Evaluating Public Relations Practice

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Evaluating Public Relations Practice


Public relation practice has undergone tremendous change in the recent years with emerging technology and media influence. Stakeholder power in public relation has now increased with improved communication methods among groups of stakeholders (Van der Merwe, Pitt & Abratt, 2005). Public relation campaigns make use of media to communicate messages to a large population with an intention to bring about a positive outcome or change (Weiss & Tschirhart, 1994). These campaigns may be to propagate a social awareness, dealing with health issues, technology development etc. Some of the common campaigns conducted are to educate common public about importance of recycling, breast feeding, mammography, healthy food consumption etc. The rationale of these campaigns is usually to improve social well being of individuals, families, better living conditions, establish law and order and such. Most often, campaigns use several modules to communicate the message like distribution of pamphlets, processions, conducting workshops, putting up stalls, television, social media etc. Very rarely do campaigns use solely media as their communication channel and in such cases it is more of a marketing stunt that a genuine campaign (Balch & Sutton, 1997). Using various modes of communication would have far reach than using only media and reaching out to people should be both interpersonal as well as community-based to anticipate best outcome (Dungan-Seaver, 1999).

A societal revamping is required to solve social problems; changing attitude, refraining from harmful habits, changing individuals’ way of life and adding value to living (Kotler & Roberto, 1989). Along with various developments, social and environmental issues are increasing. Governments and people throughout the world are keen on organizing, managing and controlling changes (Helen, 2006).

Campaign for Social Change: Syphillis

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2004) declared that in order to eliminate syphilis improved biomedical methods of treatment along with co-operation of community through effective public awareness campaigns is essential. Syphilis awareness campaigns have been held in the past and the outcome has been productive. Waugh (1990) and Aral (1990) observed that a penicillin treatment decreased the incidence of syphilis but did not eliminate it following which a syphilis campaign was launched in 1948 Causse and Meheus, 1988). The campaign in addition to treatment efforts diminished syphilis infection by 1956. This sexually transmitted infection however has an epidemic nature and continues to be a problem to public health. Public officials believe that syphilis campaigns should be focused on populations that are predisposed to the infection based on epidemiologic data (Yzer et al., 2000). Change in lifestyle has made syphilis infection is common among men who have sex with men (MSM) and the campaigns should also target this section of the community (CDC, 2002).

The core purpose of a social marketing campaign is to propagate a message or awareness to the target audience to establish desired changes in the society for global well-being (Rice & Atkin, 1989). This attempt encompasses usage of media, messages and images (Kotler & Roberto, 1989).

Objectives of campaign

Substantial part of a communication campaign planning is systematically enlisting the communication objectives. On a broad base, objectives of campaigns is to (a) create awareness, (b) changing or stressing on an attitude, (c) transforming a behavior to another, (d) establishing relationship. Each of these campaign objectives is planned based on desired outcome and the order of the objectives is in order of priority (Ferguson, 1999).

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) which may cause other STIs such as HIV and the incidence is increasing among MSM. The objectives of the campaign were based on these facts.

  • 1. To increase awareness about STIs among MSMs
  • 2. To emphasize on safe sex practice
  • 3. To promote regular health checkups for STIs such as syphilis
  • 4. To ensure clinical practitioners have adequate knowledge and capacity to prevent syphilis

Key tactical Communication channels

Social marketing has been employed for propagating social cause and behavioral change for many decades now (Kotler & Zaltman, 1971). US has employed social marketing to promote awareness about syphilis in several cities.

The first two steps are the key steps in organizing any campaign which is deciding the objectives and performing a market research (formative evaluation) of the issue and the same was done for the Syphilis campaign as well. In the market research step, information is collated from different sources such as past epidemiologic studies and physicians to decide the target audience based on the group of people that is most prone to the infection. In order to run a successful campaign organizers in each city conducted a formative evaluation not only to determine the target group but also to understand their requirements, behavior of people and ways to reach the focus group (Leiss et al., 1990). In addition, a pilot project was carried out in each city to ensure that data collected based on market research coincides with real time situation. A variety of approaches were used including community mapping, ethnographic studies and identification of places frequently visited by target audience.


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Different campaigning approaches and channels were used in different cities to accommodate the sentiments of people of specific communities and ensure that the message is well received. In this way, the formative evaluation and pre-campaign was useful. For example, the assessment for specific needs and case-control study conducted in New York city clearly suggested the MSM population were frustrated with government’s repeated awareness programs on Syphilis, HIV and other associated STIs. Accordingly, the Department of Health (DOH) was persuaded to run a generalized campaign focusing on men’s health. On the other hand, MSM group in Houston were less informed about syphilis and its symptoms where the campaign adopted a more specific and direct approach with the tag line: “You think it always hurts to pee when you have an STD? Think again!”

Most of the cities used posters and television in common. Atlanta health service resorted to an audio means through ‘Radio One’ channel based on their assessment of radio listeners. Public service announcements were made through this channel due to its popularity and number of regular listeners.

In Los Angeles, along with other means, a cartoon image was used called ‘Phil the Sore’, short for ‘Syphilis the Sore’ to propagate the message that syphilis can spread HIV. Later the ‘Phil’ character was updated with a company – HIV image standing with ‘Phil’ behind a lectern. Usage of cartoon became a popular method and well received throughout this campaign. Participants of the campaign assumed that they were tested for all STD infections in addition to AIDS and there was an unfavorable reaction. So, Los Angeles campaign was furthered with public service announcements on television and proceeded with the campaign targeting MSM group.

The ‘Healthy Penis’ cartoon concept popularized in San Francisco in 2002 followed by an outreach program by workers dressed in outfits like the Syphilis Sore and Healthy Penis. A website was also launched to promote the message. In addition, a chocolate image of the ‘Healthy Penis’ was introduced.

The target group in Florida included Caucasians, Latinos and Creoles. Population belonging to these ethnicities was found to attend circuit parties; hence palm cards were distributed at such circuit parties as the Winter Party where an assured large gathering could be found.

Table 2. List of commercially available membranes for GTR/GBR applications.

The different communication methods used and their overall success percentage are depicted in Table 1.

Documentary evidence - the target audience

The focus group chosen were men who have sex with men (MSM) since the incidence of syphilis among this group of people was high and on the rise. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals were targeted for this campaign. In some cities, where the people were tired of hearing slogans and preaching about MSM, the campaign targeted men in general. Target population was based on epidemiological studies conducted. Places where MSM groups are populous were chosen and analysis on the right persuasion method was done.

Persuasion Methods

Various persuasion methods were used as discussed above including billboards, processions, public displays, advertising through media, websites etc. This assignment focuses on cartoons and website.

Usage of cartoons:

The ‘healthy penis’ theme (Figure 1) employed was found to be very successful since it attracted maximum attention for its humor and the message was conveyed at the same time. These cartoon strips were designed to communicate specific messages like (i) promoting periodic testing of syphilis; (ii) impart the core issue that is increase of syphilis infection in MSM groups, (iii) provide information on symptoms and (iv) prevention of the disease and publicize that syphilis infection can increase risk of HIV infection. For one and a half years, the campaign focused on all these messages. Later on, the communication was mainly on ‘getting tested’ along with tiny boxes of message at the bottom of the cartoon to convey ways of transmission of the infection.

The cartoon strips came out in a bi-monthly magazine published which was popular in a gay inhabited area. These cartoons were also blown up to poster size and posted in public places like bars, streets, places of commercial sex practice, bus shelters and bus hoardings. In addition these cartoon strips were also made into banners and posted on popular dating websites.

Promotion through Website (www.stopthesores.org):

Three Websites were launched to promote syphilis awareness messages. The website provides more details and clear information about transmission, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of syphilis infection. The website address was propagated through billboards, posters, cartoon strips, palm cards etc. A page has been dedicated to ‘frequently asked questions’ where people could get answers for common misconceptions. Facilitators of the campaign posted all advertisements and cartoons of the campaign on the website which ensured a global reach. The website is still active and serves as an informative platform to date.


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