Paul Holmes 09 May 2001 // 11:00PM GMT
Every year, millions of us will suffer through a respiratory tract infection (RTI): work will be skipped, hobbies overlooked, school missed and vacations canceled because of uncomfortable, miserable RTI symptoms. If only we knew in advance when an RTI was going to hit, we could take precautions to stay well or if illness does hit, know how to get better.
In October 2000, Bayer Corporation, maker of the fluoroquinolone antibiotic, Avelox®, and Chandler Chicco Agency (CCA) made this possible with the launch of the Respiratory Tract Infection Alert (RTIalert™), America’s first national tracking system to give people the ability to monitor RTI rates — including peaks — in their area.
By entering their zip code into a Bayer-sponsored Web site or punching it into a toll-free line, consumers can learn the RTI level in their area and when to expect the peak, empowering them to take extra precaution in caring for themselves and their families. Physicians using the RTIalert can make adjustments in staffing and appointments to accommodate an increased number of patient visits and the media, using weekly local updates from CCA, know when to alert their local audiences.
Based on information gleaned from approximately 30,000 physicians across the country, the RTIalert is updated each week to reflect the shifting incidence of RTIs across the country. Taking it a step further, a companion piece —an RTIalert brochure — offers information on the signs and symptoms of RTIs and provides tips on how to stay well and when to see a doctor.
The overarching challenge in developing the RTIalert was how to break through the “flu noise.” How could we create a media buzz when everyone was covering flu? The answer: focus on educating consumers on bacterial versus viral infections.
Among the other challenges in developing the RTIalert was wrangling a huge amount of data into a consumer-friendly, serviceable tool that would be relevant both to the lay person and to physicians. We asked ourselves several questions: Should the RTI alert include all types of RTIs? Would it include flu? What would the scope of geographical coverage be?
After development of prototypes and much discussion, the RTIalert was honed to three major types of adult RTIs (acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, community-acquired pneumonia, and sinusitis— all RTIs for which Avelox is indicated).
Before launching the RTIalert, CCA conducted extensive research to determine if there were similar, existing services. It was determined that the RTIalert would be the first of its kind.
Additionally, CCA informally surveyed media to find out what interested them in respiratory issues, when they usually cover flu, and if weekly RTI information, tailored to their regional area, would be helpful. This allowed CCA to plan a launch in conjunction with reporter’s coverage of flu season. Our conversations with reporters determined the overall campaign timing — October 26, 2000 through March 2001 — an important factor because while RTIs, especially sinusitis, are common in the spring and summer, people traditionally associate the winter months with the aches, pains and missed work due to a respiratory tract infection.
CCA worked with the vendor who supplied the data to earmark specific “cuts” that would make the story most compelling. While the process of looking at feedback from 30,000 physicians could have been daunting, it was exciting to see the evolution of masses of data into a national ranking system.
RTIs are often confused with the common cold — stuffy head, aches and pains — causing confusion about when to see a physician and ask for treatment. An untreated RTI unnecessarily means prolonged discomfort and loss of activities. Therefore, the objectives of the RTIalert were to:
Generate broad-based awareness of RTIs (e.g., difference between bacterial and viral illness)
Associate Bayer with RTIs
Harness data on RTI incidence trends to promote RTI treatment (e.g., Avelox)
Develop service that tracks RTI data nationally and ranks cities against the National average
Provide fodder for ongoing media updates throughout the season
Provide media, consumers with information, sponsored by Bayer, on how to stay/get well, and when to see a doctor for an RTI
Drive consumers to the RTIalert Web site and toll-free number (raise awareness of Bayer Corporation’s newest treatment for these RTIs, Avelox)
A Web address, www.RTIalert.com and toll-free “vanity” number, 800-RTI-INFO, were secured so that consumers and physicians could access the RTIalert easily. Web content was then created for healthcare professionals and consumers to obtain RTI information for their area and scripts were developed for the toll-free line. Both resources contained branded information to deliver the Avelox messages.
CCA worked continuously to refine the data delivery and scope of the RTI tool. The agency developed educational materials to be distributed via the Web site and toll-free line, including a non-branded consumer brochure with tips on staying and getting well during RTI season.
An expert in RTIs—Dr. Paul Iannini of Harvard and Danbury Hospital — participated as the program spokesperson to educate consumers and deliver key messages via media interviews. Media preparation and follow-up were extensive. Materials developed and distributed to the media included a press release and RTI fact sheet. Weekly updates were faxed to local media in peaking areas and follow-up calls were conducted on a weekly basis. Dr. Iannini averaged 5-6 media interviews a week during the busiest time.
To facilitate major market media coverage and drive consumers to the Web site and toll-free line, CCA produced a RTIalert video news release, radio news release, and mat feature, which were all distributed around the time of launch.
The RTI buzz was extended past launch and through the season with two additional news elements: a survey of patient habits during an RTI (January), and news of the National RTI season peak (February).
MEASUREMENT OF SUCCESS
To date, the RTIalert Web site has generated more than 40,000 sessions and more than 800 calls have been placed to the toll-free number. The campaign has gained visibility for Avelox/Bayer and RTIs in an unprecedented array of media. More than 50 television, 6,000 radio, 26 print, and 100 online placements have resulted to date from the various media outreach efforts for the RTIalert. Coverage penetrated markets far and wide and included USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, New York’s Newsday, The Chicago Tribune, CNN.com, MSNBC.com, Dr.Koop, HealthAtoZ.com, Reuters Health, HealthScout, WNYW-TV (New York), WABC-TV (New York), KABC-TV (Los Angeles), WLVI-TV (Boston), AP Radio, Bloomberg Radio, and Dow Jones Radio.