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
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
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