When French/West/Vaughan agreed two years ago to serve as pro-bono partner to Teen Cancer America, there was little doubt it had the potential to be a life-changing decision. Not only did the agency want to help change the lives of teens and young adults fighting cancer, but the relationship with the non-profit, founded by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who, promised to be as transformative for our agency as it had been for everyone involved with TCA since it launched in 2012.
That’s certainly been the case, and never more so than in 2018, when FWV played a key role in the two most important PR events of the year for TCA, helping to raise more than $4 million for the charity.
Early in the year, the FWV and TCA teams began laying groundwork for a fundraising concert to be held in August at a private home in Los Angeles. On a parallel track, coordination was underway between FWV and “CBS Sunday Morning” to produce a feature profile on Daltrey. Months later, the two initiatives came together as Daltrey concluded his U.S. tour in San Diego and played one final show: a backyard concert in Pacific Palisades. While in L.A., he connected with “Sunday Morning” and correspondent Jim Axelrod to share his passion for the cause that he considers his life’s mission.
For the private concert, FWV Chairman and CEO Rick French enlisted the help of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum and the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation. As a trustee of the Rock Hall and a board member of the Holly foundation, French arranged for contributions to the event that made entertainment headlines, helping to raise critical awareness and drive donations.
For a backyard event that already had Daltrey and The Who band, pop superstar Ed Sheeran, Van Morrison and Jewel on the bill, French leveraged his Rock Hall connections to bring legendary singer-songwriter Don McLean on board to perform his classic hits “American Pie” and “Vincent.” Sheeran was a devoted fan of McLean and had previously performed “Vincent” on stage, although the two had never met. A backstage introduction would prove to be historic.
French suggested that the two perform “Vincent” together at the fundraiser. Sheeran was delighted at the idea, and the musicians quickly huddled for an impromptu rehearsal of McLean’s haunting ode to Vincent Van Gogh. A video clip of Sheeran and McLean working through the verses and chords of the beloved song made for pop music magic and became a viral sensation, generating millions of impressions on social media and digital platforms. Video of the duet on stage also made its way to digital channels, providing additional awareness for TCA.
French also arranged for the Holly foundation to donate a Buddy Holly replica guitar autographed by 75 of the world’s greatest living musicians, including Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson and many others. The guitar would prove as valuable for publicity as it was at auction. FWV used it to generate coverage in Rolling Stone, Billboard, The Independent and The Daily Mail among others, driving awareness higher and prompting advance bids.
With “Sunday Morning,” FWV first coordinated a visit with Daltrey in London, capturing the legendary frontman in the neighborhood where he grew up. The CBS crew followed Daltrey as he visited young cancer patients in a London hospital where Teenage Cancer Trust (the UK precursor to TCA, also co-founded by Daltrey) has changed the national standard of care over the course of 25 years.
FWV Chairman and CEO Rick French (L), alongside pop superstar Ed Sheeran and singer-songwriter Don McLean at TCA’s Backyard Concert.
Coordination with “Sunday Morning” continued all summer. The goal was to film Daltrey during his U.S. tour and accompany him to a TCA hospital unit. There was also the matter of the sit-down interview with Axelrod. Logistics proved to be challenging as Daltrey and his band made their way across the country. Production plans in New York, Cleveland and Chicago were scuttled, and the tour finale and backyard concert drew near. Once concluded, the 74-year-old singer planned to return to England.
FWV had a three-day window to work with tour managers, concert venue staff, personal assistants, TCA board members, hospital administrators and CBS producers to pull off the shoots needed for the Daltrey feature. In the two days prior to the backyard concert, FWV and CBS arranged a live shoot at Daltrey’s San Diego concert finale, a sit-down interview in Beverly Hills, and a visit with young cancer patients at UCLA Santa Monica Hospital. With no time to spare, “Sunday Morning” got their story.
The backyard concert included a soul-stirring performance by Jewel followed by Van Morrison, McLean, and a stunning one-man pop tour-de-force by Sheeran, who called McLean back to the stage for their historic duet. The evening was closed by Daltrey and company who unleashed “Pinball Wizard,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Baba O’Riley,” “My Generation” and other epic tracks, reminding everyone why The Who is regarded by many as the greatest rock band of all time.
The event raised more than $4 million for TCA, which will enable the funding of four new TCA teen cancer units which each require an average of $1 million to develop. FWV’s media relations efforts generated massive visibility for TCA following coverage in dozens of entertainment, celebrity and philanthropy websites, delivering more than 25 million estimated print and online media impressions.
When the “CBS Sunday Morning” profile on Daltrey aired on November 11, 2018, it was one of the biggest media moments in the six-year history of TCA, generating an additional 10 million total impressions across all channels.
The success of these initiatives on behalf of TCA is measured by the growth and expansion of services the organization provides to adolescents and young adults fighting cancer across the U.S. The need for awareness and funding is at the heart of FWV’s involvement with TCA. It’s a relationship cherished by everyone at the agency, and one that’s changing lives for the better.
Charles Upchurch is senior counselor at French/West/Vaughan.