FOCUS: HEALTH PR - Cashing in on the fruits of labour/The mother and baby market represents a major opportunity for PR professionals to build brand loyalties that will last for years. Good PR can build mutually beneficial relationships. Mark Hunter report

Each year over 750,000 women in the UK become pregnant, according to the Bounty/Market Trend Fact File. They, and the 650,000 babies they eventually deliver, will spend pounds 270 million on baby equipment, consume pounds 293 million worth of baby foods and drinks, and dispose of pounds 649 million worth of nappies.

Each year over 750,000 women in the UK become pregnant, according

to the Bounty/Market Trend Fact File. They, and the 650,000 babies they

eventually deliver, will spend pounds 270 million on baby equipment,

consume pounds 293 million worth of baby foods and drinks, and dispose

of pounds 649 million worth of nappies.

Add to this the huge market in mothers’ nutritional supplements, infant

medicine, baby clothes and toys, and it is clear that babies are


From the moment of conception, through the pregnancy, birth and beyond,

a mother and her child represent a valuable commercial opportunity. With

a little careful nurturing, and some appropriately applied promotional

pampering, a woman’s happiest moment can generate a number of brand

loyalties that will last for years to come.

It is no surprise, therefore, that companies with products aimed at

pregnant women and new parents are queuing up in search of PR

opportunities to help to increase their market share.

But marketing to mothers-to-be is a delicate area that needs a

sensitiveapproach to PR. Good PR can help create a mutually beneficial

relationship between mother and company. The mother gains access to

information, services and products that ease her through her pregnancy

and into motherhood, while the company gains an influential foothold

within a valuable market. Bad PR, however, can leave the mother feeling

exploited while the client and agency end up with a lot of powdered milk

on their face.

The first challenge to any PR agency seeking to target its activities at

pregnant women is to identify the market. This may sound easy, but by

the time a woman has ’announced her pregnancy’ by shopping at

Mothercare, buying a copy of Mother and Baby magazine or joining the

local antenatal classes, many promotional opportunities have already

been lost.

At Bates Healthcom the account team working to promote Baby Savlon is

well aware that a new mother will probably have made up her mind what

products she wants to use well before the baby is born.

Group account director Stephen Phair explains: ’There’s a lot of

sophisticated research done in this area which suggests that brand

loyalty is achieved as early as the third month of pregnancy. So in some

cases you might argue that the marketers know about the pregnancy before

the father does.’

This message is echoed by Alison Munro, managing director at Munro and


’A woman preparing to give birth tends to be interested in anything to

do with babies. She’ll read everything she can and retain a lot of that

information. But once she’s had her baby she’s far too busy to be

reading women’s magazines.’

Munro and Forster has recently taken on the account for Warner

Lambert,whose Calpol product is a massive market leader. Director Julie

Flexen explains how the agency targets health professionals in order to

ensure that its messages are delivered in the very early stages of


’Pregnant women are incredibly hungry for information so it is important

to have a presence wherever they may appear. This means directing your

activities at GPs, pharmacists, counter assistants, health visitors and

so on.’

Sponsored educational initiatives, training materials, surgery posters

and patient leaflets are all time-honoured mechanisms of ensuring a

client’s name and brand are well-recognised by influential


When Munro and Forster was asked by the Health Education Authority to

produce materials to encourage pregnant women to give up smoking it

produced a baby monitor booklet which helped women produce a diary of

their pregnancy.

Through an agreement with Boots The Chemists the booklet was offered to

every woman buying a pregnancy testing kit in a Boots store.

Promoting the HEA’s advice on the use of folic acid is another example

where women must be targeted in the earliest stages or preferably before

their pregnancy.

Folic acid deficiency is one of the primary causes of spina bifida.

Current HEA advice is for all women who are trying to become pregnant to

increase their intake of folic acid by taking a 400mg supplement every

day, increasing their intake of fresh fruit and vegetables and eating

fortified foods such as cereals and bread. These measures should be

started before the pregnancy and continued for the first three


’Ideally we want to be talking to women before they even become

pregnant,’ says Munro.

Again, this means targeting health professionals so that the message on

folic acid comes across loud and clear during routine consultations,

well woman clinics and contraception advice.

As in any area of PR, if promotional material is to have any influence

on mothers-to-be, it not only has to be seen, it has to be believed. To

achieve this credibility it is imperative that the agency develops a

close relationship with the doctors, midwives, nurses and pharmacists

who will care for a woman throughout her pregnancy.

Alison Clarke, chief executive of Welbeck Golin/Harris, is a firm

believer in talking to health professionals and consumer groups.

’Professional such as GPs, health visitors, practice nurses and school

nurses are the gatekeepers to the NHS and their views are very

influential,’ she explains.

So, to ensure that its activities and materials remain truly relevant to

the intended audience, the agency has set up a ’knowledge group’

consisting of various experts with direct experience in the needs of new

mothers and their children.

This group is used to gauge the views, needs and consumer preferences of

mothers and thereby guide the PR activities in a direction that will

have the most effect.

The agency also maintains regular dialogue with GPs, health

visitors,practice nurses and school nurses. Once a year extensive

research is carried out with a panel of experts from the healthcare


’This helps us ensure that all our literature is up-to-date and relevant

to the needs of its target audience,’ says Clarke.

One message that comes across loud and clear from all the research is

that pregnant women and new mothers are particularly receptive to

educational messages on health and hygiene. Thus Welbeck Golin/Harris’

Domestos campaign includes a long-running educational programme aimed at

new mothers.

The educational approach has also been taken on board by many other


Bates Healthcom’s Baby Savlon campaign has just produced the Savlon

Guide to Baby Skin Care which it aims to distribute to every new mother

in the country.

The Red Consultancy is running baby massage workshops as part of

Johnson’s Baby’s Importance of Touch campaign. And Munro and Forster is

distributing a Guide to Common Childhood Ailments sponsored by Calpol

manufacturer Warner Lambert.

Most PR professionals working in the field agree that a woman’s

priorities tend to change once she becomes pregnant and that promotional

and educational activities need to take this into account.

According to Lesley Brend, managing director of The Red Consultancy

which handles the Johnson’s Baby account, it is important that PR

materials and activities show a true understanding of the woman’s

concerns for herself and her child.

’It’s almost self evident, but you have to take a very sensitive and

empathetic approach. And above all you have to know your subject. You

have a responsibility to make sure you are well-informed.’

However, Munro and Forster’s Flexen warns against thinking of pregnant

women as a single homogenous group.

’You have to remember there are still several different audiences there.

The profiles remain and these women are still individuals.’


If there is one product used by new mothers that is guaranteed to raise

the hackles of child care professionals it is infant formula.

Castigated for its nutritional content and implicated in an increased

risk of infection during preparation, infant formula has become the bete

noir of child care.

However, most infants do still receive formula milk at some time during

their first year of life.

So how do new mothers obtain information they need to choose between the

different available brands? The answer is with great difficulty.

All direct promotion of infant formula was banned under the Infant

Formula and Follow-on Formula Regulations 1995, which followed EC


All information concerning the product must make it clear that formula

is in no way equivalent or superior to breast milk. It must include

specific hygiene directions on the preparation of formula and no

photographs of babies are allowed.

This leaves few avenues open to the formula companies trying to inform

potential customers.

’Most mums find out about us through health professionals or by

contacting the company directly,’ says Cow and Gate’s head of corporate

affairs Helen Messenger.

According to Catherine McCormick, head of external affairs at the Royal

College of Midwives, health professionals are unlikely to recommend

individual brands of infant formula, but will discuss differences there

may be between products.

’While we certainly support the EC regulations regarding promotion of

formulas, we also support a philosophy of choice,’ she says. ’We

therefore don’t discourage midwives from discussing differences between

different brands of formula.’

The public relations exercises of companies such as Cow and Gate

concentrate on promoting their range of baby foods and increasing brand

awareness of the company name. Cow and Gate also runs the In-Touch

direct mailing scheme. This is a programme of four mailings aimed at

mothers-to-be recruited through antenatal clinics, GPs’ surgeries and

parenting magazines.

Mailings are sent from 28 weeks of pregnancy to five months after


The packs contain items such as food samples, nursery thermometers and

information on Cow and Gate infant formulas.

This will, however, change next year when new regulations come into

force preventing infant formula companies offering any information at

all about their products.

’If you ring me asking if our formula is suitable for vegetarians, I

won’t be allowed to tell you,’ says Messenger.


Helping to change the scenario in which women give birth might seem a

steep challenge for any PR agency. But this, in effect, was what the Red

Consultancy was asked to do when commissioned by Johnson and Johnson to

publicise a report on one-to-one midwife care.

The report followed a study at Queen Charlotte’s and Hammersmith

Hospitals showing that traditional one-to-one midwife care resulted in

less surgery, fewer pain relieving drugs and less post-natal depression

than the current NHS system.

Although the study had been funded by Johnson and Johnson’s

Philanthropic Committee, Red’s priority was to raise awareness of the

report’s findings rather than the company’s branding.

At first sight this did not seem an easy task. The report had been

published six months previously and had made little impact in the

medical or general media.

Red therefore decided on a relaunch with the appropriate PR support.

Having studied the report in detail to confirm its credibility the

agency conducted preliminary message testing among NHS Hospital Trusts,

midwives, other healthcare professionals, the media and some known


Real-life mothers and midwives were then recruited to provide

media-friendly case studies.

To ensure that the messages generated by the relaunch remained

consistent, Red set up a ’cross-functional issues team’. This group,

which included representatives from Queen Charlotte’s Hospital and

Johnson and Johnson, was given a full briefing on issues likely to arise

and armed with detailed questions and answers.

The relaunch itself was announced by contacting every health, women’s

and social affairs correspondent.

’We felt it was a message for all, so we didn’t just concentrate on the

specialist parenting media,’ explains Red managing director Lesley


This blanket approach was fully justified by the media’s response. On

the day of the launch broadcast interviews started at six in the morning

and continued throughout the day. The study was covered on BBC news, ITN

and Radio 4’s Today programme. A few weeks later 44 items of media

coverage with an estimated reach of 59 million had been achieved.

But more gratifying than the coverage was the response from health

professionals and mothers. Health Trusts and mothers throughout the

country have started requesting the report and a number of hospitals

have pledged to trial one-to-one midwifery.

’It’s very rewarding to know that you have helped spread the message and

mobilise people to action,’ says Brend.


After 40 years of providing new mothers with free goods, services

andinformation the Bounty Group has become almost a national

institution.The company now claims to deliver its Bounty Bags to 95 per

cent of all expectant mothers, a distribution rate aided by the fact

that Bounty has agreements with every hospital in the country apart from


The bags contain a wide variety of information, product samples, free

goods, and discount vouchers for a range of products and services.The

system is also used by Government agencies to distribute health

education material and official forms.

’Bounty bags are now the principal route by which Department of

SocialSecurity Child Benefit Allowance application forms are

distributed,’ claims Bounty’s director of operations Nick


The Bounty Bag is therefore an obvious route for companies looking to

distribute material to expectant mothers and new parents. Companies

currently using Bounty range from baby product manufacturers such as

Johnson and Johnson to toy companies such as Lego to charities such as

the Meningitis Trust.

Distribution of material can also be targeted to local areas - for

instance the Welsh Language Board uses the system to distribute material

to mothers in Wales.

However, in order to be included within a Bounty Bag promotional

material must pass through a fairly rigorous ’Best Practice’, vetting


Bounty runs all material and product samples past a team of local

midwives, health visitors and other health professionals to ensure

nothing unsuitable is distributed.

’Obviously we couldn’t operate without the respect of the hospitals we

work with. So we do follow a fairly stringent best practice policy and

if the material is not up to standard we will say ’no’,’ says

Hopewell-Smith. Material likely to fail the test includes the promotion

of infant formulas and anything that seeks to ’medicalise pregnancy.’

There are three Bounty Bags which are delivered at different times

before and after the birth. The first is distributed in the antenatal

clinic and includes a pregnancy guide, a maternity services booklet

specific to that particular hospital and educational leaflets. The

second bag, delivered in hospital after the baby has been born, contains

a New Mother Pack. The third bag, designed to be picked up when the

child is four months old, contains a Baby Progress Pack and is

distributed through Boots the Chemists.

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