For most people, influenza is simply an unpleasant illness, but for more vulnerable groups, for example older people or those with serious conditions such as bronchitis, it can be extremely serious and even result in death. The 'flu season' usually occurs within the space of a few weeks, so that large numbers of people become ill at the same time and great pressure is placed on the NHS.
The flu virus is constantly mutating, so the vaccine is changed each year. Following a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisation, in 2000 the Department of Health extended free flu vaccinations to people aged 65 years and over. In September 2000, the department launched a marketing campaign targeting people aged 65 and over and those in at-risk groups, urging them to get their free flu vaccination.
The campaign incorporated TV, radio and press advertising and featured the boxer, Sir Henry Cooper, who warned viewers: 'Don't get knocked out by the 'flu, get your jab in first'. The advertising was supported by a national PR campaign, and local promotional activity. It achieved 65 per cent uptake of the flu jab among people aged 65-plus, against a target of 60 per cent.
This year, the DoH has set a target of 70 per cent uptake of the flu vaccination among people aged 65 and over.
The integrated campaign was launched on 1 October, featuring Cooper for the third year. Kinross and Render is supporting the DoH on a proactive PR strategy.
To support the advertising campaign in encouraging people aged 65-plus, and those in at-risk groups, to get their free flu jab. To communicate the reasons why it is important for these people to have a flu jab and address the barriers to having the jab (such as 'the jab doesn't work', 'I won't get flu', 'if I get flu, it won't be a serious illness'). To encourage carers of people in the target groups to ensure their patient or relative gets a flu jab.
To ensure core messages get through to ethnic minority groups.
Strategy and Plan
The PR programme complements the advertising and supports a network of regional NHS flu immunisation co-ordinators carrying out local activity, who were also supplied with an information pack.
The key message of the campaign is 'prevention is better than cure', but within that brief the PR has had to tackle potential growing apathy.
While the last two winters have been relatively mild, with no serious flu episodes, there was a concern that people who had previously had the jab might decide that they would not have it this year because they hadn't had flu. To overcome this complacency, the DoH wanted to be persuasive without being alarmist.
A call to action - 'Contact your GP to claim your free flu vaccine' - is embedded in all PR activity. The campaign supports NGOs and health professionals in identifying at-risk groups and getting the vaccination message across.
A media relations programme targeting regional papers, regional broadcast and consumer titles has supported advertising in national and regional media.
As well as Cooper, the campaign has been backed by other celebrities.
Cricketing legend Dickie Bird, who has personal experience of how serious a bout of flu can be, has supported regional media work in Yorkshire.
Medical broadcaster Dr David Bull has featured in an audio news release with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Pat Troop at Help the Aged, and both have also done regional radio interviews to promote the campaign.
A powerful strand to the campaign was added when the major TV soaps were identified as a valuable way of getting the campaign message across. By exploiting 'product placement' for posters and leaflets and through storylines, the campaign has aimed to widen its reach to popular TV audiences. The DoH, through Kinross and Render, liased with the producers of EastEnders to write the flu vaccination into a storyline.
To effectively reach ethnic minorities, campaign literature is available in a number of languages through health professionals and community groups. A media relations campaign has targeted the main ethnic titles, including a photo call with community leaders and the cast of the West End show, Bombay Dreams.
Measurement and Evaluation
Media relations activity is being monitored and will be evaluated as part of the post-campaign evaluation, using qualitative and quantitative methods.
Press, broadcast and electronic media coverage will be analysed for opportunities to see and measurement of tone, placement of agreed key messages, positioning of article, inclusion of photography and weighting for editorial endorsement.
For the first two weeks of the campaign, 650 cuttings have been received, reaching an estimated audience of over 61 million. Tracking research is being undertaken on awareness of the advertising, and previous years suggest that PR is likely to have contributed to awareness of the campaign.
The main measure for the success of this year's immunisation campaign will be take-up of the vaccination. Interim data on take-up will be available in mid to late November.