PRSA 2015 Highlight: FDA Communications: Strategy Behind Public Health and Regulatory Activities
Among the many highlights for public relations healthcare practitioners at the recent PRSA International meeting in Washington DC was titled “FDA Communications: The Strategy Behind Public Health and Regulatory Activities,” presented by Steven Immergut, M.P.H., Associate Commissioner for External Affairs (Acting) U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Steven pulled back the curtain behind the FDA’s Office of External Affairs, to talk about how FDA communicates through multiple channels on multiple issues and to help PR practitioners understand FDA’s unique communications challenges.
The FDA has a truly awe-inspiring mission, to ensure the safety, effectiveness, quality, security of human/animal drugs, biologics and medical devices, as well as ensure the safety and security of approximately 80% of food, all dietary supplements, cosmetics and radiation-emitting products e.g., cell phones, microwave ovens—and this part is relatively new—to regulate tobacco products.
Many may not realize that FDA has 234 U.S. offices and 12 offices in 9 countries around the world. Beyond its global reach and responsibilities, the FDA Office of External Affairs is the point of contact with communicators with the US Department of Health and Human Services and collaborates across all agency programs.
FDA’s Office of External Affairs is a full service integrated communications operation. Steven is a former agency executive himself and FDA employs many standard agency tactics from satellite and radio media tours, to public service announcements, press briefings, media training, press releases, the full gamut of PR offerings, as well as the mastery of new digital/social media platforms.
For instance, FDA’s Flickr stream has a photo set that includes a picture of every product we recall (food, drug, medical device). The use of photos of the actual products ensures that there is no ambiguity to a consumer or medical professional as to what was recalled. All identifying information is included so that people can see the exact product in question. FDA also posts all of these items on their @FDARecalls Twitter account. With over half a million followers now, FDA is using another popular tool to reach consumers to help them stay informed of products that might harm them. FDA external relations staff also coordinates and implements policies, programs, and initiatives related to MedWatch including the MedWatch web pages, E-list, RSS feed, and Twitter account.
FDA has a multidisciplinary team of writers/editors, visual information specialists, and historian liaisons who produce about 100 Consumer Updates per year; each reaching 150,000 e-mail subscribers. The FDA.gov website reaches 500,000 unique visitors a month.
One particularly interesting case study focused on FDA’s “The Real Cost” campaign, which is its part in the war on tobacco. It is well known that smoking kills nearly 500,000 people yearly and leaves over 8,000,000 more living with a serious illness.
The FDA is targeting teens in this innovative campaign, addressing the problem that more than 700 teens start smoking every day. “The Real Cost” youth tobacco prevention campaign launched in February 2014. Today it is running in 200 media markets across the country. The campaign strives to make teens hyperconscious of the real cost of every cigarette through breakthrough, fresh portrayals of the health and addiction risks of tobacco to ultimately reduce smoking among youth aged 12-17.
Preliminary data indicates “The Real Cost” campaign is successfully engaging its at-risk teen audience. The campaign continues to exceed best practices for media reach and frequency by reaching more than 90% of the target audience 15 times a quarter. As of August 2014, digital media has delivered more than 1.2 billion impressions on youth-focused sites such as Pandora.com, IGN.com and Hulu.com. “The Real Cost” website has averaged over 14,000 total visits per day and has seen visitors from all 50 states. The campaign’s social media has generated more than 1 million interactions to date, with one top-performing Facebook post about the relation between smoking and diabetes generating more than 40 thousand interactions alone. Additionally, the campaign’s YouTube videos are achieving a 91% completion rate, significantly higher than the government average of approximately 80%.
Additional data on “The Real Cost” campaign’s effectiveness in changing key tobacco-related knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors over time will be provided through FDA’s longitudinal outcome evaluation.
FDA’s subsequent campaigns targeting additional discrete audiences are currently in development and will launch over the next few years. While Steven Immergut was not ready to comment on FDA’s recently released guidance on social media which is still receiving feedback from the public and the healthcare industry, it is clear FDA’s own social media strategies could be a template for us all going forward.