Case Study


In Florida, Tackling Teen Tobacco Use With the Truth If you heard that the "Truth Train" was coming through your town, chances are you might guess it had more to do with evangelism than with PR. But you'd be mistaken, at least in Florida where a 13-stop train tour became one of the motivators in the state's war against tobacco use by teenagers. The Nixon Group based in Miami is helping the state galvanize its antitobacco messages, taking on about $750,000 in projects for several clients. It has headed campaigns like the 10-day "Truth Train" tour that reached 8,000 teens from Pensacola to Miami last summer and corralled more than 75 million media impressions, including pieces on "Good Morning America," CNN and the "CBS Evening News." The train trip was a grassroots way of sparking antitobacco efforts among youth in Florida communities, and included the training of 600 teens as advocates who boarded the locomotive. "There is a lesson here for agencies in other states that are looking to leverage their expertise," says Nixon Group VP Rob Anderson. "Work on antitobacco program means you're likely going to have to contract with different organizations, and it's smart to look at the different areas where you can be a partner." Power in Partners Among TNG's clients are: Florida State University which is parlaying a portion of $5.3 million in research grants to include PR for youth training programs; Crispin, Porter & Bogusky, an ad agency hired by the state of Florida to build a coalition focused on antitobacco efforts; and the Miami, Beach, Fla.-based Wolfsonian Museum, a campy venue where students are taught about propaganda and how to recognize media manipulation. Overall, The Nixon Group has racked up business equal to more than one-third of its budget (it bills about $2 million annually) for spearheading major PR efforts in the Gulf Coast region. At times, the firm has even devoted its entire 22-person staff to flesh out strategies and goals. The antitobacco efforts in Florida, admittedly, represent just a slice of efforts nationwide to quell the impact of tobacco ads, but those efforts seem to be working. The underpinnings of campaigns in Florida have been several attitudinal studies, including Florida Antitobacco Media Evaluation (FAME) surveys done in April and September of 1998 that show the needle measuring teen tobacco use is moving. Nearly 45 percent of 1,247 middle and high schoolers queried in April, for instance, reported they "definitely agreed" that "Smoking has nothing to do with whether or not a person is cool." In September, that number had inched higher, with agreement from 58.9 percent of 1,872 teens. Other FAME study findings showed that while 44.7 percent of teens surveyed in April 1998 definitely agreed that "tobacco companies used advertising to fool young people," 47.1 percent agreed by September. FAME surveys also revealed that the "Truth Train" had cemented a brand response, with 92.3 percent of about 1,800 12- to 17-year-olds saying they understood the "Truth" message. In addition to the "Truth Train," the Nixon Group did grassroots marketing in 67 Florida counties, all taking part in a pilot program to rely on a variety of influencers, including Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) organizations. Other PR tools in the mix include the February 1999 Teen Tobacco Summit focusing on peer education. Among the strategic highlights: Laying the groundwork for SWAT by recruiting 16 college students from across the state to act as facilitators;Developing and designing a summit guide which included a CD-ROM; andCoordinating celebrity appearances, include members of the MTV "Real World" Boston cast. But the essence of the campaign is far from high-profile. Laura Deeb, a 14-year-old who boarded the "Truth Train," helps bring the message full circle: "I think we have gotten ourselves heard" she told the Tallahasee Democrat. (Nixon Group, 305/573-9955) The Research Backing The Movement "SMOKING AMONG FLORIDA MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS DROPPED 19 PERCENT IN THE YEAR SINCE THE STATE LAUNCHED AN AGGRESSIVE ANTI-TOBACCO CAMPAIGN AIMED AT CHILDREN, THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION REPORTED. THE DECLINE, THE LARGEST NATIONALLY AMONG YOUTH SINCE 1980, COULD INDICATE THAT TEEN SMOKING HAS PEAKED." - Excerpt from USA Today story, 4/2/99 More than 40 percent of 1,872 teens surveyed in Florida in September 1998 said they believe tobacco companies "try to get young people to smoke because older people quit or die." That number was up from 28.7 percent in the April 1998 survey. Source: Florida Antitobacco Media Evaluation

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