Last year marked a sweeping expansion of Florida's child health-insurance assistance program.
But, as the state legislature increased funding for the program, it also mandated that eligible families go through a re- enrollment process.
Rose Naff, executive director of the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation, which arranges healthcare coverage for uninsured children, notes that while the change was meant to weed out families that were no longer qualified, it also increased the likelihood of losing eligible beneficiaries.
"There was a major need for an educational campaign," she says, adding that a previous, four-state study suggested that between 25% and 50% of beneficiaries could fall through the cracks as a result of the change.
Naff notes that the organization wanted to use every avenue to reach families ahead of the January open-enrollment period. "We had to completely saturate the market," adds Heidi Otway, account manager at Herrle Communications Group, which helped coordinate PR efforts.
Moreover, the organization needed to turn around media criticism about the number of uninsured children - 90,000 - that were still on a waiting list.
"There was a lot of media coverage, and none of it was positive," Naff recalls. "It was up- setting to our existing clients."
"They were pretty much in crisis, and they wanted us to change the negative stories to positive ones," Otway adds. "The biggest concern was that families would be discouraged."
The PR team kicked off the re-enrollment initiative in the summer, with newsletters, auto- dialer phone messages, and a door-to-door campaign.
"Probably the biggest challenge was that the hurricanes hit in the middle of it," Naff says. "[But] we were able to locate every resident except one - it was a mobile home, and there was nothing left but the wheels."
Then the team took to the airwaves. To change the tone of coverage, the Herrle account staff took Naff on a road tour to local newsrooms.
"The media really did not understand what Healthy Kids did and why there needed to be accountability measures," says Otway. "We sort of established to the media ... that we're doing everything we can to get families to enroll."
"Instead of me sitting in my office waiting for the negative call to come ... I was going out there," Naff says. "The negative media stopped immediately. It was really amazing."
Healthy Kids also enlisted News Generation to create an ANR about the new re-enrollment requirement.
"People have a relationship with their local station," says Lynn Harris Medcalf, News Generation EVP and cofounder, adding that the ANR created a "direct call to action."
News Generation tailored its tactics to each market. "We had a localized story; we had a localized spokesperson," notes Medcalf, adding that Spanish-language ANRs were also created for the Cuban and Puerto Rican communities.
Healthy Kids received 96,000 applications during the January enrollment window, and a total of 141,977 children applied, says Naff. The previous peak period before the effort had yielded only 21,000 applications. Naff notes that she never expected to surpass 80,000.
"The Florida media was phenomenal. I don't think any of us expected to get the impressions that we got," she says. "We broke our highest hope by 16,000."
Although the push was a success, Healthy Kids hadn't prepared for the flood of inquiries.
As a result, the state is considering legislation that would change the open-enrollment period to year-round registration. It has also eased up on the documentation requirements to prove eligibility.
PR team: News Generation (Atlanta), Herrle Communications Group, and Florida Healthy Kids (both Tallahassee, FL)
Campaign: Project Pathfinder
Time frame: July 2004 to January 2005