September 30, 2014
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December 30, 2011

Porter Novelli Campaign for California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Raises Awareness for Online Therapist-Search Tool

By: Jim Bucci

Each year, nearly one in five U.S. adults — which amounts to more than 45 million people — will experience some form of mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In California alone, this means 7.4 million adults suffer from mental illness. Due to the stigma and embarrassment often associated with mental health problems, many of these millions of people fail receive the professional help they need.

Research showed that happiness in general might be harder to come by for residents of the Golden State, further complicating matters for Californians with mental illness. According to a study by the University of Warwick and Hamilton College, California ranked at the bottom of the list of the happiest states in the U.S.

All of this data represented an opportunity for California's marriage and family therapists, who can play a significant role in helping to treat mental illness. To define and raise awareness for their expertise in treating mental illness and to help Californians find marriage and family therapists in their area, The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) retained Porter Novelli to lead a media relations campaign.

The aim of the program, named "California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists for Good Health = Healthy Californians," would be to increase the profile of its member marriage and family therapists, elevate awareness of the mental health issues marriage and family therapists treat and publicize the free online therapist-finding tool,

"Our strategy was to leverage and localize timely, relevant news and national events to earn media attention," explains Porter Novelli account supervisor Tricia Whittemore. "We needed to be nimble and quickly capitalize on newsworthy topics by offering the first resource for the media."

The Strategy: Raise awareness of marriage and family therapists and the free online therapist-finding tool Porter Novelli took a targeted approach, placing an increased focus on California's largest media markets, in addition to those with previous success. In particular, the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles were the campaign's top targets, providing the ability to reach a broader audience with each placement earned.

Based on Porter Novelli research, the campaign's target audience of prospective therapy clients would be women over 40 with a household income of $75,000.

Porter Novelli team members leveraged and localized timely, relevant news and national events to earn media attention, highlighting as a leading resource for mental health information.

In order the drive interest in the campaign, Porter Novelli proposed a new feature in the association's newsletter, The Therapist. A new "Members in the Media" article would promote media placements secured by the team, while encouraging other members to submit their own placements. This would also serve as a recruitment tool to help "build the bench" of media representatives for future media opportunities.

The Challenge: Have spokespersons at the ready when opportunities with the media arise. One of the campaign's biggest challenges to overcome was having an available spokesperson when media opportunities surfaced. "Since our spokespersons were all practicing therapists with their own private practices and patients, scheduling was a logistical nightmare, especially when trying to coordinate quick-turnaround media interviews," says Whittemore.

In addition, Porter Novelli faced a shrinking news-hole and the fact that numerous California outlets—the campaign's media targets—had cut staff on beats, such as the important health/mental health beat. These outlets now turned to The Associated Press or other major outlets for their news.

"This reduced the number of pitchable outlets our team could target and increased the competition to capture the attention of the remaining mental health reporters," offers Whittemore.

Given the challenges of securing media placements in such large markets, the PR team would need to increasingly capitalize on news-of-the-day opportunities and develop fresh pitches that these media outlets had not seen before.

The Results: Campaign for "Good Health = Healthy Californians" earns important media placements in key regional publications. The campaign earned 171 media placements, including 52 media placements in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. The highlight of the campaign was a story in The Bay Area News Group, the owner of multiple Bay Area newspapers and media outlets. The Porter Novelli team pitched a story on teens taking risks and how parents can determine appropriate risk-taking and what is dangerous, which resulted in the story published in 19 Bay Area News Group outlets. The outlets included The San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Alameda Times Star, Tri-Valley Herald, San Mateo Country Times, and The Oakland Tribune, as well as coverage on

"Despite the challenges we faced, the team secured 171 media placements, exceeding our goal by 90 percent—all within a very limited budget," offers Whittemore.

Secrets of Success: Read on as Whittemore offers more tips and explains why this campaign won Gold in Best Not-for-Profit/Association/Government Campaign at the 2011 Bulldog Awards for Excellence in Media Relations & Publicity.

  • Be a resource for the media. "Even if a story wasn't a perfect fit for us, we provided information for the reporter to cultivate the relationship and set the stage for future media placements," she explains.
  • Stay plugged into the news. "Read the news, every day," she advises. "Our team was able to respond quickly to newsworthy stories by being the first to offer a source to our target reporters because we were on top of what was being covered in the media."
  • Use studies and research as a news hook. "We earned a number of great placements by leveraging surveys that were released and providing an expert to comment," she shares.
  • Develop a lengthy roster of media-trained experts. "Building a deep bench of spokespersons also contributed to our success," she says. "Because it was so difficult to secure spokespersons for media opportunities, we media trained a number of therapists so that we had more people to go to when an opportunity arose and a better chance of being able to provide a spokesperson. This resulted in being able to fulfill more media requests and secure more placements."
  • Be strategic in your media outreach. "Since we knew that securing a story with The Bay Area News Group would result in several placements in area papers, we dedicated more time to cultivating that relationship and developing pitch angles that would appeal to the reporter's typical coverage, rather than spending a lot of time pitching outlets that would result in just one placement," she says.

Winner's Profile: Porter Novelli is a public relations firm that is part of Omnicom Group. The agency specializes in crisis management, healthcare, technology, corporate affairs, consumer marketing and more. The company has approximately 100 offices in 60 countries.


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