CAMPAIGNS: NSGC reconnects with the public via 'Kissing Cousins'

PR Team: National Society of Genetic Counselors (Wallingford, PA) and STAR/Rosen (Cherry Hill, NJ) Campaign: Kissing Cousins Time Frame: February 2002 - ongoing Budget: $60,000

PR Team: National Society of Genetic Counselors (Wallingford, PA) and STAR/Rosen (Cherry Hill, NJ) Campaign: Kissing Cousins Time Frame: February 2002 - ongoing Budget: $60,000

After severing ties with its previous agency, the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) decided that it needed media attention. The mapping of the human genome, cloning, and other recent genetic breakthroughs had put genes on the general media's radar as never before. Nevertheless, the NSGC, a 2,000-member nationwide organization that counsels individuals and families about the risks and rewards of genetic testing, was largely absent from the public view at a time when its profile should have been on the rise. As a spate of media stories following each new genetic breakthrough reached an uncertain public, many people with serious questions about whether genetic testing would be right for them were looking for guidance. It is a critical moment for a profession charged with the mission of consulting people about how to approach genetic testing. Strategy NSGC reached out to STAR/ Rosen to raise its profile. "When we hired them, we were lacking a strategic plan for our PR," says Bea Leopold, executive director of the NSGC. "We really had a very basic plan, but it was not strategic enough." The group's main goals were to increase awareness and understanding of the genetic-counseling process to consumers, media, and the medical profession. The group also wanted to increase traffic to the NSGC website to build national referrals for genetics counselors. "They helped us come up with a plan that was actionable and measurable," says Leopold. "They really helped us find opportunities to gain the exposure we weren't getting." STAR/Rosen felt its first task was to identify a trend or development that the NSGC could seize upon, and offer thought leadership on. "We were looking to develop an aggressive PR campaign leveraging the NSGC's expertise and the results of interesting studies led by their members," says Steve Rosen, president of STAR/Rosen. "We also wanted to connect the organization to relevant general medical and genetics news issues." Tactics The firm helped the group identify one NSGC study in particular that it thought would resonate with the media and public. The study focused on children of married cousins facing minimal health risks. The results of this study were contrary to previous reports and long-standing cultural beliefs. The survey proved to be a boon because it combined genetic research with a hot-button topic that the media would have trouble resisting. STAR/Rosen had a little less than a month to prepare for the release of the study, so the firm devised several key messages and identified several media outlets that would likely be interested in the story. The campaign was even given the provocative title "Kissing Cousins." Results As a result of the campaign, the NSGC was able to make an immediate mark on the field of genetic counseling. Media hits included stories in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report, Time, USA Today, London Financial Times, Good Morning America, CNN, BBC, and several local newspapers around the world. The NSGC also saw a jump in traffic to its website. "We found ourselves being contacted by news organizations from around the globe," says Leopold. "We found lots of interest from parts of the world where marriage among cousins is very commonplace." Future The NSGC is continuing with its PR push with a similar campaign based on other studies. The attention recently netted the group a segment on the Today show, which profiled a genetics counselor and two of her patients.

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