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Billboards in Washington, D.C. seek Louisiana flood relief as Congress considers recovery package

Date: September 19, 2016

Summary:
This week, as President Barack Obama and Congress were deciding just how much money it wants to give Louisiana for flood recovery, they may have seen a reminder about the disaster in their local D.C. bus shelter around the Capitol. 

Body:
This week, as President Barack Obama and Congress were deciding just how much money it wants to give Louisiana for flood recovery, they may have seen a reminder about the disaster in their local D.C. bus shelter around the Capitol. 

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation, one of Louisiana's largest philanthropic organizations, is running advertisements soliciting flood relief donations on digital billboards at Washington D.C. bus stops. It's part of a national campaign to boost private donations for flood recovery to the organization.   

"Largely, the world has moved on," said John Spain, executive vice president of the foundation."[The ads] remind people in this country that Baton Rouge is hurting." 

Washington, D.C., public transit has always been fertile ground for political or "issue" advertising. Ad campaigns include those about environmental policy, defense spending and government waste typically not seen in other markets. Much of it is clearly geared toward Capitol Hill, the White House and other federal officials. 

But targeting Congress as its members weigh Louisiana's flood recovery package wasn't actually the goal of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation campaign. Spain said the foundation is simply trying to boost private donations.

The advertisement running feature a photo of people being rescued during the flood and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation's website in large text, with a message to donate.

So far, the foundation hasn't seen as much giving to support flood relief as it would like. The organization is hoping to raise between $5 million and $10 million for flood recovery. To date, it has only raised about $3 million -- and given away $2 million, according to Spain. 

"The ability to raise funds is very, very difficult," he said.  

The foundation isn't paying for the advertising campaign. Lamar Advertising, a national firm based in Baton Rouge, donated space on its digital billboards across the country. The campaign started running within a week of the flood, just as people were beginning to muck out their homes. 

In addition to Washington, Spain said people have also sent him pictures of the billboards running in North Carolina. Lamar has 2,500 digital billboards across the country and it has encouraged people in every market to share the Louisiana flood advertisements.

"We can literally create a message and we can have it on our digital billboards within just a few minutes," said Mendi Robinson, the firm's creative director. 

It's hard to say exactly where the advertisements are running because it depends on what space is available, Spain said. They had been in Baton Rouge as well but were recently taken down. They appear to still be in circulation in some markets,, including Washington.

Lamar treated the advertisement as they it a public service announcement or Amber Alert the group runs for no charge. Initially, the company was just going to run a message about resilience of Louisiana, about how the community was coming together after the flood.

But then, Lamar decided it would be more helpful to run ads telling people across the country where to give money to help the flood survivors. It approached the Baton Rouge Area Foundation because Lamar CEO Sean Reilly had worked with the organization previously.  

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