As Karwoski & Courage saw it, our client, GN ReSound, the world’s second-largest hearing aid manufacturer, had two major challenges when it came to building awareness about its state-of-the-art products: hearing aids are marketed chiefly through audiologists who serve as key purchasing influencers to consumers, and the media generally has been less than enthusiastic about covering the technology.

As such, we set out to develop a campaign that would give GN ReSound a platform to garner media attention, and then implemented a program that enabled audiologists to reap public relations benefits from the campaign. By combining the media campaign - “Noise Awareness”- and the comprehensive business-to-business program - “ReWards”- we garnered positive media exposure for our client AND built a relationship marketing program that allowed qualifying audiologists the opportunity to use the media relations campaign in their own marketing programs, a first within the industry.  The result: positive media coverage and solid audiologist relationships throughout the country.


Hurdle #1: The stigma associated with wearing a hearing aid is that you are getting old. However, this is a common misunderstanding – as 99 percent of hearing loss is a result of overexposure to noise, not age. The baby boomer population represents a huge amount of potential users of our clients’ products – they’ve been exposed to years of noisy, hearing-damaging environments and they demand the tools that will allow them to continue living life with all their senses. In this, Karwoski & Courage saw opportunity.

Hurdle #2: Why build consumer awareness and name recognition for GN ReSound when it is the audiologist who influences consumer purchases of hearing aids?  Through an extensive research project involving one-on-one conversations with over 400 audiologist across the country, we learned they were frustrated that the media wasn’t covering hearing health care issues extensively.  Additionally, they requested, and in some instances demanded, that hearing aid manufacturers partner with them in building awareness about the industry.  Again, opportunity is born.


Through our “Noise Awareness Campaign,” we set out to educate consumers about the noise at recreational activities that puts people at risk of hearing damage. In an introductory “test” of our campaign during the fall of 2000, representatives from GN ReSound and Karwoski & Courage adorned sandwich boards reading “Have Fun, Protect Your Hearing,” and handed out free earplugs (compliments of GN ReSound) to fans entering NFL and NHL games (heavily attended by potential customers - baby boomers) in the manufacturers’ hometown of Minneapolis.

The campaign was a hit with local media. We now had our platform that we could replicate at other events to effectively position GN ReSound as the hearing health care experts. Additionally, in this success we saw opportunity in replicating this event for audiologists in their markets, positioning them as local expert and driving business to their practice. This became the basis of our relationship-marketing program.

ReWards is a co-op program that includes traditional communications activities like direct mail and advertising with the added component of public relations: a ground-breaking initiative within the industry. To introduce the program, Karwoski & Courage developed an overview that segmented the program into multiple tiers (starting with basic media kit development for audiologists to event marketing patterned after the company’s noise awareness events). With the aid of ReWards media relations tools developed by Karwoski & Courage and our ongoing counsel, audiologists can position themselves as hearing health care experts within their markets.


Based on several successful earplug handout events in fall of 2000, we took the campaign to the Super Bowl and introduced Elmer the Ear, a six-foot ear mascot complete with an earplug and enormous cartoon hands and feet. Elmer has been joined by Hearleaders – Karwoski & Courage team members who canvassed the streets and parking lots surrounding the big game for two days prior to, and on, Super Bowl Sunday handing our earplugs. Every set of earplugs is attached to a GN ReSound card that contains facts about harmful decibel levels and encourages fans to protect their hearing. The sandwich boards were designed to provide a visual for broadcast media and to prominently display the GN ReSound name. In addition, the Hearleaders wore shirts reading “Protect your hearing while you’re cheering” and had large GN ReSound bags to ensure that the company name would be prevalent during any media coverage.


Media response to Elmer and the campaign has been great for both GN ReSound and audiologists. To date, the campaign has garnered more than 40 daily and weekly newspaper clips with estimated reach of more than one million readers including an Associated Press story, and broadcast and radio news segments on WCCO-AM, WBAL-AM, KSTP-TV, KMSP-9, KMOV-TV, Bay9 News, WFLA-TV, WFTS-TV, WKMG- TV and Audiology Online - one of the largest trade media outlets in the industry.

Perhaps even more important than media attention, audiologists have shown marked interest in the ReWards program, generating public relations for their practices and strengthening their relationship with GN ReSound. Since its commencement just three months ago, there are programs either just beginning or in full implementation in nine states, representing 15 percent of the United States.
The success of the earplug handout events became a buzz within the industry, prompting a partnership with the Audiology Awareness Campaign (AAC), a nationally recognized non-profit organization of audiologists dedicated to educating people on hearing health. Staff from the AAC joined GN ReSound at the Super Bowl event and gained a new appreciation for the noise awareness initiatives undertaken by GN ReSound. Future event partnerships with the AAC are already being planned, making GN ReSound and the AAC the most notable manufacturer/non-profit organization relationship in the industry - potentially driving more audiologists to buy GN ReSound products.