The Ohio Tobacco Use Prevention & Control Foundation (TUPCF) is the organization formed with the state's share of the settlement agreement funds when Ohio and 45 other states sued tobacco manufacturers.
"Our mission is to reduce the use of tobacco in Ohio," says Beth Schieber, director of communications for TUPCF.
In 2004, through a partnership with the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Colorado, TUPCF launched the Ohio Quit Line. Because studies show that a combination of nicotine-replacement therapy (NRT) and counseling increases the odds of quitting, Schieber says, providing nicotine patches seemed like a logical next step.
TUPCF partnered with four insurance agencies - Medical Mutual of Ohio, Paramount Care, Summit, and CareSource - to provide free NRT therapy for eight weeks to anyone enrolled in the quit line program and covered by those insurance companies.
TUPCF had worked with Northlich, a subcontractor of the medical and research center, on the quit line's launch, so the agency was brought in to generate attention for the new program. "We all work very closely as a team," says Schieber. "We felt that PR would do this job very, very well."
"We knew this was a program that really was unprecedented," says Rick Miller, president of Northlich. Because the quit line had launched almost a year before, Miller says, the agency had already established media contacts on the topic of quitting smoking, which made it easier to plan a strategy for coverage of the July 12 press conference to launch the NRT program.
Miller says the agency wanted to focus on the areas that were served by the participating insurance companies, including the northern corridor and west central portion of Ohio.
The timing of the announcement coincided with the July 1 increase of the cigarette tax in Ohio, which provided another angle for the messaging to the media, Miller says. "It was important that we link the two," he adds.
During the six weeks before the press conference, Northlich worked to generate media interest in the upcoming announcement. "Many members of the media had already covered us in the past," Schieber says, adding that those reporters just needed information about the new program. "There were other media and TV outlets who didn't have quite that extent of knowledge."
On July 12, the team kicked off the program with a press conference in Columbus. The team also planned additional media events that day in Toledo and Dayton.
In addition to traditional media outlets, the team provided outreach to healthcare providers through their professional organizations.
Northlich pitched organizations such as the Ohio Hospital Association for coverage in their newsletters.
"We really want as many people as possible to take advantage of these plans," Miller says.
News of the program was featured in 32 TV news stories in Ohio from July 12 to 15. In addition, there were 33 print articles about it.
More important, for the month of July, 1,548 patches were ordered through the NRT program. There has also been a 55% increase in callers to the quit line since the launch.
"I think that this launch truly shows the power of PR and good media relations," says Schieber. "For any executive who is a naysayer on the ability of PR to drive business, I would point to this example."
Northlich is in its first year of a three-year contract with the National Jewish Medical and Research Center and TUPCF, so there is still more work to be done.
As far as the NRT program, Miller says, Northlich is still doing outreach to business and healthcare publications to increase awareness. TUPCF is hoping to have more insurance companies join the NRT program in the future.
PR team: Ohio Tobacco Use Prevention & Control Foundation (Columbus) and Northlich (Cincinnati)
Campaign: Nicotine Replacement Therapy program launch
Time frame: June to July 12, 2005
Budget: About $25,000