The solvents abuse campaign launched by the Health Education
Authority in June last year followed previous campaigns on the misuse of
An integrated communications package was developed for the 14 October
launch of the solvents abuse campaign with advertising in magazines
aimed at parents of the ’at risk’ group, and PR targeted at parents and
teenagers through national and youth media.
To spread awareness of the dangers of solvent abuse, promote the
National Drugs Helpline and other resources as a source of information
and support, and encourage parents to talk to their children about the
Prior to launch day the HEA formed links with independent medical
experts and local groups involved with solvents work prepared to speak
on its behalf. Twelve regional case studies were developed and
statistics gathered from St George’s Medical School, the national
authority on solvent-related deaths. Five in-house spokespeople were
selected who could give interviews.
A press release was written with a hard-hitting headline that ’solvents
kill more teenagers than heroin’, supported by death statistics for
The youth PR strategy focused on providing carefully picked case studies
for use in features or on problem pages and promoting a teenage guide to
drugs and solvents, Dmag.
Radio PR specialist the Market Tiers was commissioned to produce a
feature package aimed in particular at small commercial radio stations
and intended as a safety measure in case interest was not as great as
Radio interviews were set up the week before the launch and the Market
Tier’s London studio booked for the launch day. The five in-house
spokespeople were available for interview on the day.
A national press conference was thought to be unnecessary as the media
strategy depended on co-ordinating dozens of people around the
The main PR effort was focused on the launch day, although advertising
will contine until March. Besides this specific push, general news
stories are continually being fed to the media. In early December, for
example, a story about the dangers of mixing substances made national
’The ’more deaths than heroin’ line really captured the media
imagination,’ says HEA drugs campaign press and PR manager, Andy
As well as the expected radio coverage - Radio Four Today Programme,
Radio Five Live, Radio One Newsbeat, BBC World Service and a host of BBC
and commercial local stations. The campaign gained news coverage on ITN,
Sky, Granada, Central News and HTV West News. BBC Midlands showed a
half-hour documentary based around one of the case studies. 999 is also
considering running an item on solvents.
Press coverage was also extensive, including pieces in the Daily
Telegraph, Independent, Daily Mirror, Manchester Evening News,
Birmingham Evening Mail, Western Daily Press and the Brighton Evening
Argus. Coverage was straightforward, with little or no negative
Youth press coverage was equally impressive, including Smash Hits, Big,
Just 17, Mizz, Sugar, Minx, Informa, 19 and Clothes Show Magazine.
Solvents abuse is often overlooked compared to more high profile drugs
abuse, and this campaign succeeded in getting it back in the media
spotlight, if only for the week of the launch.
One of the main reasons for such extensive coverage was undoubtedly the
regional case studies and the success in getting local agencies
The effectiveness of the campaign in human terms is yet to be
However evidencethat the message is getting across is that calls to the
National Drugs Helpline rose from 700-800 per day to 1,000-1,200 per day
during the week of the campaign.
Client: Health Education
PR Team: In-house; freelance consultant Debbie Harris; youth PR
RedRooster; radio PR Market Tiers
Campaign: Risks of Volatile Substance Abuse
Timescale: June to October 1996
Cost: pounds 8,500 (PR)