Three years ago, the Division of AIDS (DAIDS) in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health launched a campaign to create a supportive environment for HIV vaccine research, enlisting the help of Ogilvy PR.In 2001, the agency studied perceptions of HIV vaccine research and discovered that although people were supportive of it overall, they were also suspicious of the vaccine's availability (some believed that one already existed in secret) and skeptical of its safety. Moreover, they lacked an understanding of what clinical trials, which are necessary for the development of a vaccine, entailed. They falsely assumed, for example, that volunteers were injected with a sample of HIV.
That year, Ogilvy decided that in order to create support for the research, it had to prepare an educated audience and establish trust, particularly among blacks, Latinos, and men who have sex with men (MSM) - groups disproportionately affected by the epidemic. It used HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, started by the NIAID in 1998, as a way to garner media attention and open a sustainable dialogue.
Since then, the firm has "greatly expanded the outreach and coverage" of the event, says Matthew Murguia, director of the office of program operations and scientific information at DAIDS. This year, for the third time, Ogilvy decided to use the major initiative as a way to achieve its goal.
This year, Ogilvy looked to emphasize diversity. The firm needed to ensure that all of its audiences were targeted at the event. It is not enough that MSM have increasingly volunteered for clinical trials - the overall effort must reach all of its target groups, Murguia says. "We want to make sure that if and when we find a vaccine, it works on all populations," he adds.
Ogilvy also decided to stress the image of the "everyday" person at this year's HIV Vaccine Awareness Day to further develop a supportive climate.
Because distrust for the government and biomedical research is so strong among the target audiences, particularly blacks, who were victims of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, Ogilvy sought to deliver its message repeatedly and through trusted community leaders.
Ogilvy selected "Real People. Real Progress" as the theme for this year's campaign, using it throughout HIV Awareness Day on May 18. "We're trying to put a face on it," says Edna Kane-Williams, SVP at Ogilvy, adding that the theme alleviates suspicion, helping people realize that it is the everyday person - not the federal government - who is moving the HIV vaccine effort forward. Also, to further develop trust, Ogilvy enlisted average people and community leaders to deliver the campaign's key messages.
The agency created the upside-down red AIDS ribbon, which appears as a "V," as the day's symbol for the hope of vaccine research and the need to support it. The effort required that the NIAID's Community Education and Outreach Partnership Program conduct HIV Vaccine Awareness Day activities, including educational and outreach events nationwide.
More than 600 organizations took part in the event through partner-engagement activities. In addition, print ads were downloaded off the NIAID website 3,300 times, and pages and brochures in both English and Spanish from the NIAID website were downloaded 2,700 times. All of the media coverage was positive about HIV vaccine research. The overall effort received more than 101 million audience impressions, with paid print ads in 45 print publications and on 161 radio stations.
Another awareness day is under way for next year, says Kane-Williams. Because the "real people" theme was a success this year, it will be repeated, she says.
PR team: The Division of AIDS in the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda, MD) and Ogilvy PR Worldwide (Washington, DC)
Campaign: HIV vaccine communications and HIV Vaccine Awareness Day
Time frame: December 2003 to May 18, 2004