Issue advocacy, Strategic Communications Planning, Media Relations, Issue Advertising
CHALLENGEWhen the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) halted its landmark study on the benefits of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) for menopausal women in July 2002, many high-level researchers were surprised. A large body of research indicated that there were cardiovascular protections from HRT – why stop the study? It was clear to the lead authors of the main journal publications on the WHI data that the study's findings might not be applicable to perimenopausal and recently menopausal women; most women studied were at least ten years past menopause. But the media coverage of the issue was so simplistic that women were scared, and prescribing doctors were confused.
Our client had received funding to conduct a smaller study to ascertain whether there might be some benefit in a larger trial of women closer in age to menopause. The top researchers and academic institutions in the country had signed on to help conduct the trial. But the hostility of the women's health advocacy organizations and the limited understanding of the national media threatened to undercut their ability to enroll women at the study centers.
Moreover, because the long-term goal was to use the new research to provide direction and justification for another large, publicly funded trial with hard clinical endpoints, nothing could have been more important than correcting public and press misunderstanding. If the press and certain health advocacy groups continued to believe that definitive research had conclusively closed the question, Congress would have no will to fund additional study.
Turner Strategies assembled a team of highly respected researchers to brief the gatekeepers at elite national media outlets, including:
- Lauran Neergaard, FDA & Medical Writer for the Associated Press
- Denise Grady, Science Reporter
- Barbara Strauch, Science Editor for The New York Times
- Christine Gorman, Lead Medical Editor/Writer for TIME Magazine
- Rita Rubin, Senior Science Reporter for USA Today
- Rob Stein, Science Editor for The Washington Post
This one-on-one time was essential to overcoming media misunderstandings of the WHI results.
We also took the researchers to meet with the leading medical colleges and advocacy groups on this issue. They included the:
- American College of OB-GYNs
- American Medical Women's Association
- National Center for Policy Research for Women & Families
- National Organization for Women
- National Women's Health Network
- Older Women's League (The Voice for Mid-Life and Older Women)
- Society for the Advancement of Women's Health Research
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration/ U.S. HHS
After the national publications ran stories about the need for additional research, we announced the location of the study centers in a telephonic press conference call.
Positive press coverage appeared in national news outlets – press and broadcast – as well as in the local newspapers where study centers were located. All of the organizations committed to informing their constituents of the need for more research through their in-house communications vehicles. Further, groups such as the American College of OB-GYNs used the information in their broad recommendations on the use of HRT. In short, Turner Strategies helped KLRI turn a hostile reception into an overwhelmingly warm welcome. Potentially hostile women's advocacy groups are now some of the study's biggest cheerleaders and are using the need for more HRT research as a rallying cry for more funding for women's health initiatives on Capitol Hill.