Division A - Public Relations Programs
Category 4 - Public Information
2006 Heart on the Hill Media Event, American Heart Association
Jay Schleuning, Suzanne Grant, Nikole Souder-Schale

Judges' Award

Research/Situation Analysis: Childhood obesity has reached epic proportions in the United States. The Journal of the American Medical Association says about 16 percent of all children and teens in the U.S. are overweight, which is almost four times as many as in 1965. A Florida Youth Risk Behavior Survey taken in 2003 revealed that the percentage of overweight children in the Sunshine State has more than doubled, and the percentage of overweight adolescents has tripled in the last 30 years. Studies done through formal research show that atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, can begin during childhood, and is much more likely in overweight children. The Bogalusa Heart Study of 2004 suggests that overweight children are more likely to have abnormally thick heart muscle tissue when they become adults, which increases their risk of heart attack and heart failure. The American Heart Association recommends that children who are age 2 and older should get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, and at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity 3 – 4 times a week. Despite those recommendations, according to a 2003 Florida Youth Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey, a third of Florida’s middle school students and more than half of the state’s high school students do not have a single physical education class during the week. The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 required all federally funded schools in the country to have written wellness and physical education policies in place. The American Heart Association wanted to take things a step further, working with state lawmakers to design the Student Health Promotion Act. It was designed to help Florida parents become more engaged in their children’s health by requiring each school to submit their written policies to the state Department of Education, post those policies on their district’s web site, review those policies once a year, and provide an opportunity for public input and revisions each year. The American Heart Association’s marketing department was asked to design a media event at Heart on the Hill, the organization’s annual state lobby day, which would kick off a campaign targeting both parents and lawmakers.

Objectives: Increase statewide awareness of the Student Health Promotion Act by kicking off the campaign with a Heart on the Hill media event designed to 1) generate a minimum of one placement in at least 5 of the 10 main media markets in Florida, and 2) generate at least 500,000 statewide media impressions.

Implementation: Since legislative sessions are so busy, there’s a great deal of competition for news coverage at lobby days. Our challenge was to design an event that offered reporters both a story of substance and an interesting video/photo opportunity. We contacted American Heart Association volunteers and staff members across the state, looking for a compelling survivor story that would illustrate the childhood obesity epidemic in Florida. Indya Pittman, a 21-year-old college student from Jacksonville, had spent her 20th birthday lying in a hospital intensive care unit, listening to a doctor ask her mother if she’d made plans for her daughter’s funeral. At the time, she weighed 590 pounds, and required a wheelchair and oxygen for daily living. But when we met her, she’d spent the last year eating a healthy diet and exercising. Indya had lost 170 pounds, and become a passionate advocate for our campaign to fight childhood obesity. She would be perfect for our news event. We also arranged to have students from our Jump Rope for Heart and Hoops for Heart program at Killearn Lakes Elementary School in Tallahassee demonstrate their skills and the importance of physical activity outside The Capitol. They would perform several routines during the event, and finish their performance by jumping rope with State Senator Lee Constantine (R-Altamonte Springs) and State Representative Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood), co-sponsors of the Student Health Promotion Act. A media advisory was sent out, and individual pitches were made to reporters in-person, via email, and by phone.

Evaluation: The news event was a significant success. Several reporters said it was the most interesting news conference they’d been to during the session. Six media organizations attended, which 1) generated at least 12 placements in 8 of the 10 main media markets in Florida (Tampa, Miami, Orlando, West Palm Beach, Pensacola, Tallahassee, Panama City, Gainesville), and 2) generated at least 924,089 media impressions. This does not include a placement on The Florida Channel, which feeds to 46 public TV stations and cable channels in 26 counties across the state, and a placement on Florida’s Radio Networks, which feeds to 56 commercial AM and FM radio stations across the state. Media impressions were not available for those placements.

Budget: Our expenses included $500.00 for audiovisual services, $145.20 for Indya Pittman’s mileage, $140.00 for her hotel room, $40.00 for her food, and $20.00 for media kit supplies. This brings the total to $845.20, which is a small investment for the statewide awareness that was generated through all the media coverage we received. It helped educate the public about the Student Health Promotion Act that was ultimately passed by legislators and signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush.