WASHINGTON: The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded a $9 million, three-year contract for work on its pandemic planning communications preparedness campaign to Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.
Ogilvy will assist HHS in developing communications strategies that will help the public understand the threat of an influenza pandemic and what steps are needed to protect both themselves and the larger community. Outreach will begin to community and faith-based organizations, as well as the business community, at an early stage to ensure materials are available to the public.
Included in the wide-reaching campaign will be public health and emergency preparedness research, partnership and coalition building, stakeholder communication, materials development, interactive strategies, and media relations. Ogilvy will base the work out of its Washington office.
The $9 million will go almost exclusively to PR initiatives, as the campaign is unlikely to use consumer advertising, noted Rachel Foltz, Ogilvy manager of external relations. Ogilvy partners include ORC Macro for research support and The Media Network for Hispanic outreach, which will account for about $750,000 of the budget.
Work has already begun, with initial efforts focusing on audience research, followed by the development of messages based on that research. A summit is also being planned for late spring involving leaders from the various sectors, said Stephanie Marshall, HHS director of pandemic communications.
"We know that pandemics are a biological part of life. We know that, at some point in time, we will face a pandemic and that we will not have a vaccine in the first six months. [HHS] Secretary [Michael] Leavitt feels very strongly that we need to be a nation prepared," Marshall said.
"This will represent our largest initiative to educate the public about pandemic influenza," Marshall added.
The announcement comes after a three-month review process, during which the department heard pitches from 10 agencies for the new campaign, she explained.
Marshall said Ogilvy was selected, in part, for its historic work in health-related areas. Linda Weinberg, SVP and co-group director of social marketing at Ogilvy, pointed to the agency's work on HIV/AIDS education during the early stages of outbreak.
"We thought they had very strong experience in social marketing and risk communications, in addition to emergency response experience," Marshall said.
The potential of the most severe flu pandemic in a generation has health organizations around the world considering how to approach the threat.
"One challenge with this is the fact that most people do not have personal experience with pandemic influenza," Weinberg said. "It's hard to get your head around what we're talking about. It's not like heart disease; no one knows anyone who has dealt with pandemic influenza."
On February 1, HHS and its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announced two new efforts to improve state, local, and community preparedness for an influenza pandemic. CDC released new guidance on community planning strategies for local leaders to consider.
The agencies also developed a tool to equip local authorities with the ability to determine the extent of an outbreak. The Pandemic Severity Index (PSI) is modeled after the approach to characterizing hurricanes, with category 1 being the least severe and category 5 representing the most severe situation. The severity of the pandemic is determined primarily by the percentage of infected citizens who die.
Marshall said part of Ogilvy's efforts will be to educate the public about the new PSI tool, in hopes that it could help cities understand the level of threat at an early stage.
A major concern for health officials is bird flu, or H5N1, which is not currently contagious among humans. However, the fear is that it could cause a pandemic if there are genetic mutations. According to World Health Organization statistics, H5N1 has infected 272 people globally since 2003, with 166 fatalities.