Kennedy's diagnosis fuels a new interest in health issues

Sen. Edward Kennedy's recent brain tumor diagnosis and subsequent surgery has caused sorrow among his friends, colleagues, and a public steeped in his family's legacy.

In the news
Sen. Edward Kennedy's recent brain tumor diagnosis and subsequent surgery has caused sorrow among his friends, colleagues, and a public steeped in his family's legacy. As Kennedy continues his battle, some of the news coverage has shifted from articles about Kennedy's situation to stories regarding his type of tumor, glioma, and other personal stories on dealing with the issue. CNN.com even added a section where those with brain cancer could share their stories.

It also prompted discussion of the drugs available to treat the disease. Coincidentally, a clinical trial for a new drug targeting glioma got underway in early June.

Why does it matter?
Ed Cafasso, SVP and managing director at MS&L Boston, says negative situations throughout history have been leveraged to inform and educate, and to urge audiences to take action.

"These are issue management challenges that have been turned into public affairs campaigns," he says.

When tragic situations include high-profile people, more educational opportunities are created.

"Often times, social or health problems are remote to many consumers," Cafasso says. "But when a high-profile person is afflicted, it's an opportunity to make a connection to the audience."

Allison Rosen, head of Chandler Chicco's Washington office notes the importance of crafting a balanced response to a tragic situation that is appropriate, and that identifies the role for education.

"You absolutely don't want to be seen as attempting to take advantage of a sad situation for your own commercial gain," she says.

Five facts:
1. Kennedy's glioma diagnosis, a type of tumor sometimes associated with cell phone use, reignited debate about the cell phone/cancer connection in the media.

2. After Patrick Swayze's pancreatic cancer diagnosis, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network issued a release to draw attention to the illness.

3. High reports of teenage deaths due to alcohol consumption prompted New Jersey's Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control to host a "proms and alcohol don't mix" PSA-creation contest among state high school students.

4. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig's 2004 skin cancer diagnosis recently aided MLB's donation of $10 million to the Stand Up 2 Cancer initiative.

5. After the 9/11 attacks, Chandler Chicco ramped up a campaign - which was already underway - for the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Alliance.

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