The Faces of Lung Cancer
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Holmes Report

The Faces of Lung Cancer

The goal of Faces of Lung Cancer was to focus national media attention on lung cancer, the most deadly, and yet least visible, of all cancers.

Paul Holmes


Faces of Lung Cancer was an awareness campaign created by Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide on behalf of our client, Cancer Care Inc., a not-for-profit social services agency for people affected by cancer. The goal of Faces was to focus national media attention on lung cancer, the most deadly, and yet least visible, of all cancers. Having worked on several large-scale public health campaigns, this effort stands out as an award winner because of the daily uphill battle we faced from reporters. A decade ago, reporters did not cover breast cancer to the extent they do today, however, lung cancer is still a disease reporters do not want to write about. Patient spokespeople were rejected, and were stigmatized for their cigarette addiction, health issues were inextricably mired into the tobacco company battles, and beyond smoking prevention, there was no regular dialogue in the press about lung cancer treatment. We have to work through each of these challenges and ensure that our message of hope and help for lung cancer patients was heard, and it was. Christy Turlington became our spokesperson for Lung Cancer Awareness Week, a move that would prove highly successful. We media trained patients to speak articulately about the stigma they had faced. And we created materials and cultivated a pitch that broke through reporter resistance. With tenacity, fueled by a strong passion to see this issue get the media coverage it deserved, our efforts paid off—not only was there a tremendous amount of coverage, but coverage in the highest echelons of media outlets.


Lung cancer has no high profile survivors speaking out about the disease. It has no races, or rallies, or ribbons, despite the fact that it is the nation’s deadliest cancer. Similarly, money devoted to research into lung cancer is much less, proportionately, than the amount spent on research into other major diseases, although lung cancer causes more deaths each year than breast, ovarian and prostate cancers combined. Competing for share of voice amid other more high profile diseases was a formidable challenge. So too was the apparent lack of public sympathy for patients with the disease. Those with the disease attest that unlike any other cancer, lung cancer is a disease plagued by a “you brought this on yourself by smoking” attitude. Too often, that stigmatization leads to isolation and a decision not to seek support. Add to that a fatalistic view when confronted with a lung cancer diagnosis, and an almost invisible patient support network and it’s clear that Cancer Care, and the Faces campaign, had a lot of work ahead of them.


Using solely media relations, the goal was to get lung cancer on the nation’s radar screen and underscore that anyone affected by a lung cancer diagnosis can access free counseling services from Cancer Care via in-office, telephone and Internet counseling sessions, in both English and Spanish.


Our strategic approach was to lead with all the reasons lung cancer remained an unsympathetic, and hence under-reported, cause. We would discuss the fact that yes; smokers accounted for 95% of patients. We would acknowledge that there was a lack of public sympathy for the disease. We would recount for reporters the disparity between lung cancer research dollars and that for other diseases. Our strategy was to highlight all the reasons why others had not covered lung cancer, followed by all the reasons why doing so could transform the lives of those suffering because of the disease. This “warts and all” approach was jarring for reporters to hear and may be the reason why so many responded so favorably.

It was also our strategy to respond to any breaking news that could be linked to lung cancer, given that the Faces campaign was essentially without news of its own. We also did our best to anticipate news. Knowing that a May medical conference on cancer would likely eclipse any Cancer Care coverage, we pre-pitched reporters that regularly cover the conference, offering our client as an expert resource on the human side of a cancer diagnosis, given that other coverage was likely to be clinical in nature. We also offered our client as someone who could explain, in layman’s terms, what cancer news from a major medical meeting really means to the average person with cancer. The result was a two-part series on lung cancer in The Boston Globe (later pulled when reporter Richard Knox left the paper), a Senior Focus radio piece, and an article in Better Homes & Gardens


Our first step was to put a human face to lung cancer the disease. This tactic involved recruiting patients willing to discuss their disease, not to mention well enough to take on the task of media interviews. Two Cancer Care clients were asked and wholeheartedly committed themselves to the cause. Having faced blame and alienation in the course of their illnesses, Selma Rosen and Anita Johnston, joined our cause. 

Media training provided the polish, but passion to inform people about lung cancer is what made these women into formidable spokespeople. They became the "faces" we pitched to reporters. Their bios were included in our press materials, and a B-roll package included first-person accounts of the stigma faced after being diagnosed, and of course the benefit of having sought counseling at Cancer Care.

After press kits were completed, the planning focused primarily on identifying the proper editorial targets. Given the program’s objectives—to reach people with information about lung cancer, specifically that free help was available to anyone who needed help—it made sense to aim high and target health reporters at highly visibility national media outlets. In addition, given that Hispanic audiences have been ignored by efforts such as this, it was key to reach Spanish language outlets, too. Most of our resources were put into getting big national placements.  Our thinking behind this approach was simple: Cancer Care’s services were essentially available nationwide given their web and telephone sessions, so it made sense to go for “bomb blasts,” as opposed to “rifle shots.” A media home run would be stories on lung cancer that citing Cancer Care as a valuable support resource and a grand slam hit would be a reporter including the agency’s toll free number and/or web address in their article.

Our target list received press kits containing spokesperson bios, U.S. lung cancer statistics and customized pitch letters in English and Spanish. Additionally, we reacted to every opportunity that could be linked to lung cancer and help cast a “newsier” light on our story. Two examples of news we reacted to were the death from lung cancer of “The Sopranos” actress, Nancy Marchand, and an article in The Lancet on a new method of lung cancer detection. In those cases, the respective results were a multi-part piece on women and lung cancer in Good Housekeeping, and an article in The Wall Street Journal on the economics of diagnosing lung cancer early.


Despite the fact that Cancer Care is among the smallest accounts in the Ogilvy PR Health & Medical group services, the results are a triumph.  With the sole exception of The Wall Street Journal, each of the outlets below included Cancer Care in a story on lung cancer, including the agency's toll-free telephone number and web address. When the campaign ended, we had over 150 million impressions.


The New York Times (circulation: 1,880,128) Personal Health column

The Wall Street Journal (1,895,859 )

The New York Times (1,880,128) Metro section

Better Homes & Gardens (4,000,000)

The Los Angeles Times (1,111,785)

Lifetime Television (64,000,000)

Good Housekeeping (4,951,240)

Gannett News Service (74 daily newspapers)

WebMD (24 million) (2 million)

Cancer & You (170,000)

Senior Focus (5,000,000)

The Staten Island Advance (78,000)

People en Espanol (300,000)

CNN Radio Noticias (334,361) (30,000,000)

Univision (2,000,000)

Hoy (60,000)

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