Public Relations: It's Your Day (or Month)

Health observances are a powerful way to build disease awareness.
Mar 01, 2005

Megan Svensen
When you're thinking about disease awareness, remember the pink ribbon. The event it symbolizes, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, has become a cause célèbre, generating extensive media coverage every year since its introduction in 1991. Or think of the red dress, a reminder that "heart disease doesn't care what you wear" and a key image of National Heart Month, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). NHLBI research shows that its program helped elevate awareness of heart disease as the leading cause of death among women, from 34 percent in 2000 to 46 percent in 2003.

Health observances like these are annual day-, week-, or month-long awareness events—typically established by patient organizations—featuring educational activities and press announcements designed to focus attention on a disease or health issue. These events can really work. For example, during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the number of women who call for mammogram appointments traditionally spikes. And when approached correctly, awareness events can represent real opportunities for brand teams.

THE LADIES IN RED NHLBI's Red Dress campaign got a boost from the involvement of the fashion industry. Here model Patti Hanson (in white) poses with Beverly Johnson, Vanessa Williams, and other top models at a Red Dress event.
The success of a health observance can range from negligible to stunning, depending on the extent and type of support behind it. This article will advise pharma marketers on evaluating the value of supporting a health observance and, if they decide to support an awareness day, making their messages break through and resonate.

Conducting a Realistic Assessment Marketers should consider a range of critical success factors in deciding whether to support a health observance:

Who else is playing? The National Health Information Center listed 218 national health days in its 2004 calendar. Up to a dozen observances each month struggle to make themselves known. May, for example, is National Arthritis Month, National High Blood Pressure Month, and National Osteoporosis Awareness & Prevention Month. Many events slip by unnoticed.

To Brand or Not to Brand
Are you welcome? Find out how restrictive the non-profit sponsor is about industry support. Sometimes you'll find you cannot incorporate any branding with your outreach.

What's the track record? Determine how extensively consumer media have covered the observance in the past. If few stories have appeared, it may suggest that it will take extra support and outreach to generate media interest.

What constitutes success? If brand mentions are your primary—or only—metric, consider that your branded announcement will be competing for column inches with general disease stories. If your product is not the market leader, your efforts may end up benefiting your competitor.

Are your competitors involved? Have they already partnered with the sponsoring non-profit, and are they generating branded coverage? If so, you must decide whether you can find a way to differentiate your initiative from theirs—or identify another non-profit that would be open to doing a separate initiative that you can own.

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