Howie D Speaks Veritas on Lupus
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Howie D Speaks Veritas on Lupus

In one week, Schwartz Communications established Veritas Medicine as the most recognized and visited medical information Web site specializing in clinical trial information and enrollment assistance.

Paul Holmes

In one week, Schwartz Communications established Veritas Medicine as the most recognized and visited medical information Web site specializing in clinical trial information and enrollment assistance. Schwartz compensated for the lack of a news hook by developing a cause-related disease awareness campaign focused on lupus, and eliciting the impassioned endorsement and participation of a celebrity spokesperson—singer Howie Dorough of “The Backstreet Boys”—at no fee.
 
Over the course of seven days, Schwartz orchestrated three live network television appearances, a satellite media tour, a video news release and a nationally-covered special event at The Children’s Hospital in Boston. This activity sparked precedent-setting Web site traffic at www.veritasmedicine.com, and helped accelerate enrollment in a pivotal Phase III clinical trial studying what could be the first new treatment for lupus in over 40 years. This initiative was a brand-defining moment for Veritas Medicine, which has enjoyed sustained increases in Web site traffic since the conclusion of this one-week campaign.
 
Challenges
 
Veritas Medicine vies with hundreds of medical Web sites for attention. What’s more, the Veritas Web site is not new, having launched two years earlier.
 
Clinical trials have become controversial in the United States. Both the government and the news media have publicly attacked the pharmaceutical industry and the medical research institutions for not vigilantly protecting patient safety and ensuring informed consent for participation in clinical trials.
 
Although brand visibility and Web site traffic are important to Veritas Medicine, the Company only generates revenue if visitors made specific inquiries about the posted clinical trials. To support the bottom-line, our campaign had to attract qualified traffic.
 
The lupus clinical trial that was to be our focus was not new, having launched a year earlier.
Veritas Medicine doesn’t engage in any paid advertising. All visibility would have to come from PR.
 
Strategic Approach
 
Schwartz determined that the best way to achieve our objectives was to create a multi-media PR campaign that leveraged the power and reach of the mass media to build broad visibility while also driving qualified traffic to www.veritasmedicine.com.
 
Our strategy was to focus on the human interest and drama of one chronic disease state in search of a cure, and to tell the story in a way that could paint a positive picture of all clinical research for a wide range of medical conditions featured on the Veritas Medicine Web site.
Because of the prevailing cynicism about the motivations of pharmaceutical companies and the conduct of clinical trials, Schwartz felt that achieving credibility for the campaign demanded medical spokespeople without industry ties.
 
Schwartz believed that identifying a celebrity personally affected by the disease stage we chose for our campaign would create sufficient appeal to compensate for our absence of breaking news.
 
Research & Planning
 
Schwartz reviewed the 100+ disease states featured on www.veritasmedicine.com and learned that a pharmaceutical company had engaged Veritas to promote enrollment in a clinical trial focused on a treatment for lupus. Lupus is a mysterious, little-understood autoimmune disease for which there is presently no cure. Schwartz saw an opportunity to build media interest and curiosity in a largely untold medical story such as lupus. Through that story we could create a vehicle that would project all of the key messages for Veritas Medicine while also helping to accelerate study enrollment.
 
Schwartz learned that Howie Dorough of  “The Backstreet Boys” had recently lost his sister, Caroline, to lupus. Dorough’s commitment to the lupus cause was evidenced by his founding of the Dorough Lupus Research Foundation. On that basis, Schwartz determined that Dorough might be a willing advocate for the Veritas Medicine initiative. What’s more, Schwartz learned that The Backstreet Boys group was about to launch a national concert tour. This would serve to further broaden media interest both nationally and in the regional markets that would be destinations for the concert tour.
 
Schwartz approached Howie Dorough and secured his willingness to serve as a media spokesperson, at no fee, for a campaign designed to help raise awareness of lupus and to champion the importance of new research for this debilitating medical condition. With the sole condition being our willingness to help promote the Dorough Lupus Research Foundation, Dorough agreed to participate in a video news release, satellite media tour, network television interviews and special event.
 
Statement of Objectives
 
To increase qualified Web site traffic at www.veritasmedicine.com
To increase patient inquiries for a clinical trial evaluating compound LJP-394, an investigational treatment for the condition of lupus nephritis
To achieve distinctive visibility for Veritas Medicine and position the site as the most credible online source for information about investigational research and clinical trial enrollment assistance
 
Execution
 
We kicked off our one-week sequence of tactics with, in succession, announcement of a strategic partnership between Veritas Medicine and the Dorough Lupus Research Foundation, a satellite media tour (SMT), VNR and special event at The Children’s Hospital in Boston. The Schwartz team supported this activity with aggressive media relations targeting key print media and wire services.
 
The kick-off cornerstone of our campaign was announcement of a strategic partnership with Veritas Medicine and the Dorough Lupus Research Foundation. This created the foundation for the publicity to follow, and was supported by reciprocal Web site links between Veritas Medicine and the foundation.
 
To drive interest in the SMT and VNR, Schwartz first secured live interviews with Dorough and Yee on CBS’s The Early Show with Bryant Gumbel and two segments on CNN Headline News.
Working with MediaLink, Schwartz orchestrated a satellite media tour with Dorough and Yee. We booked interviews in key markets where the lupus clinical trial was taking place, ensuring that media coverage would deliver qualified Web site traffic. This tour was overbooked.
For media that couldn’t participate in the SMT, Schwartz produced a VNR featuring study participant Sue Coughlin, who spoke emotionally about her struggle with lupus; Dr. John Yee, chief medical officer for Veritas; and Dorough, who we interviewed backstage during a concert. Schwartz captured concert footage that dramatically intertwined with Dorough’s comments about the loss of his sister.
 
Our campaign culminated with a special event at The Children’s Hospital in Boston, where Howie Dorough and Dr. Yee visited patients amidst an entourage of regional and national media. Schwartz arranged for reporters from People Magazine and the Associated Press to cover this event, along with a “clean sweep” of all Boston area network affiliated and independent stations.
 
Results
 
During the campaign and for weeks following, www.veritasmedicine.com attracted 65,000 unique visitors each day. Prior to the campaign, the average was 5,000 visitors per day.
In the week following the campaign, over 50 qualified patients registered for the lupus clinical trial. Prior to the campaign, only one patient registered per day.
 
Distinctive brand visibility was achieved via widespread media coverage that positioned Veritas Medicine as the best know and most credible source of information about clinical research in general. The campaign generated a massive volume of audience impressions in a short period, fueled by a 10 minute segment on a network morning show, multiple segments on CNN, an AP story that reached over 6 millions readers and scores of regional television airings in strategically targeted markets.
 
The permanent link between Veritas Medicine and the Dorough Lupus Foundation continues to drive patients to the Veritas Medicine Web site and enroll patients in the lupus clinical trial.
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