Best Use of Media Relations
This was a story that owned a global news cycle and created real change to Government policy, resulting in serious discussion about the food chain. This campaign took the issue well beyond health influencers and into the mainstream. An excellent example of outstanding media relations.
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Brief and objectives:
United European Gastroenterology (UEG) is a non-profit organisation combining all of the leading European societies concerned with digestive health. UEG host an annual congress, attended by over 12,000 people which serves as a premier venue for academics to present their latest research in gastroenterology. UEG and its members have made it their mission to influence Public Health Policy at the EU level and to provide policy makers with the evidence they require to make informed decisions and changes.
UEG briefed Spink to implement a media relations strategy to:
- Raise UEG’s profile to be recognised as the leading authority on digestive health in Europe
- Establish political influence and impact upon public health policy at the EU level.
The idea, research and planning:
On a modest budget of £20k, Spink had to think smart. A decision was made to use upcoming research as the catalyst for the project. Every year, thousands of abstracts are submitted for presentation at the UEG congress, which reveal the latest findings in digestive health. Spink reviewed the submissions to identify the most impactful and relevant study presented at UEG week.
Strategy, tactics, creativity and innovation:
Spink eventually uncovered a significant and topical study that they believed to be the research they needed to captivate a European audience.
Through knowledge of the rising political relevance of the use of plastics, a novel piece of research on an assessment of microplastic concentrations in human stools was selected to be the media focus for UEG Week 2018. Plastic production across Europe has doubled since 1989 and it is estimated that, through pollution, up to 5% of all plastics end up in the sea.
Whilst studies are increasingly demonstrating the damaging effect of plastics on marine wildlife, there is a lack of evidence and research in the effects of plastic consumption on human health. As the suspected primary route of plastics in humans is likely to be through the digestive system, the gastrointestinal community is therefore responsible for supplying research to establish whether plastic exists in the human gut and its effect on our health, providing evidence to influence political action.
The research identified through Spink’s review process demonstrated the first evidence of microplastics in human stools from participants across the globe, including seven European countries. Along with the lead author of the study, Spink worked closely with the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria to develop press collateral to engage with pan-European and global media outlets.
With a key vote to ban the use of single-use plastics taking place in EU Parliament in October 2018, Spink embargoed the press collateral one day prior to the vote to maximise influence among parliamentarians.
Spink created a campaign to generate significant noise through direct political engagement and various media channels, including social, traditional and national TV, in order to gain the attention of the European Parliament and raise UEG’s profile.
To target local journalists in Austria and press members interested in digestive health, an embargoed press briefing was held onsite at the UEG Week congress, a day before the full media launch, which gave onsite press an exclusive opportunity to glean first-hand information on the research and ask the lead author any queries they had.
Measurement and evaluation:
A record breaking 120 journalists attended UEG Week, all receiving press packs with the new research as well as an opportunity to attend the press briefing from the lead researcher. This, together with the pan-European media relations drive, delivered over 800 media articles across 52 countries (27 in Europe), on the day the embargo was lifted.
The story reached the front pages of national newspapers across the globe, as well as consumer broadcast media television and radio stations, resulting in an ‘opportunities to see’ figure of over 5.7 billion, raising UEG’s profile globally. As the news spread across the world, the public began to show their support – The Guardian feature, for example, was shared more than 40,000 times on Facebook and Twitter. On Google Trends, the worldwide interest for ‘microplastics’ was at a value of 100, demonstrating higher public interest in the term than ever before. High-profile influencers also shared the news, including presenter of BBC One’s documentary, ‘Drowning in Plastic’, Liz Bonnin.
In addition to dominating global headlines, the news was shared by a range of political parties and Members of European Parliament. This included MEP Frédérique Ries (rapporteur of the upcoming parliamentary vote and Member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety) and the ‘Greens – European Free Alliance’ European Parliament Group, representing 52 MEPs from across the continent. As media coverage and political commentary continued to flow throughout the launch day, news came in that MEPs in the European Parliament overwhelmingly approved the ban (571-53) on single-use plastics in Europe by 2021.
News on the vote and retrospective ban, including articles in The New York Times, Forbes (USA) and the Mail Online (UK) highlighted how opportune the announcement was and demonstrated the influence of the story on MEPs. “The vote came a day after scientists in Austria revealed they have detected tiny bits of plastic in people’s stool – proof populations are effectively ‘eating plastic’.” Daily Mail Key stakeholder organisations also issued responses relating to the story, including the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Their statement included: “Today the Daily Mail and Metro have front page splashes on new research which has shown that sources of microplastics have been found in people’s guts. The UK is committed to being a global leader in tackling the issue of plastic pollution, making great strides to tackle the plastic that blights our streets, rivers and oceans.”
Budget and campaign impact:
Due to its widespread coverage across the globe, not only did this influence a vote on single-use plastics across Europe, this new evidence of microplastics in the human food chain is now used in many parliamentary documents, press releases and statements, putting UEG on the map with a modest budget of £20,000.