Case Study: Smoke and Mirrors: An Aggressive Media Outreach Campaign Tackles Tobacco Addiction

Company: ClearWay Minnesota Agency: Carmichael Lynch Spong Timeframe: May-November 2007 Every year in Minnesota, tobacco use causes more than 5,600 deaths and is estimated to cost $2 billion in direct health care costs. While there's high awareness among smokers about the health risks associated with tobacco use, many struggle to quit, often adopting an "it won't happen to me" attitude. ClearWay Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the health of the state's residents by reducing the harm caused by tobacco, wanted to turn smokers' knowledge into action. In 2007, ClearWay Minnesota tasked agency Carmichael Lynch Spong to develop a community relations campaign that would help drive usage of its QUITPLAN Services, Minnesota's only free, professional smoking cessation program. Building The Foundation To provide insight on how to communicate about tobacco to a variety of audiences that includes current smokers seeking to quit, ethnic groups and an 18-25 year-old demographic, the campaign team conducted research in two stages. First, they interviewed University of Minnesota social psychologist Dr. Alex Rothman and leaders of ethnic "priority populations" (i.e., African-American, Native American Hispanic/Latino and Asian-American), one of the initiative's target audiences. They also conducted ethnic group-focused field research in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Secondly, to develop media pitch platforms that were both culturally sensitive and helped flesh out the program, the team reviewed reports that provided information on the barriers of smoking cessation for Minnesotans, including some of ClearWay Minnesota's priority populations. For example, tobacco use in the Native American culture is part of traditional ceremonial gatherings. The information culled from the research led to the next phase of the initiative: setting forth the main objectives, which were as follows: Educate "help seekers" about ClearWay Minnesota and QUITPLAN Services by reaching at least 2,000 people on the Smoke and Mirrors exhibit's opening day (the exhibit showcases the struggles of several people trying to quit smoking), and obtaining coverage in at least two print publications and one priority population-targeted media, garnering 1.5 million impressions; Continue to create an environment that provides tobacco cessation support through increased knowledge of QUITPLAN Services; and, Generate at least 2 million media impressions about QUITPLAN in conjunction with Minnesota's smoke-free legislation. Other target audiences for the initiative were family and friends of smokers trying to quit members of the GLBT community, pregnant women and blue-collar works. The media target was all Minnesota media, including print, broadcast and online, with special attention to media reaching the priority populations. Putting A Face To The Name To meet the campaign's goals, the team developed a two-pronged strategy. First, it worked on creating and promoting a photo essay exhibit to visually show a smoker's journey to quit--highlighting the importance of smoking cessation and giving QUITPLAN Services a human face. This exhibit would be viewed as the linchpin of the effort, designed to showcase the emotionally charged and highly personal testimonials of a diverse population of Minnesotans who have used or are currently using QUITPLAN Services to stop smoking. "[One of] the initial challenges of the photo exhibit was finding participants who were willing to share their stories and be photographed for the campaign," says Mike Sheldon, communications manager for ClearWay. "However, [the team] was able to work with our counselors and call center to identify some fantastic participants who were very enthusiastic." Among those individuals were Mark Struthers, a pack-a-day smoker for 20 years, who finally decided to quit one Sunday morning after reading the list of lung cancer symptoms online; Robert Murphy, a former Twin Cities radio personality, who had smoked for 45 years; and Yvonne Kennedy, who smoked for more than 16 years, including through the births of five children. Black-and-white photos of the smokers trying to quit were taken by Doug Beasley, a local photographer. A personal narrative detailing the featured person's motivations and experiences in quitting smoking accompanied each individual shot. The exhibit debuted on June 27, 2007, at IDS Crystal Court, a highly visible location in downtown Minneapolis. ClearWay Minnesota and Carmichael Lynch Spong spent the day distributing information about QUITPLAN Services to those who visited the exhibit, and gave out branded boxes of peppermint breath mints to passersby. Since its debut, the exhibit has traveled to three additional locations spreading QUITPLAN messages as well as building awareness for the national Great American Smokeout. It was displayed at QUITPLAN Centers in Minneapolis and Duluth (in two separate locations) in November 2007. To widen its media relations outreach, the team incorporated technological innovation to drive home the point of how smoking can physically age someone beyond his or her chronological years. For instance, at the exhibit's public debut, free age-progression software demonstrations were offered to media and visitors to show how their own faces could develop wrinkles, lines and discolorations if they smoked for years. The interactive age-progression software demonstrations were publicized solely through media outreach, and visitors came to the exhibit because of pre-event coverage that featured the software. "To best effect behavior-change, an integrated, multifaceted program [should be used]. To engage our target audience, we delivered a steady stream of positive messaging through public relations designed to drive credibility with earned media," says Grete Krohn Lavrenz, senior counselor at Carmichael Lynch Spong. "This was integrated with highly creative advertising that delivered reach and frequency." Smoke On This The second strategy revolved around continuing the momentum for QUITPLAN Services by using timely events, including the statewide smoking ban (a result of the Freedom to Breathe Act, which passed in May 2007 and went into effect on October 1, 2007), as a media relations platform. The statewide smoking ban provided ClearWay Minnesota and Carmichael Lynch Spong with an opportunity to promote smoking cessation services and provide counterpoints to those opposing the legislation. An arsenal of news-ready content was proactively offered to media covering the debate. The materials included audio sound bites from QUITPLAN spokespeople and "happy quitters" talking about reasons to quit smoking. Carmichael Lynch Spong scheduled local television interviews in early October as the ban was going into effect. Other time-sensitive news hooks helped ClearWay Minnesota connect with the media and spread the word about its QUITPLAN Services. The five service areas promoted in every news release and outreach effort were the helpline, the Web site, the QUITPLAN Centers, the community-tailored centers and QUITPLAN at Work. Time hooks for some of the ongoing news releases included Valentine's Day, World No Tobacco Day and the Minnesota State Fair. Kicking Butts The results of the campaign generated considerable ROI. The launch of the photo essay exhibit garnered nearly 2 million gross impressions, including front page coverage in the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press, as well as an interview on KARE-TV. Plus, from May to November 2007 (the campaign period), ClearWay Minnesota tracked 6,300 inquires (including calls to the QUITPLAN Helpline and registrants to, a 4.3% increase over the same period in 2006. But, despite the overwhelming success of the campaign, Lavrenz notes that, for a campaign whose objective is a matter of life and death, the work is never done. "Despite the ultimate success of QUITPLAN Services helping more than 10,000 Minnesotans quit smoking, tobacco is an addictive substance. It has continued to take a toll on the lives of Minnesotans," she says. "The 18-to-25-year-old demographic is a group in which tobacco use in Minnesota has not decreased over time. We have to keep up the efforts to find new, creative ways to deliver the message, especially with that target. We can't rely on what has worked in the past as the world and the traditional media landscape continues to change." PRN CONTACTS: Mike Sheldon,; Grete Krohn Lavrenz, Media Relations Best Practices For Nonprofit PR Professionals Based on the success of the media relations campaign executed around QUITPLAN Services, Mike Sheldon, communications manager with ClearWay Minnesota, recommends the following best practices for nonprofit communications executives looking to execute a media relations initiative: "Create a process to identify your supporters and people who can provide your organization with testimonials. Having a database of supporters is always a good thing, even beyond marketing opportunities." "Evaluation of programs is key to our organization. We are a research-based organization and require measurable goals for all of our programs. Tracking and measuring the success of our PR campaigns is much easier with measurable goals and outcomes." Put A Human Face On Media Messages It's common knowledge that smoking causes health issues that increase the risk of death--not an insignificant price to pay for lighting up. But, in spite of this widespread knowledge, thousands of people pick up the deadly habit every day, and just as many people struggle to quit once and for all. "The typical smoker faces multiple quit attempts," says Grete Krohn Lavrenz, senior counselor at Carmichael Lynch Spong. "Each setback confirms the struggles against the addiction of tobacco." This reality was just one of the challenges faced by the team of executives at ClearWay Minnesota and agency partner Carmichael Lynch Spong when launching their QUITPLAN Services campaign. Lavrenz highlights the following challenges and identifies the strategies implemented to overcome them: What's in it for me? "A challenge we face when communicating about QUITPLAN Services is making the messages relevant and putting a 'human face' on smoking so people are inspired to quit," Lavrenz says. "We have accomplished this with the powerful, visual exhibit featuring QUITPLAN Services quitters' success stories, which continues to recognize happy and successful quitters." Pulling the trigger: "Additionally, every smoker has a different quit trigger. We try to address this in our communications through positive messaging, reach out throughout the year to encourage quitting anytime someone is ready and come up with unique reasons and incentives to help inspire a quit date," Lavrenz says. "A new tactic was tried with the launch of The QuitCash Challenge, which provided a financial incentive to quit smoking during a specific time for monetary reward. It inspired 2,500 Minnesotans to attempt to quit."

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