Paul Holmes 15 Jul 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
Loneliness, frustration and pain…it’s an unfortunate reality for the nearly half-million Americans -- 90 percent of whom are women -- who suffer from interstitial cystitis (IC), a chronic and debilitating bladder condition that is largely underdiagnosed. IC patients often tolerate years of relentless pain and frustration before receiving a proper diagnosis due to a lack of knowledge about this mysterious condition. Some sufferers are even tempted to take their own lives rather than endure the emotional and physical agony IC can bring.
To heighten awareness about IC and the availability of effective treatment, the American Foundation for Urologic Disease (A.F.U.D.), with support from ALZA Pharmaceuticals, launched “On Course for Better Health,” a national public awareness campaign. The campaign featured champion professional golfer and IC sufferer Terry-Jo Myers as primary spokesperson. As the makers of Elmiron® (pentosan polysulfate sodium), the only FDA-approved oral treatment for IC, ALZA charged Porter Novelli (PN) with generating publicity that would begin with the campaign’s national launch and continue throughout the year. Publicity results, including a Good Morning America interview and numerous other national and local placements, fueled a heightened public interest in the condition and generated enthusiasm from the Elmiron sales force.
Although IC affects approximately 450,000 Americans, the condition is severely underdiagnosed and undertreated because of a lack of public awareness and understanding in medical and patient communities. Doctors frequently misdiagnose IC as a urinary tract infection (a common problem among women) and prescribe antibiotics, which prove ineffective. As a result, IC patients can often endure years of pain and frustration and consult numerous physicians before reaching an IC diagnosis.
The objective for publicity efforts surrounding the “On Course for Better Health” campaign was to increase awareness about IC and Elmiron among consumers.
To achieve this objective, ALZA enlisted three-time Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) champion Terry-Jo Myers as the primary spokesperson. Myers, an IC sufferer for more than 15 years, was driven to the brink of suicide by the disease before she was properly diagnosed and treated with Elmiron. Myers is now symptom-free and dedicated to spreading the word about IC. For the national launch, ALZA paired Myers with Dottie Pepper, an LPGA champion and long-time friend of Myers’, in effort to capitalize on Pepper’s celebrity and increase the campaign’s visibility.
Middle-aged women make up the majority of IC patients. Therefore, 38-year-old Myers and 35-year-old Pepper made ideal spokespeople for the primary audiences, which consisted of IC patients, IC sufferers who have not been properly diagnosed and people who might know someone with IC.
(A separate campaign also targeted physicians, including general and family practitioners, internists, Ob/Gyns and urologists, as a secondary audience to educate them regarding the proper diagnosis of IC.)
The consumer campaign was launched during a high-profile LPGA tournament in Phoenix in which Myers and Pepper competed. Publicity included national and local (Phoenix-area) media outreach and a satellite media tour with Myers, Pepper and a physician with IC expertise.
Following a successful launch, the PR team identified three additional high-profile LPGA tournaments in which Myers would be competing in 2000. Conducting media tours in these cities provided a “built-in” local media angle and enabled an approach to both health and sports reporters, while helping to maintain public visibility for the campaign throughout the year.
In addition to presenting opportunity for publicity, these tours offered a chance for ALZA to foster relationships with physicians. PN worked with ALZA therapeutic sales specialists to identify local urologists in each of these markets with IC expertise. The PR team partnered these physicians with Myers during interviews so they could provide a medical perspective on IC.
IC patients are very proactive in seeking information about their condition and respond enthusiastically when they discover potentially valuable IC resources. Therefore, Myers’ key messages for all these efforts included mentions of the “On Course for Better Health” toll-free hotline and Web site address for those interested in obtaining further information about IC and treatment options available for the condition.
The campaign’s national launch generated 20 placements, including a three-minute interview on Good Morning America. Satellite media tour interviews were conducted in major markets such as Phoenix, Seattle and Austin.
Local media tours in Atlanta, St. Louis, and Portland, Ore. garnered a total of 23 placements, including interview segments on network television affiliates in each of these cities. Prior to each tour, the local Elmiron therapeutic sales specialist assisted in identifying and securing a local physician. The LPGA tournament and area physician created a local and timely “news hook,” which enticed both sports and health reporters in each market to cover the story.
Additional national media exposure included GoodHousekeeping, Woman’s World, Health magazine, USAToday.com and CBSHealthWatch.com.
The first obstacle in trying to secure coverage was the stigma associated with a condition such as IC. Some media outlets referred to the condition as “embarrassing” in nature, and expressed concern over audiences’ receptiveness to the topic.
Secondly, Myers received extensive media coverage in 1997 when she went public about her condition and also won two LPGA events. Therefore, it was possible that the media would consider Myers’ story “old news.”
Finally, though a 13-year veteran on the LPGA circuit, Myers is not one of the most recognizable players on the tour today. Her last successful year on the LPGA tour was in 1997, as a series of injuries unrelated to her IC hindered her ability to compete. Furthermore, the approach to sports reporters had to be carefully crafted to ensure the IC message did not get lost in the sports angle.
To overcome these obstacles, Myers’ story was positioned as a human-interest piece, placing emphasis on her involvement in the campaign and her triumph over IC, and explaining how the condition nearly destroyed not only her career, but also her life. Additionally, a heavy focus on the campaign’s recent launch added a new, timely angle to Terry-Jo’s story. Her involvement illustrates how she is helping other IC sufferers now that she has won her own battle with IC.
To cement ALZA’s relationship with the American Foundation for Urologic Disease, the campaign was non-branded. Therefore, we did not to provide the media with Elmiron-specific materials or draw direct comparisons to other IC therapies. However, Myers attributes her recovery to Elmiron, and naturally referenced the drug during all of her interviews.
Publicity for the “On Course for Better Health” campaign resulted in nearly 50 placements, including 19 interviews on network affiliates, Good Morning America and two national women’s magazines. Audience reach for the campaign totaled approximately 13 million. As a result of the PR team’s efforts, hundreds of women have called the campaign’s toll-free information hotline.
Involving physicians and Elmiron therapeutic sales specialists in the local media tours helped strengthen relationships between physicians and sales specialists, and also increased sales force enthusiasm about the product.
Finally, as a result of the publicity efforts, “On Course for Better Health” garnered support from several outside organizations. The LPGA now serves as a key sponsor of the campaign. The two major IC patient advocacy organizations, the Interstitial Cystitis Network (ICN) and the Interstitial Cystitis Association (ICA), have also shown their support by adding information about “On Course for Better Health” to their Web sites, with links to the campaign’s Web site.
In summary, the “On Course for Better Health” campaign surpassed its goal in reaching and influencing IC patients, potential IC patients and physicians. In 2001, the campaign will be re-launched nationally to include other underdiagnosed bladder diseases, and the public relations team will continue efforts to raise awareness about these conditions among women and other target audiences.