Client: The Alabama Department of Human Resources (Montgomery, AL)
PR Team: Lewis Communications (Birmingham, AL)
Campaign: "Lost Dogs"
Time Frame: February 9, 2001 - ongoing
Alabama has a tremendous problem with parents not meeting their
obligation of paying child support. According to Bill Lang, director of
PR at Lewis Communications, the cumulative, long-term debt has reached
more than $1 billion. As a result, he adds, children face a
reduced standard of living, and many families are forced to resort to
Alabama's Department of Human Resources (DHR) handles more than 300,000
child-support cases per year, and such a workload makes it difficult to
track down many deadbeat parents, says Lang.
In 2000, the Alabama legislature passed a law requiring the DHR to
publish a list of the top-10 delinquent child-support obligors in
Lewis was hired to develop a PR campaign targeting parents who don't pay
child support, and to raise awareness of the seriousness of this
"We knew this would be an emotional campaign," says Lang. "We wanted
people to be shocked, and we wanted the top 10 to pay up."
Lewis also wanted other deadbeat parents to come forward and take
financial and emotional responsibility for their kids. Additionally, the
agency wanted to showcase the efforts of the governor and the DHR.
With such a strong approach, the information released to the public had
to be completely accurate, notes Lang. Working with the governor's
attorneys helped to ensure this.
To determine who should be included on the list, 67 counties ranked
their worst offenders. Each person on the list owed substantial child
support, and demonstrated a long-term lack of cooperation with the
state's child-support program. The top 10 in the state were then picked
for a public service advertisement.
The PR firm developed a "no-holds-barred approach to the problem," says
Lang. Lewis decided the campaign needed a tough headline, and the "Lost
Dogs" idea was born. The ad pictures each offender, and lists the amount
of money owed, number of children to which it is owed, and the county of
the offender's last known residence.
The staff at Lewis worked with the governor's office to develop media
strategies and materials for a press conference held on February 9 to
introduce the ad at the state capitol. The ad ran in every daily
newspaper in the state on February 11.
"Alabama's 'Lost Dogs' campaign is working to collect child-support
payments from those who have abandoned their children," says Alabama
Gov. Don Siegelman in a statement. "We are making sure that in Alabama,
if you abandon your children and refuse to take responsibility for them,
you will pay for your actions."
The press conference and ad generated more than 150 TV stories across
the state, 25 print articles, and dozens of radio interviews. Within the
first week, the DHR Web site had 3,000 hits, and the department received
more than 300 phone calls, generating positive leads for at least five
of the offenders.
"The public liked the strong approach, and was glad that the governor
was so strong on this important topic," says Lang.
In the three months following the campaign, the amount of child support
paid in Alabama rose by $1.7 million.
The next step in the PR strategy is to localize the information with a
campaign high-lighting individual counties.