ADHD Experts on Call
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

ADHD Experts on Call

The program reinforced Shire US, a small specialty pharmaceutical firm, as the premier ADHD support company; generated brand recognition for its ADHD treatment, Adderall.

Paul Holmes

 

To respond to a documented need for accurate and credible information about attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the Edelman Shire US/Adderall team developed ADHD Experts On Call, a three-day public education campaign that allowed people from across the country to speak one-on-one with top experts in the field of ADHD.  ADHD Experts On Call was a multifaceted program that included a telephone call-in event that brought together 30 of the most important figures in the ADHD community, a comprehensive national survey of ADHD stakeholders, a traditional and online media blitz, and involvement by the Adderall sales force.  The program reinforced Shire US, a small specialty pharmaceutical firm, as the premier ADHD support company; generated brand recognition for its ADHD treatment, Adderall; and built the foundation for an ongoing dialogue with people affected by this disorder.  

CHALLENGES/OPPORTUNITIES

While medical professionals rarely question the clinical validity of ADHD, some members of the media, anti-psychiatry activists, and local legislators are vocal in their opposition to it, or focus on the abuse of ADHD medication, scaring some people away from the treatment they need.  The public discussion of ADHD can be a minefield of unscientific claims and accusations aimed at doctors and respected medical institutions, leaving parents and patients confused and without a source for reliable information.  For the Adderall team, this confusion was both an opportunity -- to fill the need for truthful information -- and a challenge -- to ensure accurate reporting about ADHD and the program.  In addition, because ADHD Experts On Call was a program about a medical condition and its treatment, we had to be careful not to violate regulatory and promotional restrictions.  

We timed ADHD Experts On Call to coincide with the back-to-school season (September 11-13), when many children are first diagnosed with the disorder.  While this timing provided opportunities, we also faced several communications challenges:  

Due to the controversy surrounding ADHD, the condition regularly is covered in various capacities, and some members of the media were hesitant to cover it again.  

A major competitor, Concerta, a longer-lasting formulation of the same medicine in Ritalin, received FDA approval on August 1.  Our challenge was to keep Adderall’s messages distinct from Concerta’s and avoid possible confusion about the sponsorship of the program.  

The media environment was crowded with big stories, including the Olympics and the presidential election, that moved the spotlight away from healthcare issues.  

While we ultimately worked with a celebrity to spread the word about the campaign, this itself was challenging.  Many news people are skeptical about celebrity spokespeople who speak about healthcare issues because the celebrities often lack a direct relationship with the product or issue they are representing.  Our research found that many celebrities are unwilling to acknowledge that they, or someone in their families, have ADHD, and even fewer want to speak about it in public.  Thus, it was difficult to find a celebrity who had a connection to the disorder.  

RESEARCH

We commissioned Harris Interactive to conduct a survey of psychiatrists, child psychiatrists, pediatricians, teachers, parents of children with ADHD, adults with ADHD, and the general public to examine attitudes about ADHD and its treatment.  No prior survey or research included such a wide range of people affected by the disorder -- from the medical community to the sufferers themselves.  The survey results were a potent news hook to get the media interested in ADHD Experts On Call.  

In addition, after an exhaustive search for a celebrity spokesperson, we found Catherine Hicks, star of television’s 7th Heaven, whose best friend has a child with ADHD.  

OBJECTIVES AND PLANNING

The objectives of ADHD Experts On Call were to provide accurate information about ADHD and its treatment, establish Shire US as a trusted resource on ADHD, and create brand recognition for Adderall.  

The Adderall team created and owns the 1-888-ASK-ADHD number, which was used in all elements of the campaign, and will continue to be used in other programs to help build Shire’s consumer database, allowing the company to communicate regularly with consumers.  

From eight months before the event to the moment that ADHD Experts On Call ended, the Adderall team managed and executed a complex, far-reaching campaign.  Components of this planning ranged from pitching to long-lead publications to booking last-minute celebrity interviews; from assessing the venue’s technical capabilities to troubleshooting the newly installed phone system; from assembling a top-notch panel of ADHD experts from a wide range of disciplines to handling their last-minute schedule changes.  

We also helped prepare materials, including posters and display boards with tear-off sheets bearing the hotline number, for the Shire sales force to give to doctors, who in turn could pass this educational opportunity on to their patients.  

STRATEGY

ADHD Experts On Call had a dual strategy: to be a goodwill, unbranded educational initiative, while also meeting the client’s business objectives to achieve corporate recognition for Shire and brand awareness for Adderall.  Because the educational campaign was unbranded, we were able to attract many key opinion leaders to the program and avoid regulatory complications.  

Notwithstanding, the team identified ways to successfully deliver Adderall messages.   Our media training efforts prepared our spokesdoctors and Catherine Hicks to deliver Adderall messages in on-air interviews while discussing ADHD and the benefits of the educational program.  

In addition, by building relationships with experts on a foundation of trust and respect, we nurtured a nationwide network of potential spokespeople and clinical advisors to assist in future media and public education campaigns.  

CAMPAIGN EXECUTION

The hotline was available from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. EDT from Monday, September 11, to Wednesday, September 13.  The days were divided into three shifts, each with nine to 12 experts providing advice on every facet of ADHD diagnosis and treatment.  Every few hours, a television interview or video news release hit fueled a surge of phone calls.  For example, Andrew Adesman, M.D., one of our key spokespeople, appeared on Homepage (MSNBC) on the second day of the event, where he took part in an informative give-and-take that included Adderall mentions and featured the 1-888-ASK-ADHD number.  For all three days, the phones almost never stopped ringing.  In addition, the experts returned phone calls to callers who were unable to get through and had been diverted to a roll-over voicemail box.  

Throughout the three-day program, when callers completed their conversations, they were given the option to receive more materials about ADHD and Adderall.  For the length of the program, the Adderall team emptied the voicemail boxes that took this mailing information and added it to the Shire database.  

RESULTS

  • During the three days of ADHD Experts On Call, the experts took close to 5,000 calls from people struggling with ADHD.  Calls came from 46 states, Canada, and Greece.  
  • The educational materials distributed by the sales force helped position Shire as the premier ADHD support company among physicians who treat ADHD.  
  • In addition to Dr. Adesman’s appearance on Homepage (MSNBC), spokesdoctor interviews appeared on The Early Show (CBS), Fox News Channel, and 27 local NBC stations
  • The video news release was used 134 times for an audience of 8.3 million in 53 markets, and the radio news release aired on 93 stations in 35 states.  
  • The celebrity satellite media tour generated nine interviews, including ones in Boston and Philadelphia.   
  • The program and/or survey results, with Shire and Adderall mentions, appeared in Reuters news service, AOL News, and Child magazine.  
  • The program strengthened relationships with 30 key influencers in the ADHD community, as well as the numerous third-party organizations, including professional societies and top advocacy groups, that they represent.  
  • 1-888-ASK-ADHD has added close to 2,000 people to the Shire database, each of whom received packets of information about ADHD and Adderall.  
  • Callers frequently expressed their tremendous gratitude at the opportunity to speak with an ADHD expert. 
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