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Volume VII, Number 1, Winter 2001
Issue Topic: Strategic Communications
Sarah Brown, Director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, describes the unique way in which the Campaign has enlisted the support of “unusual suspects” in its efforts to improve child well-being and reduce child poverty.
Despite recent encouraging declines, the rates of teen pregnancy and birth in this country remain very troubling. Every year, almost one million teenage girls become pregnant, with four in ten girls experiencing at least one pregnancy before age 20. The teen pregnancy and birth rates in the United States are the highest of any fully industrialized nation. Simply put, too many young people are having babies they are ill-prepared to raise—a burden that limits their ability to participate fully in American life and places their children at greater risk from the beginning.
With this sobering backdrop, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy was organized in 1996 by a diverse group of individuals who concluded that reducing the nation's rate of teen pregnancy was one of the most strategic and direct means available to improve child well-being and reduce persistent child poverty. In an effort to provide a benchmark against which progress could be measured, the Campaign set a specific goal of reducing the teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. by one-third by 2005. To achieve its objectives, the Campaign adopted a two part strategy: (1) Building a more coordinated and effective grassroots movement by working with states and local communities and (2) influencing cultural values and messages by working with the entertainment media, parents, faith communities, teens and others.
The first strategy centers on working with people in states and communities. We provide research and data they can use in their programs or coalitions and direct technical assistance through site visits and regional conferences. We give them new ideas and contacts and help them find effective ways to reduce teen pregnancy in their unique settings. The second strategy is more visible and highly-leveraged, involving a broad scale effort to influence social norms primarily through the entertainment media viewed by teens and their parents. Our rationale for targeting the entertainment media is based on a straightforward idea: no small non-profit group—or even large non-profit—will ever have the resources to communicate its core ideas powerfully and frequently enough to its target audiences through the usual method of programs and pamphlets. The problem of teen pregnancy is simply too big and diverse. Therefore, enlisting the help of entertainment media is essential to conveying important ideas often to an audience that is paying close attention.
It's fine to work with states and communities to make their efforts more research-based, more media savvy, more tolerant of differing views and diverse in the types of remedies offered. But doing so will be a hollow exercise if the entire culture, especially popular teen culture, is sending kids messages that getting pregnant at a young age is no big deal, that having sex rarely has consequences and that parents can't do anything about their children's sexual attitudes and behavior. Although the media cannot solve the problem of teen pregnancy alone, we know that we can't solve it without them.
The Campaign's Approach and Organization
The Campaign's overall approach at both the national and local levels is distinctive. We are non-ideological and have worked hard to reduce the conflict that too often has impeded action on this issue. Second, we rely extensively on high-quality research to inform everything we do. And third, we are working in highly-leveraged ways with some of the most powerful individuals and organizations in the country to change young people's lives.
The Campaign's organization is also unique. In the five years since it was established, the National Campaign has assembled a distinguished Board of Directors, many of whom might fairly be seen as “outsiders” in the world of adolescent reproductive health (i.e. John E. Pepper, Chairman, Board of Directors, Procter & Gamble Company, Stephen W. Sanger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, General Mills, Inc., and Bruce Rosenblum, Executive Vice President, Television, Warner Brothers). This diverse Board reflects the Campaign's strong belief that, if this country is to make real progress in reducing rates of adolescent pregnancy, we must involve more than just the “usual suspects.”
Additionally, the Campaign has:
The Campaign's Media Program
We will focus here on our media programs which are centered on helping the entertainment media to be part of the solution to high levels of teen pregnancy. Our goal is to integrate prevention messages into the popular media as a way to reinforce the messages that young people are hearing in local prevention programs, in schools and from their parents—and in some cases as a way to introduce the topic to those who may not hear about it any other way. We know from public opinion polling and other research that, although teens prefer to hear about sex and pregnancy prevention from their parents, they most often learn about it from the media. While entertainment media leaders do not see themselves as teachers, many do understand the enormous potential they have to educate, deliver helpful messages and shape behavior.
Since the Campaign's beginning, the number of media partners with whom we work has increased exponentially. We estimate that, since the Campaign's inception, we have worked with over 53 media partners and are actively working with 27 of them. We believe that the primary reason for this growth is that we offer a variety of messages about preventing teen pregnancy—from encouraging abstinence among young teens to offering frank advice about contraception to showcasing good parent-child communication. We also work hard to find new and interesting angles on the issue so that we remain relevant in their view. Most importantly, our solid grounding in research and the inclusion of teenagers' views and voices keeps what we are doing fresh and interesting to our media partners. They, in turn, deliver the information to their audiences through their programs, magazines, and Web sites in their own style, language, and format.
The primary way we engage media leaders is to offer briefings to key editors, script writers, and producers. We gain access to these key people through introductions arranged by members of the Campaign's media task force and Board. These briefings are carefully tailored for the specific show or magazine meeting with us. Such sessions are typically followed by additional informal communication as the writers develop ideas, ask questions and need data. Over the past three years, we held 62 briefings for individual shows and magazines; these have resulted in our messages appearing in programs and magazines that reach more than 250 million viewers and readers nationwide. For example, Teen People, a top-rated teen magazine with a circulation of eight million teens per month and our partner since its inception in 1998, has run six editorial features on issues related to teen pregnancy in 2000 alone. The magazine's November, 2000, issue, for example, featured the winners of our second annual public service advertising contest for teens, and winning entries were made into postcards and distributed nationwide. In June, Teen People editors hosted the opening session of our Youth Leadership Team meeting and in May, the magazine included an excerpt from Voices Carry, a Campaign publication that the magazine's 7000 teen “trendspotters” helped develop. In its year-end issue, Teen People identified teen pregnancy as the top issue of 2000.
Although influencing the content of media will continue to comprise the majority of the Campaign's media work, with the help of Ogilvy & Mather, a worldwide leader in advertising, we have developed a number of public service announcements that serve to draw attention to the issue, reinforce the messages in the content of other media, make teen pregnancy more relevant to those segments of teens and adults who are not thinking about it, and give the Campaign a useful, creative tool for communicating with young people, in particular, in language that resonates with them.
The Campaign's new PSA campaign for teens, Sex Has Consequences, was launched nationwide in October, 2000, with ads, developed by Ogilvy & Mather that are part of an overall effort to last for the next three- to five years. The first phase of this effort is a hard-hitting series of print ads that reach teens in familiar language, with a peer-to-peer perspective, in a non-judgmental and realistic way. Rather than offering more information about how to avoid pregnancy, our PSAs aim to reach teens at the deepest emotional level, to motivate them to want to prevent pregnancy. Our intent was to create something different, bolder and more direct than other ad campaigns on teen pregnancy prevention have been. These ads cut through the clutter of the teen media environment and get the attention of young people who often do not have pregnancy prevention on their minds at all. While somewhat controversial among adults, the ads have tested extremely well among teen boys and girls from a variety of ethnic, economic, and geographic backgrounds in formal and informal focus groups, as well as with our Youth Leadership Team. In extensive focus group testing of the concepts and executions, young people affirmed that these ads accomplish our goal: sparking conversations among teens about the consequences of sex and helping them consider reasons to avoid pregnancy. Samples may be viewed on the Campaign's Web site (see below).
The Ad Council has distributed the ads to its list of 8,000 magazines and newspapers with information on how the publications can place the ads pro bono. Several teen publications, including Teen People, MH-18, The Source, Cosmo Girl, Vibe, and Electronic Gaming Monthly are providing free placements in their publications. The ads have also been featured on several websites including Zaphealth.com, Ricki.com, and Oxygen Media's network of sites. Postcard versions of the ads have also been distributed nationwide in Tower Record stores and on 75 college campuses.
Future Campaign Evaluation
An important part of the Campaign's future is to evaluate the impact of its work. From the beginning, it has been interested in continuously assessing whether it is making a difference. To this end, the Campaign collects performance measures for each organizational program area on a quarterly basis. We also collect feedback on specific activities within program areas such as our regional technical assistance conferences, and our new public service advertisements (currently being evaluated). In addition, through our ongoing relationship with the Harvard Business School (which recently prepared a case study about the Campaign) and our growing relationship with McKinsey and Company's new nonprofit consulting branch, the Campaign continues to be at the forefront of nonprofits attempting to evaluate their work.