In itself a $50 million PR contract is pretty big news - perhaps unprecedented in the history of the profession. But that is not the only reason that Fleishman Hillard grabbed the headlines last week with its appointment as overseer of the world's biggest ever anti-drugs campaign.
The real reason this is a phenomenal story has less to do with the huge sums of money involved; less to do with the eight month battle between big PR agencies; and less to do with FH's collaboration with five or six specialist agencies. What makes this story remarkable is that the integrated anti-drugs media campaign selected by the White House Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey could mark a sea change in the way government agencies and corporations communicate.
Early stages of a revolution
In the past, mass communication programs have been based around advertising.
But, this campaign is entirely different: it is an integrated PR campaign that includes ads as just one of its elements. The tail is no longer wagging the dog.
According to Harry Frazier of FH's Washington office, this campaign is the early stage of a revolution: 'Ads are much easier for non-marketing people to understand. What does the ad look like, who is going to see it, how many times are they going to see it? Even if they were considering a bigger, more strategic marketing program they default to advertising because it's cleaner and they understand it. Barry McCaffrey had the vision and intelligence to go for an integrated behavioral marketing campaign run by a PR agency.'
Of course advertising will still merit much of the $2 billion total campaign spending, but it will only be used tactically and in conjunction with the other elements of the campaign. In all, the campaign has 'six pillars,' of which advertising is just one. There will also be a collaboration with the entertainment industry to denormalize drug use; building and deploying partnership networks of education, community and youth groups; use of the Internet to provide factual information and services to youth, parents and teachers; and the creation of a public education campaign to promote effective drug-use prevention strategies.
'You have to do more than advertise. You have to reinforce ads with the information delivered by magazines, films, newspapers, schools, and parents,' said Alan Levitt, the director of campaigns for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. 'You must affect the entire message environment.'
Levitt was one of the architects of the campaign, alongside McCaffrey and Porter Novelli who were commissioned - and paid in excess of $1 million - to help devise the communications strategy that provides the blueprint for FH's work. Levitt is adamant that a campaign of this depth, integration and complexity has never been undertaken before. 'It is unprecedented.' But he is equally adamant that this is the only way it can be done.
'Everyone and everything has to be integrated,' he said. 'There is no other way a campaign can work. We don't supplant existing anti-drug coalitions whatsoever, we add to them. We don't take away from other public service organizations, we involve them.'
If further evidence were needed that this is a new breed of integrated multilateral campaigning, look to the nine months of hard graft from PN and the ONDCP that went into simply researching and analyzing the blueprint for the campaign. Or look even further down the line to the bi-partisan approval of the spending by Congress. And look to the collaboration of forces offering their services to the campaign. The PRSA will be involved, so will the Advertising Council and the American Advertising Federation.
Big corporations such as Disney and AOL have already said they want to be involved. And literally hundreds of public and private sector experts in drug-use, drug-prevention, academia, civic and community activity and public health communication have already been asked for their input.
Reinforcing the armory
FH has not had the arrogance, or indeed the desire, to 'go it alone' either. It has recognized the value of bringing in a few select PR specialists to reinforce its armory. Roy Communications will help with the social marketing aspects of the campaign. Sykes Communications will help with social marketing and interaction with the entertainment industry. Imada Wong will help to address the Asian audience, while S&C Advertising and PR will address the Spanish-speaking community.
As Frazier explained, FH's role in all this will be, as much as anything, to coordinate the five-year campaign. 'Right from the start the Government said they wanted the best team. They didn't want a solo effort - they wanted a great pooling and integration of resources.'
And as FH chairman and CEO John Graham said, this is the type of campaign that is an 'honor' to win: 'We have an unprecedented opportunity to put the FH machine to work to benefit the nation and make a tangible difference in the lives of young people and their families.'
Make no mistake, this is new territory for Government and the nation's second largest PR agency. 'We've seen many Government agencies who don't know what they're looking at,' said Frazier. 'They just think they'll bring some professional communicators on board and that they'll do the rest. The ONDCP has really researched the issue, really looked at how you reach specific audiences. McCaffrey gets it. He might not have been schooled in PR, but he gets it.'
Of course, as always, success is the key. If the campaign succeeds not only will it reduce drug-use in the US, but it will also set a precedent for tackling social ills. As Frazier noted: 'If we have an impact there will be an exceptional precedent. People are already looking at this as a potential model program.'
And don't forget the Association of Attorney Generals is looking to implement a $1.45 billion anti-smoking campaign, advised and possibly even led by a PR agency. Perhaps the profession really is about to realize its true potential