CAMPAIGNS Public Sector PR - 'Lost Dogs' locates deadbeat parents

Client: The Alabama Department of Human Resources (Montgomery, AL)

PR Team: Lewis Communications (Birmingham, AL)

Campaign: "Lost Dogs"

Time Frame: February 9, 2001 - ongoing

Budget: $20,000



Alabama has a tremendous problem with parents not meeting their

obligation of paying child support. According to Bill Lang, director of

PR at Lewis Communications, the cumulative, long-term debt has reached

more than $1 billion. As a result, he adds, children face a

reduced standard of living, and many families are forced to resort to

welfare.



Alabama's Department of Human Resources (DHR) handles more than 300,000

child-support cases per year, and such a workload makes it difficult to

track down many deadbeat parents, says Lang.



Strategy



In 2000, the Alabama legislature passed a law requiring the DHR to

publish a list of the top-10 delinquent child-support obligors in

Alabama newspapers.



Lewis was hired to develop a PR campaign targeting parents who don't pay

child support, and to raise awareness of the seriousness of this

issue.



"We knew this would be an emotional campaign," says Lang. "We wanted

people to be shocked, and we wanted the top 10 to pay up."



Lewis also wanted other deadbeat parents to come forward and take

financial and emotional responsibility for their kids. Additionally, the

agency wanted to showcase the efforts of the governor and the DHR.



With such a strong approach, the information released to the public had

to be completely accurate, notes Lang. Working with the governor's

attorneys helped to ensure this.



Tactics



To determine who should be included on the list, 67 counties ranked

their worst offenders. Each person on the list owed substantial child

support, and demonstrated a long-term lack of cooperation with the

state's child-support program. The top 10 in the state were then picked

for a public service advertisement.



The PR firm developed a "no-holds-barred approach to the problem," says

Lang. Lewis decided the campaign needed a tough headline, and the "Lost

Dogs" idea was born. The ad pictures each offender, and lists the amount

of money owed, number of children to which it is owed, and the county of

the offender's last known residence.



The staff at Lewis worked with the governor's office to develop media

strategies and materials for a press conference held on February 9 to

introduce the ad at the state capitol. The ad ran in every daily

newspaper in the state on February 11.



"Alabama's 'Lost Dogs' campaign is working to collect child-support

payments from those who have abandoned their children," says Alabama

Gov. Don Siegelman in a statement. "We are making sure that in Alabama,

if you abandon your children and refuse to take responsibility for them,

you will pay for your actions."



Results



The press conference and ad generated more than 150 TV stories across

the state, 25 print articles, and dozens of radio interviews. Within the

first week, the DHR Web site had 3,000 hits, and the department received

more than 300 phone calls, generating positive leads for at least five

of the offenders.



"The public liked the strong approach, and was glad that the governor

was so strong on this important topic," says Lang.



In the three months following the campaign, the amount of child support

paid in Alabama rose by $1.7 million.



Future



The next step in the PR strategy is to localize the information with a

campaign high-lighting individual counties.



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