Finding the right spokesperson can make all the difference in a PR campaign’s success, as this personality is the one who can lend the effort a combination of authority, passion and authenticity—Boehringer Ingelheim and Ogilvy demonstrated that effectiveness in its campaign for Breathless® to raise awareness of the rare and often misdiagnosed lung disease idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).
To generate widespread IPF awareness, Boehringer Ingelheim and Ogilvy planned to partner with a celebrity with a connection to the disease, whose message would be disseminated through a multi-channel approach driving to the Breathless website. The campaign team aimed to distribute messaging to a target demographic of those living with IPF (primarily men age 65+) and their adult children caregivers via mainstream and social media for maximum impact.
In 2017, New York Yankees legend and guitarist Bernie Williams joined the campaign in honor of his father who lost his life to IPF. With Williams on its roster, the team aimed to reach a mass audience nationally and also at a targeted local level.
Read on to find out how Boehringer Ingelheim and Ogilvy made Williams the centerpiece of this successful campaign, earning a Silver Award in the “Best Use of Personality/Celebrity” category in Bulldog Reporter’s 2018 PR Awards.
The Challenge: Research shows that IPF affects as many as 132,000 Americans—primarily men age 65 and older. Although considered “rare,” IPF is four times more common than Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS and 50,000 new U.S. people are diagnosed every year—enough to fill some baseball stadiums. Unfortunately, once diagnosed, the average life expectancy for IPF patients is just 3-5 years—and, while there is no cure for IPF, there are two FDA-approved treatments that can help slow the progression of the disease, so an early diagnosis and timely proper care are critical.
“Bernie is very well-respected nationally for his legendary baseball career with the New York Yankees and for his musical talent as a Latin-Grammy nominated jazz guitarist,” says Paul Wynn, with the Public Relations team at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. “His celebrity status provided us with opportunities to reach millions of people with our IPF awareness efforts through traditional and social media.”
Because Williams remains beloved to the sports media and his fan base 10+ years after his last Major League Baseball game appearance, access for him to the sports media was ample. Better still, because his personal connection to IPF is so strong—and so compelling—the sports media’s willingness to diverge from their typical subject matter afforded him the opportunity to share his father’s story and encourage those who may be concerned that they—or a loved one—is suffering from IPF to see a doctor (and a lung specialist as necessary) as soon as possible. Engaging with sports media was also a great way to reach an intended target demographic of males aged 65+.
The Strategy: The following objectives were established to measure the campaign’s success: Website visits and registrations, traditional media reach, controlled media reach, social media reach/engagement and diagnosis rate.
To understand the needs, experiences and feelings of those with a personal connection to IPF, the team conducted the EXPLORE IPF survey among 100 IPF patients and 100 caregivers, all self-reported. The survey was led by a multidisciplinary Advisory Committee that included IPF thought leaders and advocates dedicated to addressing the unmet needs of the IPF community.
Key findings showed:
- The road to an IPF diagnosis is long and frustrating, typically 1-2 years. Over half of the cases are initially misdiagnosed as symptoms are commonly confused with similar diseases, such as COPD and asthma
- Patients and caregivers often begin the IPF journey with low awareness and understanding of the disease
- Once diagnosed, patients and caregivers found that there was an overall lack of information on disease and felt that more support and resources could help with the challenges associated with IPF
Based on the insights gathered, the team launched the Breathless campaign to raise awareness of IPF and its symptoms and empower those who think they or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms to talk to their doctor and seek early diagnosis and treatment. A corresponding website BreathlessIPF.com was launched to provide a central hub of information and resources about IPF.
The Execution: Breathless added Williams, whose father passed away from IPF in 2001, to the campaign roster in early 2017. Timed to baseball’s Opening Day, Bernie participated in a satellite media tour and two national days of media interviews, raising widespread IPF awareness through his personal story and a spreading message of hope. The campaign website was updated to include videos of Bernie and new resources and information about the disease that took his father’s life.
“Rather than utilizing traditional health-centric channels, as most rare disease campaigns do, Breathless opted to communicate via mainstream lifestyle and sports-centric outlets, exponentially increasing the reach of important campaign messaging and driving broad disease awareness,” explains Wynn. “With Bernie on our roster, the Breathless campaign successfully provided important information on IPF and educational resources to the public, and shared an inspiring message of hope.”
To maintain momentum from Bernie’s national PR push and reach a local audience of its target demographic and their adult caregivers, the firm partnered with four select Major League Baseball teams—the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox—on in-stadium game day activations, three of which were planned during Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Month (September).
“We partnered with each team on in-stadium game day activations and organized complementary traditional and social media pushes around the days, maximizing the reach of our efforts to a local audience of our target demographic. These four local markets were selected as targets as each city houses a Center of Excellence or medical center that is focused on developing and conducting clinical trials to advance research in IPF,” says Wynn.
The game day activations included a ceremony or stadium announcement, musical performances of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ or the national anthem by Bernie and a ‘meet and greet’ in-stadium kiosk. Breathless-branded materials like fact sheets and informational baseball cards were distributed at and around the games, and all efforts drove to the campaign website where visitors could learn more about IPF and opt-in to receive information from Boehringer Ingelheim about the campaign.
To amplify these efforts throughout the year, the team also deployed controlled media tactics, distributing a feature article and list-based article to print and online outlets nationwide, highlighting key campaign messages and showcasing Williams’ connection to the disease. “We coordinated media interviews—including in-booth radio and television interviews with sports broadcasters and local media—throughout the day and issued a robust social media calendar to amplify the efforts,” Wynn explains. “Conducting these surround-sound activities in partnership with the MLB teams provided a great story in each market and boosted local awareness efforts significantly.”
The Results: The campaign bridged the potentially wide gap between baseball and a rare lung disease, and the campaign’s unique outreach strategy proved successful, contributing to a nationwide increase in IPF diagnoses.
“Engaging Bernie Williams as spokesperson for Breathless was key to the campaign’s success. Bernie is a terrific advocate for IPF because of his deeply personal connection to the disease and dedication to honoring his father who passed away from IPF in 2001. Bernie’s personal story of watching his dad battle this disease helped him closely relate to the IPF community,” says Wynn.
The Boehringer Ingelheim analysis of the campaign showed a strong correlation between Breathless activities and an increased diagnosis rate nationally—not seen since late 2014, demonstrating the campaign’s success in achieving its driving objective.
The addition of Williams proved to be a homerun, as it afforded us an opportunity to reach millions of people with compelling IPF awareness messaging and drive the public to key information about the symptoms and management of this rare disease on BreathlessIPF.com.
- Website visits and engagements: 254,000 website visits with 400+ people registered to receive more information about the campaign, about 350 of whom also opted in to receive unbranded and branded information from BI about IPF and its FDA-approved product
- Traditional media reach: 133 million+ traditional media impressions through 71 original stories
- National launch: Secured coverage in top-tier and sports outlets including: Sports Illustrated, FOX & Friends, ESPN Radio, SiriusXM, WFAN Radio, NBC Sports Radio
- Local market MLB events: Secured coverage in top-tier and targeted local outlets including: Associated Press, Chicago Tribune, MLB.com, FOX Sports Sun, Rays Radio Network, NBC Sports, NY 1, Indians Radio Network
- Social media reach: 13 million+ social media impressions and 1 million+ social media engagements on Facebook and Twitter measured by the number of likes, comments, shares, reactions, clicks and retweets on each post
- Controlled media reach: 286K+ impressions and 2K+ placements
Secrets of Success: The Boehringer Ingelheim and Ogilvy team provide some insightful tips for other firms seeking similar success in their next campaign involving a celebrity spokesperson—demonstrating how Boehringer Ingelheim and Ogilvy won a Silver in Bulldog’s 2018 PR Awards:
- Establishing a relevant media hook is critical to obtaining mainstream consumer and sports media interest. “We strategically pitched Bernie and his Breathless campaign activities around baseball touchpoints (e.g., Opening Day), leveraging his connection to baseball while using it as a bridge for him to speak about his disease awareness efforts.”
- Involving real-life patients in campaign activities strengthens effectiveness of awareness efforts by providing a genuine and inspiring look at the disease. “We were honored to be able to include IPF patients in our activities, like having someone throw out the first pitch at one of the MLB games and appearing on field with Bernie during opening ceremonies. This allowed us to put a face to the disease for the public and deliver a truly powerful statement of hope.”
- Creative social media content drives greater audience engagement across channels, and the use of social media influencers provides significant amplification of messages and reach. “We developed a cohesive and visually interesting social media calendar that led to maximum audience engagement, further bolstered by influencers like MLB reporter Ken Rosenthal who shared posts about the campaign on additional channels.”
- Cross-agency collaboration and integration maximizes surround-sound impact of PR-based initiatives. “We worked closely with other agencies involved with the Breathless campaign (e.g., Wunderman, FCB) to ensure that our PR activities had coordinated advertising and website tie-ins to boost the campaign’s success. For instance, when Bernie appeared on Fox & Friends morning show to celebrate the Opening Day of the baseball season, we coordinated with FCB to place a .60 second advertisement during the program to reinforce the campaign messages and encourage people to visit BreathlessIPF.com.”