Community Outreach: Grassroots effort gives WTC Health Registry a boost

When two planes slammed into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, a shock wave of pain and suffering rippled through the US.

When two planes slammed into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, a shock wave of pain and suffering rippled through the US.

Those who continued to live and work in the area and those who helped in the clean-up were particularly impacted, both emotionally and physically.

The New York City Department of Health (DOH) and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) established the WTC Health Registry last year to monitor the effects of the devastation over the next 20 years.

Ogilvy was tapped to recruit a vast number of respondents. It looked to up awareness for the registry and its benefits, foster positive perceptions about the initiative, and register 100,000 participants by December 2004.

"The biggest challenges were that some people would have preferred [not to] go public with any health effects and that it was two years before this study got under way," said Bob Brody, SVP and media specialist at Ogilvy.


Ogilvy developed a unique brand identity for the registry and implemented a communication plan that reached people as they commuted, shopped, and engaged in everyday tasks. This included both paid and earned media, as well as community-relations activities.

On an ongoing basis, the firm worked to keep the registry top-of-mind while managing issues arising from the launch. For instance, not all who breathed the air were eligible to enroll in the registry (e.g., Brooklyn residents), Brody noted.


A launch-event press conference was held on September 5 in Manhattan's Battery Park City. It featured Thomas Frieden, NYC health commissioner. DOH and ATSDR spokespeople provided a message template and extensive media training.

Ogilvy also came up with a tagline for the event: "I was/We were there September 11. That's why I'm signing up for the World Trade Center Health Registry." The line was included in thousands of brochures, posters, palm cards, pharmacy bags, and point-of-purchase displays.

Ogilvy secured paid and public-service ad space on subways, ferries, and near the Brooklyn Bridge. Print ads and online banners were strategically placed in conjunction with the launch.

Finally, a Community Advisory Board of local leaders was formed to advise registry staff on outreach and education.

Sid Dinsay, deputy director of communications for DOH, said, "It is a collection of persons at the grassroots level who best know how to publicize the registry. The idea is for them to offer input for where our outreach effort is succeeding and where it needs more help."

The entire outreach effort was designed to drive traffic to the WTC Health Registry website ( and a toll-free number (866-692-9827) where people could sign up and get more information.


Nearly every local print and broadcast outlet covered the launch and subsequent news releases. Ogilvy also generated coverage in numerous regional and national media outlets.

Ogilvy estimates the print campaign generated 36.5 million audience impressions, broadcast 10.6 million, and online 21.2 million. Currently, the website is the most highly visited section of the DOH site, with more than 19,000 unique visits. The phone line has received more than 15,200 calls.

To date, the registry has gotten nearly 35,000 registration and 70,000 pre-registration names.


"There are a couple of milestones in the offing," Brody said. "We expect the registry to soon be the largest of its kind, surpassing even Three Mile Island. The second milestone is the third anniversary of 9/11, which we see as a strong opportunity to draw new registrants."

PR team: Ogilvy PR Worldwide (New York), NYC Health Dept., and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry

Campaign: World Trade Center Health Registry

Time frame: March 2003 to December 2004

Budget: $700,498

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