CAMPAIGNS: USPIS delivers the facts about fraud

PR Team: Mullen (Pittsburgh) and the US Postal Inspection Service (Washington) Campaign: National Fraud Against Senior Citizens Awareness Week Time Frame: April-August 2002 Budget: $1 million

PR Team: Mullen (Pittsburgh) and the US Postal Inspection Service (Washington) Campaign: National Fraud Against Senior Citizens Awareness Week Time Frame: April-August 2002 Budget: $1 million

"Every year, more than $40 billion is lost through telemarketing fraud, and the majority of these victims fall into one defining category: Most are senior citizens. Yet, only 2% think telemarketing fraud is a crime. Most seniors find it hard to tell the difference between legitimate telemarketing calls and telemarketing scams." This quote, from a brochure by advertising and PR agency Mullen for the grassroots organization Senior Action Coalition, caught the eye of Chris Giusti, a DC-based postal inspector in charge of mail fraud. It was likely no secret to him that not only are vast sums lost to telemarketing scams, but most go unreported, as seniors are often too embarrassed to admit to their families, much less the authorities, that they were taken advantage of. But in a fortunate twist of fate, Giusti shared the brochure to members of a congressional budget committee, and brought the unglamorous and often ignored issue of mail and telemarketing fraud some well-deserved attention. The members of Congress encouraged the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) to go through with a public awareness campaign targeting seniors, and Mullen took on the account pro bono. Strategy Mullen focused on accomplishing two goals for the campaign. The first was to simply raise awareness of the problem, and educate and inform senior citizens about fraud. The second was to empower and encourage them to fight it. Tactics Mullen designed a dual-faceted campaign that focused on two key elements. The first was a nationally recognized awareness week. To secure the dates, Mullen helped draft a proposal that was championed through the Senate by USPIS Congressional & Public Affairs. The resolution was passed, declaring the week of August 26-30 National Fraud Against Senior Citizens Awareness Week. The second element was appointing a celebrity spokesperson. Healy whittled the impressive shortlist down to one very appropriate star - Betty White of The Golden Girls. In cooperation with White's agency, William Morris, Mullen filmed several PSAs to be aired during the week. Knowing that PSAs often don't get the best airtimes, Healy set up a press conference in Washington, DC to announce the initiative and the beginning of an SMT from LA. That day, White and USPIS chief postal inspector Lee Heath appeared on CBS' The Early Show to highlight the campaign. "The trickiest part was coordinating the press chief and Betty White on opposite coasts," explains Mullen account manager Sean Healy. The next day, there was another press conference at a senior living facility in Pittsburgh, with the intention of highlighting the grassroots beginnings of the campaign with the Senior Action Committee. Other campaign elements included posters and media placement in advertising and PR trade magazines. Results The Mullen team succeeded in getting between 400 and 500 broadcast hits nationwide. "We got placement on all the DC stations, CNN, and NBC by sending them b-roll. It couldn't have gone much better," Healy says. In addition to the placement, the USPIS and Mullen got a measurable response from their target demographic. The hotline publicized on print materials and in the PSAs received more than 1,000 calls in the week following the press conferences from people calling to ask questions and report crimes. Future "This was kind of a one-shot campaign," Healy says, though he emphasizes that the USPIS will continue to use the hotline and work with local officials to spread the word about fraud.

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