Harmonic Scalpel Tonsillectomry Campaign
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Harmonic Scalpel Tonsillectomry Campaign

Despite its benefits, many surgeons have been slow to adopt the use of the Harmonic Scalpel because it requires a time commitment for them to learn how to use the device.

Paul Holmes


Ethicon Endo-Surgery, a Johnson & Johnson Company has a product called the Harmonic Scalpel that is used in many different types of surgical procedures.  The Harmonic Scalpel was recently approved for use in pediatric tonsillectomies.  Despite its benefits, many surgeons have been slow to adopt the use of the Harmonic Scalpel because it requires a time commitment for them to learn how to use the device.  Ethicon Endo-Surgery had been relying primarily on personal visits from sales representatives to surgeons to encourage adoption of the Harmonic Scalpel.  The company was looking to supplement this with public relations to drive patient demand for the product to encourage surgeons to adopt its use in order to build their own practice as well as drive sales.

We researched both media coverage to date and customer needs to determine the most effective strategy for the campaign.  We found that there was limited consumer coverage of the Harmonic Scalpel in the news.  We reviewed the coverage to determine how the media covered the device (e.g. in a positive/negative/neutral light).  In addition, we worked with the client contact to learn the public relations needs of local customers (hospitals) regarding the Harmonic Scalpel.  We learned that Ethicon Endo-Surgery could meet its customers’ needs and provide an added-value service by developing materials that would help the customers meet their own marketing needs.

The objectives of the campaign were: 

  • To generate consumer awareness for the Harmonic Scalpel’s use in pediatric tonsillectomies  
  • To enhance Ethicon-Endo Surgery’s relationships with current customers (hospitals that offer Harmonic Scalpel tonsillectomies) by offering value-added services 
  • To encourage customers not currently using the Harmonic Scalpel for tonsillectomies to adapt the procedure

The Target Audience: Parents of children who may need a tonsillectomy 

In our planning for this campaign, we learned that an independent investigator was presenting data at an upcoming medical meeting, the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO) showing that using the Harmonic Scalpel resulted in speedier recoveries and less pain than tonsillectomies using traditional procedures.  We reviewed all tonsillectomy-related abstracts being presented at the AAO meeting including those from Ethicon Endo-Surgery, to learn of any competitive products or potential issues.  We contacted the AAO to learn if there would be any major announcements on non-tonsillectomy topics that would have the potential to detract from our data.  We also coordinated with the AAO to secure their approval to conduct onsite media outreach during the conference.  We media trained the study lead investigator to prepare her for live interviews.  One key message reinforced during media training was that some children have eaten difficult to swallow food, such as Cheetosâ and Long John Silver’sâ fast food the same day as having a Harmonic Scalpel tonsillectomy.  The investigator included this message in all live interviews.

Helping children to recover more quickly was the key theme throughout the campaign.  Embracing this theme, we developed a two-part strategy for driving consumer demand. First, we leveraged data presented at the AAO meeting to generate consumer media coverage to create a groundswell of interest in the product.  Second, to sustain momentum, we partnered with local customers that offer Harmonic Scalpel tonsillectomies to secure local media coverage that these customers offer state-of-the art Harmonic Scalpel tonsillectomies and thereby driving their practice.

Our strategy implementation included conducting national consumer media blitz and developing and distributing a public relations turnkey kit to hospitals that offer tonsillectomies with the Harmonic Scalpel.  We worked with the study’s lead investigator and a family whose child underwent a Harmonic Scalpel tonsillectomy to develop a press release and video news release (VNR).  The VNR included a mother contrasting the high level of pain her son experienced after his tonsillectomy with standard techniques versus the easy recovery her daughter had with the Harmonic Scalpel tonsillectomy.  

We also conducted outreach to parenting and health reporters in the national broadcast and print media in the top 25 markets, parenting publications, and women’s books to create further interest and excitement for the product.  In addition, we offered New York and Washington D.C. media the opportunity to conduct in-studio/onsite interviews with the lead investigator (Washington D.C. was the site of the AAO meeting).  

We developed public relations turnkey kits for local customer public affairs offices to help them publicize that their institution offers state-of the art tonsillectomies with the Harmonic Scalpel.  The kits included a b-roll package that the customers could edit/personalize and distribute to local media. It also included a template press release, media alert and pitch letter that the customers could tailor and distribute to local media as well as Harmonic Scalpel and tonsillectomy fact sheets and backgrounders. 

We overcame two obstacles to ensure the success of this campaign. First, the study that the campaign was based on was presented as one of many hundred abstracts at the meeting.  Second, we were also severely restricted in the claims that could be made in the press materials.  Specifically, one of the key benefits of the Harmonic Scalpel is that it reduces pain, but due to regulatory reasons, this could not be directly stated in the press materials.  

To date, the media outreach efforts have generated more than 23 million impressions, including placements in USA Today, The New York Times, and Associated Press.  WABC-TV in New York conducted a live in-studio interview with the study investigator.  The FOX affiliate in D.C. conducted an onsite interview with the investigator.  Nearly 100 percent of the stories mention the Harmonic Scalpel by name and all coverage contains the key message that using this device leads to faster recoveries.  Within 24 hours of offering the customer turnkey kits, Ethicon-Endo Surgery received so many requests that they asked us to increase the number of kits by 40 percent. The campaign was remarkably cost-effective.  Each person reached by the campaign cost Ethicon Endo-Surgery less than one penny.

In addition to achieving our goal of raising awareness, we also have seen evidence that the campaign was directly responsible for increasing demand for the product.  As a policy, EES does not divulge sales figures.  However, following is anecdotal information illustrating the success of the campaign.  Since the campaign is the only consumer source of information on the product (no advertising is being done) the campaign is directly responsible for these results:

  • A surgeon who had been unreceptive to adopting the Harmonic Scalpel for tonsillectomy has called his sales representative to request a product demonstration and training since he has had a significant number of customer requests.  
  • The study investigator has received numerous requests for the Harmonic Scalpel tonsillectomy.
comments powered by Disqus