Healthcare: NHS aims to save a million years of life

East Lancashire suffers greatly from health inequalities, according to NHS East Lancashire, which has responded by launching a campaign to 'Save a Million Years of Life in East Lancashire by 2011', known as SMYL.

Life savers: NHS East Lancashire
Life savers: NHS East Lancashire

Campaign Save a Million Years of Life
Client NHS East Lancashire
PR team
Bell Pottinger North
Timescale 2007-2012
Budget £37,500

The campaign was launched in 2007 and aims to add 2.6 years of life, on average, to the 382,000 people living in the area. This would be achieved by focusing efforts on six core health issues: alcohol misuse, chronic heart disease, drug abuse, smoking, infant mortality, and geographical inequalities.

Bell Pottinger North was appointed from the beginning of the campaign to raise its profile, engage the press and capture the imagination of the public.


  • To deliver the SMYL message to local press and public
  • To raise the profile of NHS staff involved in SMYL
  • To encourage individuals to make the best use of NHS services
  • To help NHS East Lancashire achieve its objective.

AssistanceStrategy and plan

Bell Pottinger North invited local newspaper editors to a private briefing before launching the campaign, which resulted in a great deal of positive coverage. Journalists have been invited to ongoing key events and supplied with a steady stream of stories throughout the campaign.

'Real people' stories profiling some of the SMYL ambassadors have been released to the media, and SMYL staff have been positioned as spokespeople by commenting on national statistics and topical issues. This has resulted in local and national coverage.

Research carried out for the campaign has been translated into news stories through highlighting the most interesting and newsworthy findings.

Football stars from Burnley FC and Accrington Stanley were brought in to help out. Strong ties have been built with both local clubs and Burnley manager Owen Coyle, Accrington Stanley striker Paul Mullin and ex-England star Martin Dobson have all launched key events.

The campaign also involves internal communications and regular SMYL campaign newsletters are produced to keep NHS East Lancashire's 3,000 staff and numerous partners updated.

Measurement and Evaluation

The campaign has featured in every local newspaper in East Lancashire, as well as in niche publications.

Benchmarking from NHS North West showed NHS East Lancashire achieved the highest level of favourable reporting in the North West.

The campaign features consistently on local radio stations and has been covered extensively online.


In its first year, the campaign saved 300,000 years of life - smashing the original year-one target of 100,000 years.

The campaign is on course to achieve its final target of saving a million years of life by 2011.


Carole NorthSecond Opinion: Carole North, director, 90TEN Healthcare

It is easy to give the public information and hope they change their behaviour. But the reality is that this does not work on a long term basis. If it could be done, then none of us would be obese, smokers or drinkers.

The choice of SMYL and the consumer-friendly acronym are spot on for the local audience. Bell Pottinger North (BPN) delivered a good selection of news, features and events to keep the local media actively engaged. Involving Burnley FC and Accrington Stanley was a great way to reach a wide audience.

I would have liked to see more of a social marketing focus for this campaign. Consultations with the target audience would have provided customer insights and given a better understanding of the marketing impact on the audience's ability to make long-term behavioural changes. BPN also could have delivered individual health messages directly through games-led tutorials in schools, local faith leaders, and health promotions in pubs, clubs and on the street.

The golden egg is always in the evaluation. I will not be alone in asking how BPN set and measured the 'saving 100,000 years of life' target. While a PR value in excess of £200,000 clearly pleased NHS East Lancashire, I would have liked to see some SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) objectives that showed the actual impact of the campaign on behavioural goals.

Hats off to BPN for delivering a solid media relations campaign.

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