Award in the public service category.

I am and will always be grateful for the opportunity that was given to me at ACS. I enjoyed my time helping raise awareness for their mission to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer. I cannot stress how good it felt going to bed at night knowing that the work I was doing was helping make the world a better place. With that, I look forward to whatever new opportunity awaits.

“It’s time to say goodbye, but I think goodbyes are sad and I’d much rather say hello. Hello to a new adventure.”

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