August 11, 2011
In 2010, half a million American babies were born prematurely and 28,000 died before turning a year old — an average of 77 infant deaths every day.
Losing a child is one of the most traumatic experiences any parent can endure, and many preterm births result from unforeseeable and often unpreventable complications.
However, medical research shows that proper prenatal care during pregnancy reduces the risk of preterm births. If pregnant women know which dietary supplements help prevent birth defects, when to schedule screenings and how to maintain a suitable exercise and nutrition regimen, then they can give their babies a greater chance of having a healthy life.
Realizing this information’s potentially life-saving power, Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition, Voxiva, CTIA-The Wireless Foundation and founding sponsor Johnson & Johnson created “text4baby,” a free service that texts medical information to new mothers and mothers-to-be based on their baby’s due date or date of birth. These weekly text messages give women information about their child’s development, when to visit the doctor, how to best care for their baby and how to manage the different challenges of pregnancy and parenthood.
“The text4baby program just made so much sense,” said Stacie Paxton, a vice president at Hill & Knowlton, who the public-private partnership hired to promote the service. “Instead of delivering these messages online and via email, we would send them directly to people’s phones, which are usually tethered to their owners. What better way to provide information?”
At the annual Silver Anvil Awards ceremony on June 9 in New York City, PRSA honored the campaign — “text4baby: Going Mobile with Pregnancy Education” — with its Best of Silver Anvil Award. To date, the campaign’s PR efforts have brought in more than 134,000 subscribers and secured more than 500 organizational sponsors.
Helping mothers in need
The Hill & Knowlton team began its campaign with extensive research to identify text4baby’s key publics. While all pregnant mothers could benefit from the service, results showed that younger women had the highest infant mortality rate and lowest level of prenatal care, especially those at lower income levels. The team primarily targeted this audience for the launch.
“We wanted everybody to sign up for the service,” Paxton said. “But ultimately, we wanted to reach women who needed this health information to help keep themselves and their babies healthy.”
The team tested their text messages through focus groups in major markets and learned that the message’s tone was critical: Mothers wanted the text to sound as though it came from a trusted friend, not an automated medical encyclopedia. They also wanted messages to be action-oriented and informative as well as positive and uplifting.
“It’s a fine balance,” Paxton said. “Having complex health policy and getting it into a certain number of characters in a text message is very complicated. At the same time, women didn’t want to be lectured. It was important to get the tone just right.”
Finding the right partners
But a message and an audience are not enough to launch a large-scale campaign. With a $150,000 budget that
didn’t include any advertising support, the Hill & Knowlton team knew that promotional partners would play a critical role in the project’s success. Team members identified powerful opinion leaders and influentials, securing them as sponsors to help advocate the service.
“It was critical,” Paxton said of finding the right sponsors. “There was no way we could have reached the amount of people who we did otherwise.”
The team members worked quickly, contacting traditional health reporters, mommy bloggers and social networking channels. To establish text4baby’s credibility and open the door for possible funding, they also reached out to lawmakers and the greater health care community.
“There was a broad audience to reach, because we were launching the service for the first time,” Paxton explained.
The White House Office of Science & Technology Policy and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services both agreed to help promote the service, as did the MTV network, which operates on a variety of platforms and airs programming popular with text4baby’s target audiences.
“We provided the tools that [our sponsors] needed to launch text4baby in their media markets and really feel ownership of it,” Paxton said. “Too often in public relations, people are afraid to let go of control of a message. And you certainly need to be careful when you do so. But given the limited budget, it was critical for the partners to take this effort as their own and promote it.”
Finally, Hill & Knowlton contacted Sherri Shepherd of the TV talk show The View, who signed on as the campaign’s spokesperson. Shepherd, whose son had health problems as a premature baby, felt a special connection to the project. Not only did she appeal to text4baby’s key audience, but she also offered to help pro bono.
Ensuring successful deliveries
When unexpected challenges forced text4baby to cancel its official announcement event, the Hill & Knowlton team adapted and moved forward without one. It first offered the story as an exclusive to the Associated Press, then issued announcements at health conferences, on the White House blog, and through news releases and tweets. Hill & Knowlton also sent a public service announcement featuring Shepherd to targeted radio stations.
MTV highlighted text4baby in two of its premiere shows: “16 and Pregnant,” in which one mother shared the important health messages that she received through text4baby; and the finale of “Teen Mom,” with medical specialist Dr. Drew as a featured guest.
The launch was a success. The PSAs garnered 15,750 broadcasts, reaching an estimated audience of more than 32 million listeners. The handful of initial partners grew to more than 500, including government agencies, hospitals, corporations, academic institutions, professional associations and nonprofit organizations.
But most important, text4baby reached women in need. The service gained 134,000 subscribers — 96 percent of whom said that they would recommend text4baby to a friend.
“Making sure that women have this health information is something so simple, yet so powerful, because it can make a difference,” Paxton said.
Text4baby continues to grow and hopes to serve 1 million mothers by 2012.
“It’s important for people to understand the issue and why a service like text4baby is critical,” Paxton said. “Reminding women to go to the doctor for a checkup — an appointment that they may not have known about otherwise — can make a difference in the lives of these women and their babies.”