Campaigns: Public Sector - DoH links sexual health with St Valentine's Day

Campaign: Sex Lottery

Client: Department of Health

PR team: Harrison Cowley

Timescale: February-December 2004

Budget: Approximately £4,000

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were on the rise in the UK, so the Department of Health decided that last year's Valentine's Day, with its traditional sub-text of love and desire, was the perfect opportunity to launch a week-long STI awareness campaign. Objectives

To increase awareness of the risks of STIs among 18 to 30-year-olds and to encourage the use of condoms. To direct calls to the DoH advice line and drive traffic to its STI website.

Strategy and Plan

On 6 February 2004, public health minister Melanie Johnson and Fame Academy finalist Alistair Griffin unveiled Valentine's cards, which featured unromantic messages such as: 'Oh Valentine, since you came to me you're always in my thoughts - I'll never forget the night we met and you gave me genital warts.'

Appointed agency Harrison Cowley focused on the provocative nature of the cards to encourage discussion of STIs in the media. Statistics on sexual behaviour and attitudes were also highlighted to journalists. The DoH's STI website,, made the mock Valentine's cards available for download.

Measurement and Evaluation

The Daily Star, The Sun, The Times, the Daily Mirror, The Guardian and the Daily Express ran with the launch. There was a 15-minute live debate on STIs on Five's The Wright Stuff, a review of the cards on Channel 4's Richard & Judy and comment by Graham Norton. The campaign was also discussed on BBC2's Weekend 24.

BBC Radio 1 ran regular news bulletins on launch day, followed by activity over Valentine's weekend where DJs exchanged the cards and read out the rhymes, with a dedicated STI special on The Sunday Surgery.

Fifty regional titles featured the campaign, with IRN distributing information to 260 commercial radio stations and 55 university radio stations. The websites for Maxim, MTV, Channel 4 and Five made the cards available for download, with Channel 4 incorporating a fact sheet on chlamydia into its coverage.


There were 186,000 calls to the Sexual Health Information Line between February and December 2004. Calls were highest in March and April - 20,000 and 21,000 respectively. At, there was a 54 per cent increase in the number of unique visitors in the fortnight to 14 February - from 16,133 to 31,727 - and 2,300 people used the 'forward a card to a friend' function.

Dr Patrick French, consultant physician in sexual health at London STI clinic Mortimer Market Centre, says: 'My impression was that the campaign had a significant and positive impact on attendance at our STI clinic. Around this time I saw a number of young people who were prompted to attend for advice or a check-up because of the campaign.'

The Daily Star ran a week-long STI photo story in the run-up to Valentine's Day, culminating with an advice section, and ran a dedicated STI special on its Just Jane problem page. Assistant editor Samm Taylor says: 'Harrison Cowley took the time and trouble to come up with a story that would work for us and was brave enough to do something convincing. We were the perfect audience, with a high percentage of readers in their 20s.'

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