CAMPAIGNS: Public Affairs - No smoking event gets global press

Clients: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Princeton, NJ); The American Cancer Society (Atlanta); the American Medical Association (Chicago)

Clients: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Princeton, NJ); The American Cancer Society (Atlanta); the American Medical Association (Chicago)

Clients: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Princeton, NJ); The American Cancer Society (Atlanta); the American Medical Association (Chicago)

PR Team: The MWW Group (Chicago)

Campaign: 11th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health

Time Frame: April-August 2000

Budget: dollars 75,000

The antismoking movement has been big news in the United States for years. But attracting international media that are less familiar with the issue to an event spotlighting worldwide stop-smoking efforts requires picking the right stories.

That was the challenge The MWW Group took on in representing the 11th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health, held in Chicago August 6 through 11.


Sponsors wanted international media coverage, so MWW had to reach reporters around the world with pre-conference PR, and be prepared to deftly answer their requests for interviews and information.

MWW decided the best way to garner media coverage was to come up with local story angles for international reporters, while also supplying story pegs to various beat reporters. Since few media outlets have reporters that cover only tobacco, this meant reaching out to health reporters, business writers and others who might see a story in the broad topic of tobacco and antismoking efforts.

The agency wanted to avoid the tedium of editors and writers having to sift through volumes of abstracts submitted by conference speakers in search of story ideas.'What we didn't want to do was create frustration (among reporters),' says MWW senior account executive Chris Lackner.


So MWW did the sifting instead. It merged media lists from sponsors to create an international target list. Then agency staffers read through the approximately 1,800 abstracts to pick out the news pegs they thought would appeal most to reporters.

'Everyone wants an interesting story that boils down to the local element,' Lackner says.

A topic database and a speaker pool were created so MWW could quickly match topics and speakers with reporters' interests. Bios of speakers thought to be of particular media interest were included in press handouts and MWW staffers prepared bilingual speakers for media interviews.

Roughly 1,600 reporters around the world were contacted by e-mail or regular mail. As the event neared, Lackner and four others phoned hundreds of reporters to pitch specific story ideas. And an online newsroom kept reporters up-to-date on conference plans.

Once the conference began, MWW staff and volunteers from sponsoring organizations staffed a media center. Twenty key speakers were given beepers so they could be notified quickly when reporters wanted interviews, and a system of six runners was set up to find other interview subjects.

Reporters came to trust the system for finding people. 'By the second day, a reporter knew he could come to us (to find an interview subject),' Lackner says.


More than 90 media outlets represented by 153 reporters either attended the conference or phoned for interviews. Television coverage appeared on 219 networks or stations in every top media market in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Poland and Japan.

The BBC World Service, ABC's World News Tonight, CNN and the Canadian Broadcast Corporation covered the event, as did local television and radio stations.

Print coverage appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and the Chicago Sun-Times, among other publications. The MWW Group estimates that two-thirds of the world received some coverage of the event.


MWW is developing a media strategy report outlining best practices from the conference to guide public relations efforts for the 12th World Conference, which is to take place in Helsinki, Finland in 2003.

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