CAMPAIGNS: Public Awareness - Merck adds dose of safety for kids

Since March 2000, Merck-Medco, a prescription drug care provider and subsidiary of Merck, has been involved in poison prevention. "When we found out that 50% of accidents related to poison each year with children age six and under are medication mishaps, we felt it was our obligation to educate people on the issue,

says Ann Smith, director of public affairs for Merck-Medco.

The company created Stop-and-Think Sam, a canine spokesperson, to visit elementary schools during National Poison Prevention Week to speak to children about poison safety. Originally just a local campaign in the New Jersey area, Merck-Medco brought Coyne PR on board to expand the program nationally. However, the agency had to develop a new strategy for the program, as it had received next to no media attention in its two years of existence.


Coyne felt that traditionally, the media tends to focus on the same poison-prevention story each year: offering general tips on keeping pesticides and cleaning solutions out of reach of children. "Since John F. Kennedy introduced the idea in the 1960s, people have been doing the same thing,

says Kevin Lamb, account supervisor for Coyne PR. Merck-Medco was in search of a fresh angle that would distinguish it from other advocates, and reinforce its brand image. Also, by expanding the program beyond New Jersey, Coyne was looking to create a poison-prevention initiative that Merck-Medco could call its own.


"Medicine is the business of Merck-Medco, so we used that as the entree,

says Lamb. Coyne created "Mirroring Medicines

press kits, which included a comparison sheet of medications and common foods. The kits were sent to over 2,000 health, medical, and parenting journals three weeks before Poison Prevention Week.

Local pharmacists were recruited to appear in local schools with the Sam mascot to talk about how similar some regular household foods look to potentially unsafe medications.

Coyne arranged for the associate director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers to appear on a national broadcast at the beginning of the week, promoting Stop-and-Think Sam and speaking about Mirroring Medicines.


"I had worked with Coyne in the past, and they are media pit bulls," raves Smith. "I just knew they'd know how to break through the clutter of Poison Prevention Week when everyone is doing the same thing, and come up with a creative solution."

The Stop-and-Think Sam campaign had a reported 10 million consumer media impressions in 2001. Since Coyne came in, the campaign has tallied 40 million impressions so far in 2002.

Merck-Medco's campaign was featured on the Today show, and garnered a 24-city SMT with placements in key markets such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Miami. Print placements included features in Woman's Day, Parents, Parenting, UPI, Knight-Ridder, and AP. Coyne attributes a large part of the increase in media impressions from 2001 to 2002 to the AP placement. "When that story hit, it went gangbusters," claims Lamb.


Merck-Medco has plans to continue expanding the Stop-and-Think Sam program next March, during Poison Prevention Week. Throughout the year, the company will work with Coyne to attract people to the poison-prevention portion of its website.

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