How do you convince community leaders not accustomed to responding to health crises to prepare for tomorrow’s influenza pandemic?

Despite the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) investments in vaccine technology, medication stockpiles, and state and local planning, the government alone cannot prepare the nation for a global disease outbreak. Changing public attitudes and behaviors related to public health emergencies requires the leadership of key influencers in a variety of sectors. In January 2007, HHS challenged Ogilvy PR to develop a national strategy targeting community leaders not accustomed to responding to health crises to engage in an effort to prepare for the potential of a pandemic influenza.

Ogilvy went to work create a “symphony of encouragement”, focusing on community leaders in the business, healthcare, faith-based, and community sectors. By tracking global conversations related to pandemic flu preparedness, we uncovered a robust community of concerned individuals, but observed few members from these key sectors engaged. From a series of focus groups and interviews, we learned that while these leaders had some knowledge about pandemic flu, they wanted science-based details from a credible health authority to convince them of the threat. Evidence of other leaders stepping up, they said, would motivate their actions as well.

To address their need for information and provide assurance that their participation was part of a national movement, Ogilvy PR convened leaders from these four key sectors in a high level Pandemic Flu Leadership Forum. The day-long forum featured dynamic discussions with HHS leaders and interactive discussions about how to help Americans become more prepared. Prior to the Forum, A Leadership Blog Summit – the first blog ever hosted by a Cabinet Secretary – was created to generate interest and stimulate conversations online. Additional efforts included media outreach, alliance building, collateral materials development, and community advertising featuring leaders in the business, healthcare, faith-based, and community sectors.

Interest in pandemic preparedness spread fast. Within 6 months, 85% of the targeted key influencers participated in the Leadership Forum. The Leadership Blog Summit logged approximately 60 blog posts in just 5 weeks, generating nearly 1,700 comments, and over 130,000 page views from 113 countries on 6 continents. Media including Reuters, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and targeted trade media representing the four sectors covered the forum and campaign. Coverage in the Catholic News Service, the Lions Club, U.S. Medicine, Government IT Health, and Modern Healthcare are also helping to engage their members. The Ogilvy PR team exceeded its year-one goal of recruiting partners and designing substantial partnership roles, far surpassing client expectations.