The use of child safety seats in cars might seem like a no-brainer, but the reality is many parents get mixed messages about what seat is best and how long kids should use them.
In order of clarify these points, the national headquarters of the AAA decided to use the 30th anniversary of the first child safety seat law to educate the media and public.
"Our goal was to let people know you can take steps to ensure your child's safety that go beyond the current state laws," says AAA PR director Michael Pina.
Pina and his staff faced a challenge in the campaign, because there wasn't a lot of new information in terms of seat design or studies to provide an attention-grabbing news hook.
The 30th anniversary of the first child safety seat law provided some traction, but AAA's PR team believed it needed a human-interest angle. It reached out to Jenny Harty, an Atlanta mom whose daughter survived a serious car crash in the '70s while properly secured in a car seat. After the crash, Harty successfully lobbied the Georgia legislature to pass its first car seat law.
AAA's PR manager Troy Green and Pina used the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) statistics that the lives of 392 children under the age of five were saved in 2006 because of car seats and created a display of 392 car seats in Washington, DC.
Pina and Green then set up a press conference in January at the car seat display, targeting Washington news bureaus. In order to get local coverage, they also arranged for the manufacturers to donate the car seats from the display to underprivileged Washington-area families.
"The display ended up being a great visual for broadcast and turned into a tremendous hook for our message," Green says.
Additionally, AAA clubs throughout the country were given talking points and state-specific fact sheets that included NHTSA data on car crashes, downloadable pictures of older car seats to show how they have changed throughout the years, and information on each state's current car seats laws.
The national press conference set up in January was picked up by 70 media outlets, including a live interview in front of the display that aired on the Fox Morning News and a feature on ABC World News Tonight, as well as a story on Jenny Harty in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
In addition, several of the local clubs held local media events with information about child safety seats, including AAA East Tennessee, which garnered attention by featuring the governor of Tennessee.
AAA continues to make child safety in the car a high priority, but Pina notes, "We've shifted toward a more reactive media strategy for now."
Pina adds that the organization is planning another child safety campaign, this one using pediatricians talking about car safety as an integral part of a child's health.
Not every important issue has a ready-made news hook, but this campaign showed that you can get the media's attention with the right human-interest angle. In this case, it was a mother looking back decades on how one safety precaution made a huge difference in her and her daughter's life. This story became an informative reminder that the media could hook on to.
This also shows how working with local groups can amplify what might be a single national press event.
PR team: AAA (Washington, DC)
Campaign: 30th Anniversary of Child Safety Seat
Duration: August 2007-January 2008