Teens speak up with Ad Council

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that car crashes are the number-one killer of US teens.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that car crashes are the number-one killer of US teens. The nationwide Coalition of State Attorneys General and Consumer Protection Agencies partnered with the Ad Council in developing "U R the Spokesperson." The idea is to reduce youth reckless driving by encouraging passengers (ages 15 to 21) to speak up when they feel unsafe in the car with friends.

As with all Ad Council campaigns, behavior change is the ultimate goal. The objective is to extend message reach - to media, young drivers, and parents - to help teens get the message.

Ad Council research showed that teens aren't afraid of hurting themselves, but don't want to put friends at risk. Eight out of 10 teens said they would listen if friends said they were driving recklessly, thus the strategy relies on passengers. Susan Jacobsen, Ad Council's SVP of corporate communications, calls this "intervener strategy," which was effective in the "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk" campaign.

Media relations and partnerships with SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), AAA (American Automobile Association), and NOYS (National Organizations for Youth Safety) would propel the launch.

"[Partners can] take messages to the target audience," adds Debra Silimeo, SVP of Hager Sharp, which aided last year's PR efforts.

In addition to PSAs, the campaign includes urthespokesperson.com and a toolkit for classroom, community outreach, and education. Partner constituents were also given customized video Web packages and template releases.

A Web conference helped to launch the campaign. Both a New York Times exclusive and a Good Morning America segment ran on the launch date to drive media interest. Other media relations tactics included bites and b-roll package, SMT, RMT, a multimedia press release, mat releases, op-eds, and letters to the editor.

"The launch [was able to get] the word out [on] the campaign," Jacobsen explains.

Online and social media tactics, which included a YouTube video contest for teens, helped reach out to young drivers directly.

An Ad Council study shows the percentage of drivers who reported that a friend spoke up when he or she was driving recklessly increased from 45% to 60% (January to October 2007). In less than nine months, the campaign received more than $21.8 million in donated advertising time and space. This includes TV, radio, outdoor, alternative, and Interactive.

The campaign generated more than 30 million impressions, as the Web site drew more than 285,000 unique visitors last year.

Doug Walsh, consumer protection division chief at the Washington State Attorney General's Office, says the media attention has been "fantastic."

Launch publicity also attracted Driving Skills for Life, an organization that asked to show the PSAs in its driving simulators at numerous events.

Media outreach will continue while social media and interactive tactics increase. Hager Sharp will not be involved this year, but other partnerships are planned, including RADD (Recording Artists Against Drunk Driving).

PR team: Coalition of State Attorneys General and Consumer Protection Agencies (throughout the US); the Ad Council (New York); Hager Sharp (Washington, DC)

Campaign: U R the Spokesperson

Duration: Jan. 2007-ongoing

Budget: $125,000

PRWeek's View

The Ad Council is masterful at using PR to extend reach, and Walsh was pleased with PR's ability to impact this campaign. This is a great example of allowing PR efforts to build on one another. It was wise to first focus on generating media attention for the ads, the importance of the message, and to tactically empower partners to communicate with the media and the target audience.

Partnerships are key to target- audience penetration, and it's nice to see launch publicity pull in a new partner. This team recognizes the huge opportunity social media provides to reach its audience. The commitment to developing this type of dialogue in these mediums should compound success.

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