Gun violence is an epidemic in America that kills 10 children every day. It is also a contentious political issue. PAX, the nation’s largest non-political, nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the gun violence epidemic, works to shift public perception of gun violence from a political issue to an urgent crisis of public health and safety.
For PAX, parents are the key. More than 40% of homes with children have guns, many kept unlocked and loaded, yet remarkably, millions of parents allow their children to play in homes where unsecured guns are present. To address this problem, PAX designed ASK (Asking Saves Kids), a comprehensive national public health campaign – developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics – that urges parents to ask if there are guns in the homes where their children play. PAX launched the ASK Campaign in 2000, but it failed to generate much attention.
Ketchum and Dan Klores Communications volunteered to help PAX “relaunch” the initiative in 2001, this time with a specific platform and call to action to help ensure and measure success. In August 2001, PAX introduced the first annual “National ASK Day” and signature pledge drive to promote the simple idea of asking about the presence of guns, a non-political and common-sense approach to keeping America’s children safe from gun violence.
ASK Campaign 2000 Launch Review: The team reviewed the 2000 ASK launch activities - essentially a press release and spokesperson (PAX founder, Dan Gross) - and determined that to generate attention the program would need additional elements, specifically a designated National ASK Day, a spokesmom directly impacted by gun violence, and a tool to engage parents directly.
Children and Gun Violence Studies: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “the number of pediatric injuries and deaths caused by guns represents a public health problem.” The AAP also cites “anticipatory guidance” (pediatricians counseling parents to ask if there is a gun present where their child plays) as one effective measure to protect children. With this information, PAX, Ketchum and DKC confirmed that the ASK Campaign premise was sound and that a mechanism for empowering parents through “anticipatory guidance” should be integral to the program.
Partnership Development: PAX, Ketchum and DKC researched a number of non-profit organizations as potential partners, including the Brady Center and the Million Mom March. These two organizations, however, approach gun violence as a political issue. Instead, the AAP was selected because its mission statement so closely parallels that of PAX, “dedication to the health of all children.” As a program partner, AAP would also help make the case that gun violence is a health issue, not a partisan issue.
Spokesperson Audit: While a number of potential “spokesmoms” were considered, one emerged as the most compelling: Ann Marie Crowell, who lost her 12-year-old son to an accidental shooting. Ms. Crowell’s story underscored the whole basis of the ASK Campaign. In her words, “If I had asked before I sent my son over to play, he would still be here.”
Generate press coverage that characterizes gun violence as a public health issue, not a partisan issue
Drive traffic to the ASK web site and generate ASK Pledges
Designate “National ASK Day” as a platform to relaunch the ASK Campaign
Partner with select organizations to enhance program credibility and maximize program visibility
Enlist credible spokesmom to deliver ASK messaging
Create vehicle to empower parents to protect their children from gun violence
Devise a comprehensive media campaign with multiple channels to reach parents with ASK messages
Parents with children between the ages of 4 and 16
Strategy #1: Designate “National ASK Day” as a platform to relaunch the ASK Campaign
To coincide with the re-opening of school, the team selected August 20, 2001 as National ASK Day. A press conference was held at Good Housekeeping’s headquarters with the magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Ellen Levine, and spokesmom Ann Marie Crowell, who were the first to sign the ASK Pledge, along with PAX founders. The combination of on-site media attendance and the distribution of media materials (including photos and b-roll) resulted in far-reaching coverage.
Strategy #2: Partner with select organizations to enhance program credibility and maximize program visibility
Ketchum and DKC worked with PAX to secure partnerships with three influential organizations that could lend credibility and generate awareness—Good Housekeeping, Court TV and American Academy of Pediatrics. Crucial to Ketchum and DKC’s media outreach, these partners together delivered the ASK Campaign messages to parents via media interviews and direct interaction. They also helped rally support for signatures of the ASK Pledge.
Srategy #3: Enlist credible spokesmom to deliver ASK messaging
Ketchum and DKC worked with PAX to secure Ann Marie Crowell as the ASK Campaign spokesperson. Ann Marie’s son was fatally shot with a gun kept in a friend’s home. With compelling emotion and sincerity, she delivered the ASK messages at the National ASK Day press conference and in all media interviews. Ann Marie’s tragic story resonated with parents everywhere she appeared. Ketchum facilitated media message training to ensure accurate delivery of ASK Campaign messages.
Strategy #4: Create vehicle to empower parents to protect their children from gun violence
The ASK Pledge was designed to actively engage parents in protecting their children against gun violence. The premise is simple: parents pledge to ask other parents if there are guns present in the house where their children play. The team created a special URL (www.ASKINGSAVESKIDS.com) to capture parents’ “pledges” and provide them with information about the ASK Campaign along with tips on how to ASK.
Strategy #5: Devise a comprehensive media campaign with multiple channels to reach parents with ASK messages
Getting the Word Out: The team secured ASK messaging via video news release, radio news release and mat release – all of which were negotiated pro-bono. Ketchum and DKC also conducted extensive outreach to national and local media announcing National ASK Day. The simultaneous media effort resulted in national and local broadcast, print and online coverage that consistently delivered the ASK Campaign messages and successfully positioned gun violence as a non-political issue. On-site Activism: The team held local ASK Day events in 32 cities around the country to raise awareness and gather ASK pledges. This effort was supported by an ASK Campaign information drop at participating pediatrician offices, which included ASK posters and pamphlets. Public Service Announcements and Advertising: The program was also supported by a print and broadcast public service announcement (PSA) and an outdoor advertising campaign, which were secured without a fee.
Objective #1: Generate press coverage that characterizes gun violence as a public health issue, not a partisan issue
More than 126 million people heard the ASK Day message, free of political debate
None of the 120 evening news reports about the ASK Campaign invoked partisan politics, instead presenting practical, non-controversial advice for parents to keep their children safe from gun violence
NBC’s Today Show aired a non-political interview with Ann Marie Crowell and Ellen Levine, Editor-In-Chief of Good Housekeeping, to talk about the ASK Campaign
The ASK Day message was conveyed apolitically in stories in Good Housekeeping, Parenting, Parents, and in more than 50 daily newspapers, as well as weekly newspapers around the country (mat release)
Hundreds of radio stations and online outlets covered the problem of gun violence as a public health issue
Objective #2: Drive traffic to the ASK web site and generate ASK Pledges
Site traffic to www.askingsaveskids.com skyrocketed from 92,000 hits in July 2001 (prior to National ASK Day), to 294,000 hits in August and 432,000 hits in September when the ASK Campaign was in full swing
In just two months, 3,500 parents took the ASK Day pledge online and at 32 local events around the U.S.
The ASK Campaign PSA ran in Redbook, Us Weekly, CNN and more than 75 TV stations around the country
Reader feedback from the Good Housekeeping story was very positive, supporting the ASK Campaign, its non-political aim and the ASK Pledge.