Ever since news of a potent and active flu strain, conspicuously dubbed “swine flu,” emerged in April 2009, the Centers for Disease Control has been managing a health crisis that’s made all the more challenging by the public’s hysteria.
From the U.S. government’s declaration of a Public Health Emergency on April 26 to the June 11 declaration of a pandemic on June 11 to the present day, the CDC’s Division of Media Relations has been working in concert with the agency’s scientific and medical experts to inform and educate national and global audiences about the virus, now called H1N1 influenza. The overall goal: Protect as many people as possible from the virus, while minimizing the social and economic disruptions.
The goal is certainly a lofty one, and the CDC set out to tackle it in three phases:
1. April-May 2009: Responding to a public health emergency.
2. May-July 2009: Monitoring and pre-planning with international surveillance and vaccine clinical trials.
3. July 2009 onward: Preparing for the fall with vaccine production and distribution, and vaccination programs for both H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines.
Throughout each phase, the CDC tried to control messages and the flow of information by getting out in front of the story, securing appearances of its experts in major news outlets and encouraging everyone to stay home from school/work if they were showing any symptoms of the virus. With phase 3, the team implored at-risk populations to get vaccinated, and continued to reinforce messaging from previous phases.
Thus far, the campaign has been largely successful, with the large-scale vaccination program reaching 90,000 by mid-October. Likewise, the constant communications has helped control messages and minimize hysteria in the media.
Altoona Regional Health System & R&J Public Relations—During contract negotiations with nurses, the Service Employees International Union began making demands that would require all nurses to join the union or be fired. To avoid this ultimatum, the team communicated the hidden disadvantages for RNs. As a result, 95% of nurses voted to accept a contract that allowed them to opt out of the union.
Deveney Communication & Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association: Stop Cold Storage Campaign 2009—The team’s grassroots efforts opposing the construction of a new cold storage facility in New Orleans’ Governor Nicholls/Esplanade Wharf led New Orleans Cold Storage to abandon plans for building on that site, after community members flooded City Council with complaints.
International Association of Lighting Designers: We Messed With Texas—When the Texas State Legislature passed a bill in May 2009 banning architectural lighting designers from conducting business, the IALD launched a social media strategy calling for the bill to be amended. The efforts led Texas Sen. Kip Averitt to withdraw the anti-lighting designer provision.
Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau: Meetings Mean Business Rally—The bureau’s Meetings Mean Business rally refocused public and media attention on the conventions and meetings industry in the wake of the AIG crisis, generating unprecedented coverage of key messages.