Omaha, Nebraska, has the highest chlamydia rate of any city in the United States, and the second-highest gonorrhea rate—and youth aged 15 to 24 make up approximately 50 percent of the cases. That’s why the Adolescent Health Project, a subsidiary of the Women’s Fund of Omaha, recently launched Get Checked Omaha, a new campaign aimed at preventing sexually transmitted infections, or STIs, among teens.
The primary goal of the campaign is to get teens’ attention, and to that end the project has sponsored TV public service announcements, billboards and bus shelter ads featuring photos of successful teen characters who live with an infection. “I’m the leading actor in the school play. I’m in the National Honor Society. And I have an STD [sexually transmitted disease],” reads one, along with the tagline “Anyone Can Get One.” They direct teens to the campaign website where they can look at a specialized map to find a testing center nearby.
Targeted marketing campaigns can raise the visibility of an agency or issue—whether teen pregnancy, youth homelessness, dating violence, or other problems that impact teens—among potential clients, donors, volunteers, and the greater community. But they work best when you put in the time to plan the campaign to a T, and figure out how to best reach your target audience.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Having never mounted a marketing campaign before, the Adolescent Health Project went looking for those who had. Brenda Council, adolescent health coordinator for the Women’s Fund, says that she and her colleagues found a campaign in Milwaukee that seemed to have helped reduce the city’s teen birth rate by 50 percent over seven years. Inspired by that campaign’s ability to reach a young audience, Council set up a meeting with Serve Marketing, the nonprofit advertising agency that led it.
“Don’t try to recreate the wheel,” says Roberta Wilhelm, executive director of Girls Incorporated of Omaha, one of the sponsors of the Get Checked campaign. “Use what you know has worked in the past, and adapt that to your needs.”
Using a marketing company or ad agency can cost you. (In the case of the Get Checked campaign, Serve Marketing donated their time for planning, and the Adolescent Health Project used funds from Women’s Fund to pay for other expenses, including advertising costs.) But whether you call in outside professionals or not, the principle remains: model your campaign after others who have successfully done what you want to do.
Involve Young people
The Adolescent Health Project wanted their campaign to be informed by the youth it was aimed at, so Serve Marketing decided on the campaign’s eventual shape by interviewing young people. In a series of focus groups, they asked young people about their opinions on the issue of STIs, as well as their communication habits.
Youth responses led the advertising agency to design the campaign around the notion that anyone can get STIs in hopes of sparking conversations about the hard-to-discuss issue. They also chose to place the ads in schools, on billboards and bus shelters, and in online videos—places they knew youth would see.
Even on a smaller scale, youth engagement is an important part of any campaign aimed at youth. At Minnesota’s Blaine High School, the student-led We Won’t Rest initiative raised money to combat homelessness with activities based on the TV show “Survivor.” In the end, the students spent about $25 and raised more than $2,000 for their cause.
Julie Phillips, youth service coordinator at the school, says the students marketed their campaign each day throughout the school over a video newscast.
Kick It Off
One place where the Blaine youth excelled was their campaign’s kick-off event, which attracted more than 100 students and featured an address by a formerly homeless youth.
The Adolescent Health Project made their own local splash with a press event for 100 local stakeholders and media representatives.
“It was important for us to approach the issue as a holistic thing in the community,” Roberta Wilhelm says. The event showed that “it’s not just one person or one group that will be affected” by a reduction in STIs.
But she adds that “generating conversation is just the first step. You can’t just have a big campaign and then not have the capacity to do the testing.” To that end, the project has met with local health care organizations to make sure they are increasing services to meet what will hopefully be a growing demand for STI testing.
“Getting the word out is the biggest piece,” says Phillips. “Make sure it’s something that is fun and gets everyone excited. If you can find the right event for your audience it’ll make it easier for everyone to have buy-in.”