CAMPAIGN: Health & Education - HAZ to make morning after pill less bitter

Client: Manchester, Salford and Trafford Health Action Zone

Client: Manchester, Salford and Trafford Health Action Zone

PR Team: Precise Communications

Campaign: Emergency Contraception Campaign

Timescale: Christmas Eve 1999 - ongoing

Budget: pounds 20,000

Areas of Greater Manchester are among the most socially deprived in the

UK and for unwanted teenage pregnancies, the worst in Europe.

In the autumn of 1999 the local Health Action Zone - a public sector

partnership involving councils and health authorities - decided to

launch a bold scheme to address the problem. The idea was to make

emergency contraception, in the form of the morning after pill, easily

available to young girls who were not in the habit of visiting their GPs

or family planning clinics.

Instead chemists were used, and 16 were initially recruited.

Making the morning after pill available to women of all ages was clearly

a controversial move and there were even questions as to whether the

scheme was legal.

For these reasons the project started with no PR at all - in fact there

was a Department of Health ban on any publicity. The only way patients

could find out about it was at accident and emergency departments or

family planning clinics.

It was only after the news of the scheme was leaked to an academic

journal and then picked up by the Daily Express halfway through January,

that a PR campaign was launched.


The aim of the campaign was not just to tell the core audience of 16- to

19-year-old girls that the scheme existed, but also to get four key

messages across.

The HAZ wanted all concerned to know that it was safe, free,

confidential and well regulated. The last point was not aimed at the

users so much as those that might think the scheme would encourage

teenage promiscuity.

Strategy and Plan

Before the campaign went live, the agency was already working closely

with local GPs, the HAZ and the regional health authority to come up

with answers to questions expected on this subject from, for example,

the anti-abortion lobby.

News about the scheme had already spread through word-of-mouth, and it

was not just the UK media that was interested - there were enquiries

from many European countries and from the US.

But, when the PR campaign was started, it was decided that, in order to

minimise objections to the scheme, the publicity would focus on media

used by young women. Accordingly, pieces were sold into three local

radio stations with a young audience - Galaxy, Piccadilly and Century -

as well as in selected local press such as the Manchester Evening News

and the Salford Advertiser.

There was also interest from the specialist media such as a medical TV

channel. One idea for portraying the scheme in the best light was to get

pharmacists themselves to talk sympathetically about how the project was

going, including how they conduct a short interview with the


Officials from the HAZ and the regional health authority were also put

up for interview.

Measurement and Evaluation

In the first six months of the year, around 2,750 women have used the

scheme. The scheme was actually being treated by the DoH as a pilot

scheme for the whole country and detailed analysis of how successful it

was is now taking place.

Almost all press was positive-there were just two hostile pieces, one in

the Mail and one on an anti-abortion web site.


The scheme was used by women aged 14-44 with the average age higher than

expected, around 24. There is now to be an advertising campaign that

will seek to appeal directly to the 16-19 age group. Among this target

audience, the scheme revealed a lot of sexual ignorance.

It also proved effective in promoting the role of the HAZ generally, and

for Precise it led to a contract for all the organisation’s future PR


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in