During the course of the case, I felt like I had to market my mother. I seemed to take on the role of publicist for her, which was an odd feeling to be in. I still feel weird about “marketing” her to the public, but know everything I did lead to awareness for her, the cause of missing persons, got people to open their eyes and be more aware of their community, and helped us bring her home. While I did hate it and thought the whole idea was some kind of evil incarnate, it’s what had to be done.
It is a necassary evil though. It sucks, it’s not fun, nor is it always comfortable. But like I said, I knew it was something that needed done. I had to market her to get awareness, to get people to take notice of her missing, to pay attention to what was happening more then other stories they may come across in the media. I had to make her name and face stand out. For a while I even had my hair bright pink, because people tend to notice neon pink hair hanging posters, it piques curiosity like nothing else, but it was just one was I raised awareness…
I did this through a lot of ways – other then just the normal fliers you see on phone poles - as have many, many others with thier cases. It does sound horrible to say it this way, but its the facts. Feeling like your treating your loved one like some fancy new product you’re trying to get on the shelves happens, but it is rewarding.
One of the ways I did this was through press releases. A copy of one can be found under the links about Susan tab in the toolbar up top. What it was was basically writing the story for reporters. You include a catchy headline – one of ours was “Deployed soldier still wonders on fate of missing mother in law”. It worked. We also tied it with other stories in the news, like a body being recovered elsewhere in the region, or a runaway was found safe. We also timed them with important dates like the day she went missing, 6 months from that date, her birthday, ect.
Here’s a thing about that though, and I want to touch on this. BE SAFE and practice safe SECs. I follow OPSEC and PERSEC always not just with the military stuff. For everything, because it keeps me and mine safe. Its a good policy to follow always. When in public, the media, online – DO NOT give specifics. Do not give too much of yourself away. Keep the focus on the case, not you. And when focusing on the case, keep a lot close to the vest. Do not (I REPEAT DO NOT) divulge all details of the case. Work with your advocate and/or police about what to say and how to say it. When we first were interviewed, we were very careful about what details were known, and from then on we kept to only those details. We knew what the police had “declassified” and such. This is a big one.
A lot of things in cases cannot be made public, especially if a crime has been commited. PLEASE keep this in mind. Advocates and the police are trained to deal with these matters, let them help in this. Our detective help direct what to release and what not, because the wrong thing could put all of us in a bad place and complicate the case. That is the OPSEC talking.
Also when being interviewed or giving speeches in public, keep your answers short but informative. We got a few TV spots, thanks to my friend Linda. We talked with reporters for 15 minutes, and not even 2 minutes of dialogue made it into the story. Yet we got the point across. There I was on my 10pm news saying mom’s name, details like weight, hair/eye color, where/when she went missing, and the events we had coming up to commemorate her.
Speaking of events. Most families do this, and know what its all about. Just in case, we held different events. One was through CUE on their national road tour. We hosted a stop 3 months after momma went missing, and while we didn’t get a lot of turnout, we got the story in the press, which lead to a lot of people knowing about her that wouldn’t have. On the one year mark of her missing we held a balloon release and picnic in a highly populated park in Wooster. That one we had a better turnout and got a lot more exposure. Not only with invites and posters in the community, but it was a busy summer day in the park, and we were near the playground and tennis court so many wandered over and asked questions while taking fliers.
When planning the events, we tried to include things that would cause a draw – free food or refreshments, a balloon release, giveaways. Also we pulled at the heartstrings of people. It was advertised as me trying to find my missing mom and bring her home. I always tried to tie that in, something to make people stop and thnk “if that was me, I’d want people to care.” It was well known the whole time that I had a husband deployed overseas, so we got a lot of people who like to say they support the troops, suddenly put it in action by helping us.
Is it sometimes very unnerving? Yes. Did I hate it a lot of the time? Oh so very yes. But it helped. I hated puting myself out there like that, and felt very naked a lot of times. But I never went or did anything that I was not comfortable with. And that was key for me. If I didn’t feel comfortable, or wasnt completely ok with the people I was dealing with, I didn’t deal with them. I did not ever put myself in a situation I could not control. And that was PERSEC talking. I wanted exposure for the case, not me. No one needed to know the ins and outs, they needed to know the who and why. I also didn’t want to do anything that if mom were to be found alive, she would think was heinous and gross to have done in her name. I had to keep it where I knew she would be comfortable with her name being used, and that I was happy with.
With events a thing we always did was something to mark the occasion. Like I said I did balloon releases, because they were cheap and easy… And really who doesn’t love balloons? A lot of people I know do candlelight vigils too, especially when it comes to missing children. These are a great thing, and get good attention. I personally wasn’t comfortable with it, more so because of the faith aspect. While at the first release we did we had a non denominational minister speak, I wasn’t comfortable with it. I have gone to many vigils nd they are beautiful and moving and emotional. But they weren’t right for me to hold. You gotta do what you feel comfortable with, and what will honor your missing loved one best. Like I said, for me it was balloons because of the connotations of what balloons meant.
We also did things that got attention without trying. What I mean by that is, we papered the town in fliers that had her photo and details on them, and stuck those bad boys all over the place, in every store that would let us, on every phone pole, on windshields, left piles of them in the libraries and colleges. But also, we made tshirts that had a big picture of mom on the front and text of all the details on the back. We also had little handouts, buisness cards with her photo and details on them, just like the fliers. Another thing we made were those rubber bracelets like you see that say LIVESTRONG on them or what have you. I made ours blue – moms favorite color – with text that read HELP BRING SUSAN RYAN HOME and gave those away to anyone and everyone. Same with buttons/pinbacks that had her missing photo on them and her name. I also made awareness ribbons out of the missing colors (yellow and white) with flowers on them that reminded me of mom’s favorite blossom.
All things that were disposable, easy to hand out, and gave a constant reminder to people that momma was missing.
I also had vinyl decals made for my car that www.whereissusanryan.com written. And those got me advertising and awareness everytime I drove anywhere, so I got exposure without even trying. All I had to do was go about my life as usual and the logo did the work for me.
Also, banners. I made a big 3ft by 4ft color vinyl banner with her picture, name, and details on it and hung it at conferences, events, and other things the whole time she was out there. Most of these things I found by just googling each item I wanted to make and comparing prices. I got great deals on all the things I had made, by checking sales or ordering in bulk. The shirts I had made locally, and after speaking with the owner of the small shop we met in the middle on a price for what needed done, and he was amazing about it. I offered his shops logo on the shirts but he refused because as he said, the focus should be on mom – if anyone wanted to know I could tell them. I did get him to hand over lots of his buisness cards to hand out though. So it worked for both of us. If you look and are careful, there are lots of local buisnesses willing to help and work with you. I found most cared and wanted to assist me. And the ones that didn’t, there’s no hard feelings, they have a company to run, I get it.
The main thing is though, you are your best friend and worst enemy. I learned the hard way what works for me, and what didn’t. Our first event had NO ONE I didn’t already know show up. My others had more community involvement. Later I was smart, and utilized radio and print media as well as social networking. I had a website and buttons and posters that helped more then just going to the newspaper. I gained a lot of undertanding on what grabbed the publics attention and what didn’t as I went along. Having someone like mom missing, a poor white woman in her 50s with a menial labor job, was not something many people cared about. I had a lot working against me, but I was determined, and dammit I was going to force people to care if I had to walk to every door in Wooster interupting dinner to tell everyone about her. Thankfully that didn’t happen, but if I had to I would have. Instead I left the fliers, buisness cards, buttons and bracelets places people would take notice. I hung that banner everywhere I could. If I was even going out shopping for groceries in Wooster or hanging fliers, I wore my shirt with her information on it. I made myself a walking billboard.
Billboards are another amazing resource, but not one I ever had to utilize. Right when we were contemplating getting one put up, mom’s remains were recovered, so that’s not something I can explain well since I never did it. But many, many others have, and a lot of the orgs help with the logistics of it.
While I hated feeling like I had to present my mom like a hot new product, I look back and feel happy with all I accomplished. I had her face out there, her name in many households. It took a lot of time, and plenty of money, but I did it and it helped.
I’ve said before and I’ll say it again. It was frustrating, emotionall draining, and yes financially costly at times, but I would do it all over again. I look back on the time she was missing and have very few regrets. None of them have to do with the marketing part of it. I wish I had gotten more searches so it wouldn’t have taken so long to recover her. But that’s neither here nor there anymore, because she is home. We got that recovery I worked so hard for over a year for. I gave up a lot of my life that year with just the marketing thing, but in the end, it made many aware of her case, and the epidemic of missing persons.
I probably didn’t cover nearly any of what is out there. This is just wht I did, what worked successfully for me. Did it always work, no. I had plenty of news orgs not take notice or care, but I kept working, calling, faxing and emailing press released until someone did. Its like anything really, there’s loads to do, so many choices of things one can get into with marketing. I barely did half of what some families have done, but I did what I could and then some. For that, I will always be proud with how hard I worked, and still work, in the name of my mom.