FOCUS: HEALTH PR; The message that is skin deep

With minimal PR budgets health authorities and cancer charities have raised awareness of the perils of unprotected sun tanning as well as making pale skin more fashionable.

With minimal PR budgets health authorities and cancer charities have

raised awareness of the perils of unprotected sun tanning as well as

making pale skin more fashionable.

Health Education Authority (HEA) skin cancer project manager Katie Aston

knows her phone will start ringing as soon as the sun comes out.

Media interest in sun-induced skin cancer has risen over the last five

years as cases of malignant and non-malignant melanoma have escalated to

40,000 a year.

The good news is that magazines, which the HEA’s research shows are a

common source of information on skin cancer, are writing more about the

issue and opting for paler models.

The number of adverts for sunscreens in magazines has also risen by 50

per cent in the last five years, illustrating manufacturer’s awareness

of the issues.

When the HEA began campaigning it’s evaluation company found 100 per

cent positive coverage.

Now, says Aston, the key messages of covering up, using higher SP

factors and avoiding the midday sun have been heard and the debate has

broadened into controversies over the use of sunscreens and sunbeds.

In response, the HEA has appointed an advisory panel of dermatologists

and epidemiologists to clarify its stance.

The challenge now is to keep the media’s attention for the remaining

three years of its Health of the Nation target, which aims to halt the

spread of skin cancer by the year 2000.

Last year the campaign focused on clothing and covering up. This year’s

theme is shade. The HEA is lobbying local authorities to incorporate

shade into planning proposals.

With such a Government body feeding stories on consumer or policy

issues, other cancer charities are finding it necessary to vary their

messages to sustain interest.

‘We have moved on from saying: ‘if you’ve got ginger hair and freckles

don’t go in the sun’,’ says Marie Curie Cancer Care spokesman Chris


Like other charities and sunscreen manufacturers Marie Curie is banking

on children to get sun-wise and perhaps persuade their parents that a

deep tan is not worth the risk.

Henry, the Marie Curie Bear will tour primary schools as part of a

roadshow which will show children how to cover up using T-shirts, hats

and sun block.

Marie Curie has teamed up with a beauty product manufacturer Sanofi, to

target another market: healthcare professionals.

This summer the company has created a resource pack with posters and

leaflets for nurses in primary care called ‘Be Aware Take Care’.

Nurses who request the packs are encouraged to go on to UK beaches and

talk to people about protection over the summer.

‘People are aware of the dangers but don’t take UK sun seriously,’ says

Sanofi head of communications Sarah Gant.

The French beauty company has been campaigning over safety in the sun

for 11 years but ironically does not produce any sunscreen products.

Gant, however, feels that to be part of the campaign does wonders for

Sanofi’s corporate caring image.

Suncare manufacturers have also benefited from preaching the protection

values of their higher SP factors.

Instead of sales plummeting sun cream is the fastest growing sector in

the toiletries market, with a 6.4 per cent volume growth in 1995


Factor 15 is Boots’ best selling sun lotion this year in comparison with

factor eight last year and sales of children’s suncream is up 70 per

cent from last year. Sales of fake tanning lotion are also up, thanks to

fashion magazines stance that it is no longer taboo to fake it.

The Cancer Research Campaign has cottoned on to the fundraising

potential of suncream and is selling its own through retailers like

Boots and Asda.

‘We live in the real world and accept that people like to go in the

sun,’ says Cancer Research Campaign head of communications Susan

Osbourne on the product. ‘We are keeping interest alive in a product

with little PR and no advertising spend,’ she adds.

This example of cause-related marketing appears to be a success, with

Asda now donating all the profits straight back into research.

With a total budget of pounds 5,000 for the summer the charity has to be

creative with PR. Like Marie Curie it is undertaking beach patrols this

summer in Brighton, Blackpool and Bournemouth and is planning Punch and

Judy shows for the children.

The charity is also negotiating the idea of a light-hearted feature on

protecting workman’s bottoms with the Sun and the Star. ‘Its about

entertainment, not preaching,’ says Osbourne.

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