Australia’s Cholesterol Crossroads: Australia’s Largest Study Of Cholesterol Levels
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Australia’s Cholesterol Crossroads: Australia’s Largest Study Of Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol had not been on the public radar for some time and Australian media had disengaged with the issue.

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As the nation’s leading cause of death, cardiovascular disease remains a major health concern in Australia. Cholesterol is key risk factor, with high levels of cholesterol indicating an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Despite this there was a lack of current, comprehensive information about cholesterol patterns in Australia. In 2008, Baker IDI published a study showing high levels of community complacency towards the issue. Cholesterol had not been on the public radar for some time and Australian media had disengaged with the issue.

SHJ, working in partnership with AstraZeneca, identified that a public awareness initiative was needed to re-engage media, the community and healthcare professionals with this issue. We understood that healthcare media were particularly receptive to new data and research, and that softer news angles (such as margarine vs. butter and new “cholesterol” wonder drugs) no longer offered cut-through. A new approach was needed.

SHJ identified an opportunity to provide a more contemporary view on cholesterol in this country and approached Baker IDI as one of the country’s leading medical research institutes to assist. Sponsorship was provided by AstraZeneca, ethics approval secured from the Alfred Medical Research & Education Precinct Ethics Committee and raw data obtained in the form of almost 200,000 de-identified patient records collected from GP surgeries around the nation between 2004 and mid-2009.

The resulting analysis provided the insights required to conduct a high impact PR campaign that would deliver cut through for important cholesterol health messages.

The key target audiences were Australian adults with high cholesterol and those at risk of cardiovascular disease and healthcare professionals who are central to cholesterol management – GPs, cardiologists and pharmacists.
In developing the communications strategy, a number of factors were considered:
• Data had to be representative of the Australian population but also specific to local audiences
• Widespread media coverage would be the most cost effective way to deliver messages nationally
• Messages needed to be clear, simple and compelling for cut-through
• Critical role of GPs needed to be reinforced and supported
As a result of these factors, SHJ created a strategy that:
• Included research analysis that would appeal to media – cholesterol differences seen in gender, age, income, urban vs. rural areas, impact of regular GP visits and cholesterol-lowering medicines
• Staggered the release of key findings to maximize the exposure/ impact of cholesterol messages
• Focused on local information to maximise community interest and grass roots reporting
• Informed GPs and specialists before the public to prepare them for community inquires
To ensure the research project had credibility within the medical/research community and achieved media cut-through, SHJ partnered with Baker IDI to build a high impact media strategy
The strategy comprised the following components:
Working collaboratively
• Research report development – scoping the research; sourcing and analysing almost 200,000 relevant patient records; agreeing key focus areas for the report; achieving ethics approval and agreeing key messages
• Timing the release of the findings – agreeing to stagger the rollout and scheduling the announcement dates around existing health care calendars and availability of key personnel
• Developing accurate and compelling media materials – managing review processes, anticipating possible communication challenges, and briefing all required internal and external stakeholders
• Allocating responsibilities and priorities – to ensure all media targets could be reached within the required timeframes, with the most appropriate messages, spokespeople and support packages
• Engaging with priority health reporters – agreeing protocols for pitching and managing requests
• Coordinating filming/interview opportunities with the lead researcher and patient case studies

Release of the preliminary findings (August 2010)
• A targeted media placement provided the first wave of media exposure on the report and focused on the surprise finding that women’s cholesterol levels were found to be higher than men’s – with middle aged women most at risk.
• The priority news targets were medical media and a select group of consumer health reporters across Australia (print / online / TV / radio).
• The lead author acted as the national spokesperson
• A patient case study with high cholesterol was identified through Baker IDI.
• The response was exceptional and generated a high level of anticipation and interest in the final report findings containing state based data, reaching 2.3 million Australians through 59 pieces.

Medical media briefing (January 2011)
• Ahead of the national media launch, a preview briefing was provided to seven key medical writers from cardiology, GP and pharmacy publications to ensure they had time to digest and report on the report findings.
• The research report and the supporting media materials were embargoed until mid-February 2011, to coincide with editorial deadlines of the leading cardiology publications.

National, state and regional media launch (February 2011)
• The report was launched with tailored and clear and consistent messages for all audiences
• Ten media releases were developed (one per state, plus a national and medical release) to provide messages around local data. Supporting materials included fact sheets, a report findings summary and an audio news release.
• Nine clinicians acted as local spokespeople and case studies were available across the country.

Stakeholder briefings (February 2011)
• The final report was sent to relevant stakeholder groups including the National Heart Foundation, Stroke Foundation, and Royal Australian College of General Practice. These groups were briefed to ensure they could respond accurately to any public or media inquires received.

The Cholesterol Crossroads initiative was very successful and exceeded all campaign objectives

An extensive amount of media coverage was generated during the two waves of media activity (the release of the preliminary findings and the full national launch), reaching 7.3 million people in Australia. The resulting news in print, online, TV and radio news were generally in-depth pieces which went into detail about the findings and implications for Australian adults.

Importantly, Baker IDI’s reputation as leading authority in cardiovascular health was reinforced. The study is soon to be published in the Medical Journal of Australia, recognizing the value it holds within the medical and research community. It is not yet possible to quantify, but a future analysis will help determine whether there was an increase in visits to the GP for cholesterol tests during and following the two media campaigns
On the specific metrics of our campaign, we have met or exceeded all our targets:

Objective Results Success rating
Work with Baker IDI to produce a credible research report that provides a contemporary and detailed analysis on how cholesterol is managed in Australia Australia’s Cholesterol Crossroads (full report) publically launched in February 2011. It includes the analysis of 199,331 GP patient records. The report is available at
For the preliminary media launch, achieve a minimum of 16 pieces of coverage in medical and mainstream media More than 59 pieces spread across TV, radio, print, online and medical media – reaching more than 2.3 million people in Australia 368.8%
For the final media launch, achieve a minimum of 35 pieces of coverage in medical and mainstream media
More than 430 pieces of coverage spread across all major media channels on a national, state and suburban / regional level - reaching more than 4 million people in Australia 1228.6%
Reach a minimum potential audience of 4 million over a six month period More than 7.3 million Australians were reached across the two media campaigns 182.5%
Ensure GPs and specialists receive notification before the public release of the report findings Over 500 GPs attended the GP meeting series one month prior to the release of the preliminary findings 100%

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