APA shows public how psychology fits into their lives

When the American Psychological Association (APA) holds its annual conference, it is all but assured of national print coverage. But to reach smaller, more local markets, the group decided it needed a new media strategy - one that targeted people where they live.

When the American Psychological Association (APA) holds its annual conference, it is all but assured of national print coverage. But to reach smaller, more local markets, the group decided it needed a new media strategy - one that targeted people where they live.

During this year's conference, the APA wanted to highlight the research of more than two dozen psychologists and help people understand where psychology fits into their lives.

It also wanted to gain support for a number of resolutions it had adopted around issues such as violence in video games and the use of school mascots that promote racial stereotypes.

Strategy

The APA turned to News Generation (NG) to produce 25 ANRs, each featuring an interview with one psychologist. The NG team conducted the interviews on site at the conference.

"When you have something surrounding a meeting, it gives it more credibility," says Pam Willenz, APA manager of public affairs. "It's an avenue for us as a research-based organization to get out to the public."

Lynn Harris Medcalf, EVP and cofounder of NG, notes that many of this year's topics reflected psychology's role in society and pop culture. "That was a large portion of the success," she says. "That variety made it a lot more interesting to pitch."

She recalls, for instance, one ANR that found that girls have a keener sense of hearing than boys. "That difference continues through adulthood," she says. "Something [teachers] might attribute to ADD [attention deficit disorder] or bad behavior may actually be a physiological difference."

Another ANR examined the psychological impact of war on children, whether they live in the US or a war zone.

Tactics

The ANRs were pitched to drive-time radio hosts in 20 markets that the researchers hailed from, including Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Topeka, KS. Messages were adapted for a radio listenership, and each follow-up pitch was targeted to the local market. Some areas, such as New York, had several researchers based there, so the agency pitched more stations in those markets.

"It was going into local areas around the country that weren't always reached by a national spot," Willenz says. "People hear it, they remember it, and then discuss it."

Medcalf notes that personalizing the outreach created additional legwork with a tight turnaround, but "we like those kinds of challenges."

She adds that she had the most success pitching ANRs that listeners could understand without a lot of background. She points to research, for instance, that looked at the "cyber-bullying" phenomenon, or bullying that occurs over the internet, and found that girls are more likely to engage in this form of taunting than boys.

But NG targeted a variety of stations, from serious news programs to adult contemporary, and customized the pitch for each format, she notes.

Willenz says that good spokespeople helped overcome the challenge of breaking down complicated information into 30-second sound bites. "The news was very palatable - it was easily translated," she says.

Results

The average usage rate for the ANRs was 41.5%, 11.5 percentage points higher than usual, according to data compiled by NG. About 20 million people heard about the APA's research.

Moreover, the effort sparked hundreds of calls and e-mails to the APA, Willenz notes. The coverage also helped bring grassroots support to APA causes.

"We were getting calls from schools, legal, entertainment," Willenz recalls. "It united other groups to get involved."

For instance, after an APA resolution called for the end of racial stereotypes in sports mascots, college groups iResist and the American Indian Sports Teams Mascots helped to further spread the message through their own websites.

Future

APA and NG will continue to create ANRs promoting new research coming out of the association's peer-reviewed journals.

PR team: American Psychological Association (Washington, DC) and News Generation (Bethesda, MD)
Campaign: Bringing Psychology to the Airwaves
Time frame: August 18 to 22, 2005
Budget: $9,950

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