Wheeling Walks Training Manual

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Chapter 1:
Mass Media Public Health Campaign:
Why Advertise?
Rationale of Media-Based Public Health Campaign

Impact of Media Coverage at a Planned Event

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Mass Media-Based Campaigns -- Why Advertise?

The mass media (television, radio, newspapers, magazines, billboards, etc.) are a primary source of information for the general public.  In addition, mass-media advertising is a cost-effective means of sharing information with large audiences. 

Health professionals are only now beginning to use these channels to promote health.  Many health-communication specialists, in fact, claim that advertising alone cannot motivate people to make behavior changes (Making Health Communication Programs Work (1989) NCI 89-1493.  National Cancer Institute, Washington, D.C.).

These health specialists suggest that media-based strategies can create awareness or interest in a health program, or reinforce a newly established behavior, but not actually change behavior.  Consequently, few health education campaigns have relied on a heavy schedule of strategically-placed ads to test the ability of advertising to directly influence behavior change. 

The food industry, the automotive industry, and the drug companies all believe in the power of advertising to influence the public.  Furthermore, we know that advertising sells pizza, hamburgers, cars and drugs. So, why not health?  Or more specifically, why not walking?

For these and other reasons, this campaign did not follow this more traditional path.

Paid advertising, as part of a comprehensive social marketing campaign, is the best vehicle for communicating a campaign message to large numbers of people in a short period of time.  Above and beyond this, however, one also needs a well-designed, targeted message, ads bought during prime-time, and ads focus on a specific population. 

As different as the concept of purchasing advertisements (ads) for a public health effort may seem, it is the major thrust of a media-based campaign.  Bombarding the community with commercial ads, just like McDonalds, car dealerships and drug companies, is what makes the WHEELING WALKS campaign unique.  Unlike other public health campaigns that rely on public service messages placed wherever and whenever the media prefers (usually at odd hours), a serious, media-based social marketing campaign has ads specifically designed to have impact and runs them in prime time.  

Rationale of Media-Based Public Health Campaigns

In the traditional approaches to health promotion, the benefits associated with the success of the health promotion activity is evaluated without consideration of media coverage.  In other words, the amount of media coverage is a by-product of an event, not a direct programmatic element. 

A public health media campaign, requires an extensive schedule of paid ads combined with carefully planned and implemented public relations events.  In such campaigns, the media coverage by TV, radio stations, and newspapers is a greater community influence than the event itself.  Media coverage gives the campaign credibility, prestige, and creates a “buzz” in the community.  The more people see and hear the campaign message (both the number of ads and stories and the number of times they see it), the more likely they are to want to find out more about it, to be impacted by the message, and to ultimately get involved.

The WHEELING WALKS media events were designed to attract attention and gather a crowd.  Any time you have a crowd you get more attention from the media; and TV media reaches a lot more people with the message than one would with the public health activity alone.

Of course, the converse is true as well: TV/radio/newspaper attention draw a crowd (during the event and over time).   Successful media-based campaign planners know about and use all these concepts to good advantage.  Your message and the people you want to receive it to are both worth it!

Note:  As a mass media-based campaign, WHEELING WALKS was high in intensity and short in duration (8 weeks).  It was designed for high-impact and cost effectiveness to communicate a simple but important health message:  regular walking boosts energy levels, helps people feel better, and improves overall health.  And it doesn’t take much time.

Once our activity was chosen, we then decided to model our walking campaign after the highly successful 1% Or Less milk campaign, now being utilized in many communities around the United States.  The premise of WHEELING WALKS and the 1% Or Less campaign is: a simple message, delivered aggressively, primarily through the media. 

WHEELING WALKS was conducted on the airwaves, in the streets, and on the walking trails in Wheeling, WV.  It used ads that aired frequently and during prime time to encourage people to walk 30 minutes a day on almost every day and to walk “as if you are going somewhere”(moderate intensity).  WHEELING WALKS was a media-based campaign.

The Impact of Media Coverage at a Planned Event

An event might gather 200 people, but the numbers that see/hear the radio, paper, and TV report may be 200 times that.  When a campaign is designed around one simple message that is repeated over and over again, events related to such a commercial message become significant to local media reporters.  And, if the media coverage is extensive, even more community members get the message.

The purpose of media coverage at planned campaign events is to further increase exposure to the campaign’s overall message.  Exposure to the targeted campaign massage is the key.  With such expanded coverage and exposure, more people are afforded the opportunity to learn about and understand that the campaign is encouraging them to walk 30 minutes or more on most days, beginning with as little as 10 minutes each day.  The ads and the media coverage together then deliver this message over and over again.

In this way, the public relations message and the paid advertising reinforce each other on a daily basis.  The ad buyer is purchasing ad time to get the message to the target audience.  Media coverage reinforces the ads by getting the message to everyone.

For this reason, be proactive in designing the public relations events to re-enforce the paid advertising.  The main purpose of media events is to garner earned media to further support the paid ad buy and to communicate the targeted message.

 

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