When Congress passed the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, New Jersey took advantage of the enhanced Medicaid matching rate to extend healthcare coverage to children in low-income families, ultimately forming NJ KidCare.The program expanded in July 2000, changing its name to NJ FamilyCare (NJFC). Enrollment kept growing, but the program wasn't reaching a large portion of its target audience: families that fell into Plan D, the highest income level of eligibility.
A review of the demographic proved that it was comprised of college-educated homeowners, who often thought they were ineligible for any government-sponsored programs. STAR/ Rosen, which had previously extended marketing and advertising services to NJFC, was charged with creating a PR initiative to send the message that insurance help was available for children in these homes.
The program had been able to reach poorer families through food stamps and other government programs, but stopped short of those falling into Plan D, says Heidi Smith, NJFC's executive director. Because of this, STAR/Rosen came up with a plan to deliver its message directly to kids through their schools and rely on them to pass the information about NJFC to their parents.
"We found that if we could get information about the program into students' hands, they'd be the best emissaries to convey this to parents, who were obviously the ones who had to sign up for their kids, " says STAR/ Rosen president Steve Rosen.
After determining which school districts had the highest concentration of the target demographic, STAR/Rosen developed a concept based on a previous campaign done for another insurance service.
"Years ago, we used a robot mascot for a health-education program," says Rosen. "When we got the NJ FamilyCare assignment, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to revive this character. It was so successful with kids because the robot is totally engaging. It interacts and jokes with them on a one-to-one basis. He was wonderful for bringing what could be a seemingly boring or too-serious message to life. It was perfect be- cause when you talk to kids about insurance, it can be dry."
"The Caring Coach" visited schools, urging students to take care of their bodies - "the Million Dollar Machines" - through exercise and healthy eating habits. The message about NJFC was embedded within these activities. The students were supplied with fun materials to bring home following the assembly, including a Family Fitness Fun Book they could complete with parents. Included in each was a business- return card for more information about NJFC.
STAR/Rosen also targeted local media outlets via press releases encouraging them to attend the school assemblies to further drive the message.
During the 2002-2003 school year, 250 assemblies were completed and the Caring Coach interacted with more than 50,000 students in more than 130 schools. Stories were placed in papers throughout the state, and, Rosen says, the event was such a "great, colorful visual" that it frequently landed on the front page.
However, the real measure of success was that enrollment grew in areas the coach visited, especially in the targeted income sector, which rose by 22%.
"NJ FamilyCare is still developing a public-information plan for this year," says Smith, "but we haven't firmed that up yet. We're still reaching out to children and exploring all options."
STAR/ Rosen recently ended their relationship with NJFC because New Jersey laws state that agencies must bid on the contract. An RFP was recently sent out, and the organization is waiting for results.
PR team: STAR/Rosen (Cherry Hill, NJ) and NJ FamilyCare
Campaign: The Caring Coach for NJ FamilyCare
Time frame: 2002-2003 school year