Feature

Nicola Mendelsohn launches blood cancer charity: 'I want to make the invisible, visible'

Having been diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer three years ago, Nicola Mendelsohn is launching The Follicular Lymphoma Foundation – a charity dedicated to funding research into the disease and supporting patients. Here she explains how ad land banded together to launch the organisation and make an “invisible” disease visible.

When Facebook’s EMEA vice-president Nicola Mendelsohn was diagnosed with a rare and incurable blood cancer in 2016, she turned to the platform she leads daily to find solace and support from other patients.

She quickly discovered an “amazing support network” in the form of Facebook group Living with Follicular Lymphoma, the single largest collection of patients living with the disease. Now at 6000 members strong, the exec co-admins the community – but in a bid to find a cure and offer patients even more support Mendelsohn is now launching her own charity with some help from adland.

Almost three years to the day she received her prognosis, Mendelsohn is introducing The Follicular Lymphoma Foundation. The organization is dedicated to helping those with the condition “live well”. It will also aim to raise $20m (£15.5m) in its first three years and is hoping to find a cure to the disease within the next decade.

“What I’ve learned through all this is that not a lot of money and research is happening around follicular lymphoma,” she tells The Drum.

The disease, Mendelsohn claims, has such a low profile that it can feel "invisible".

“Not many people have spoken about it. There’s a lot of confusion around blood cancers and it’s hard to kill something that’s incurable. It hasn’t really had a voice and I want to give my voice to it. It’s a cancer that nobody’s ever heard of and few people can actually even say its name.”

The cancer is a low-grade non-Hodgkin lymphoma, with approximately 2,000 people being diagnosed with the disease each year in the UK alone, which is why public awareness isn't high.

Around 20% of those diagnosed have a particularly acute form of follicular lymphoma with a poor prognosis and for the other 80%, the disease means decades of living with challenging symptoms and long-term side effects from clinical treatments.

Giving follicular lymphoma patients 'a voice'

To help raise awareness of the charity and its mission, the former Karmarama and Grey luminary has enlisted talent from across the advertising industry to develop a campaign dedicated to ‘Making the Invisible, Visible’.

Distinctive branding and creative has been developed by The&Partnership, featuring photography from Rankin that will run across outdoor sites in London and New York as well as in print and online. It draws inspiration from the purple dye used by medical experts to view the cancer cells under a microscope.

The&Partnership has even collaborated with the Pantone Colour Institute to trademark the shade ‘FLF Purple’ which will be used across the campaign and Follicular Lymphoma Foundation’s own branding.

“Through the creative process, we knew we needed to carry a key visual, an embodiment of what the campaign would look like,” explains Mendelsohn.

An image-led poster series featuring Mendelsohn herself alongside well-known figures like Katherine Jenkins, Tracey Ullman and Julius Dein, depict individuals wearing purple make-up to represent the lymphatic system on people's faces.

Rankin’s “striking” imagery gives the campaign an emotionally impactful edge, believes Mendelsohn.

“He’s giving a voice to follicular lymphoma sufferers and allowing them to be seen,” she adds.

Media owners including Google, News UK, The Guardian, Global, Clear Channel, Spotify, Times Square and London’s BT Tower have donated space for the campaign, which was led by M/Six on the buying side.

Mendelsohn says the support she has received from the advertising community since going public with her own diagnosis last year has been incredible, and so there is a massive interest from the sector to get involved in the charity’s launch.

“The industry has just been amazing. When I first told people about [my diagnosis] I was overwhelmed by people saying ‘what can I do, and how can I help?’,” she says – praising how all of the agencies banded together to make the launch campaign possible.

On the social side, Coolr led the strategy for the campaign, developing assets across the charity’s channels. The Source, meanwhile, helped to amplify the impact of Rankin’s photography by bringing it to life with motion graphics - to produce the video content for the campaign.

Facebook and Instagram will also help the charity in its mission to raise awareness of follicular lymphoma. A purple-hued augmented reality (AR) filter has been developed by My Reality Design, which ‘reveals’ the lymphatic system on a user’s face when they take a selfie.

Mendelsohn also hopes her employer’s fundraising abilities will help make a material difference to follicular lymphoma research. Her foundation will be harnessing the ‘donate’ buttons on both platforms, with the exec pointing out that the social networks have raised $2bn for charities over the last year.

'We want to do ourselves out of business'

Living with a chronic disease that can’t be seen but requires “exhausting management” and treatment can be “incredibly isolating” for people, recognizes Mendelsohn. A year from now, she hopes the charity’s launch will mean more people will have heard of the disease and that the people living with it will feel more supported.

“I also want people to be aware of the signs and symptoms of blood cancer so that it can get rid of some of that secondary worrying that impacts people,” she adds.

Ultimately, Mendelsohn says success will only be achieved when there’s no longer a place for the Follicular Lymphoma Foundation.

“The dream for me, the ultimate success is that the charity doesn’t exist. I hope that we do ourselves out of business as quickly as possible but I’m realistic that it takes time,” the Facebook boss adds.

The&Partnership’s creative team, Guus and Tayfun, who were behind the campaign, say there was a real sense of urgency in its launch.

"With our work we hope to galvanize the public’s opinion to make an invisible disease visible," they add.

"We are honoured our collaboration with Nicola has resulted in meaningful work that hopefully will touch the hearts and minds of many and get us closer to finding a life-saving cure.”

More detail on The Follicular Lymphoma Foundation can be found its website.

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