Case Study: Health Care Issues Management

Client: American Medical Association

Objective: In 1999, the AMA wanted to try to change its image from that of an association confined within a glass and steel structure in Chicago to that of an activist organization, in touch with the grassroots and advocating on behalf of patients and their physicians.

Strategy: In consultation with an outside agency, we created a “shadow campaign” to the 2000 Presidential election, the AMA’s National House Call. The name of the campaign capitalized on the time-honored tradition of physicians treating their patients at home but giving it an advocacy-related twist.

After taking AMA leaders on a “listening tour” to meet with patients, physicians and hospital personnel, we launched the national campaign with a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

We then traveled to the early primary and caucus states driving large RVs emblazoned with AMA logos and messages, handing out brochures at major candidates’ rallies and speeches, asking supporters to urge their candidates to address pressing healthcare issues, placing ads in local newspapers, and meeting with local media. Pete Friedmann was co-manager of this campaign.

Results: The National House Call earned outstanding local media coverage through print and broadcast news stories, “live” and recorded interviews on radio and television, and editorials published by newspapers following AMA meetings with the respective papers’ editorial boards. The campaign became the AMA’s most successful and visible advocacy communications vehicle. When the first phase of the campaign ended on 2000’s Super Tuesday primary election day, the National House Call became a boilerplate approach to ongoing outreach efforts, driving the nation’s top health care issues into public debate at the state and federal levels.

By the time the National House Call wound down in 2008, teams of AMA spokespersons and support staff had made more than 780 appearances in 175 cities, visiting 35 states and the District of Columbia. Campaign elements continued to include meetings with local patients, physicians and elected officials, radio and newspaper advertising, radio news releases, radio media tours, town hall meetings and rallies, interviews and news conferences. Issues addressed included Medicare physician payments, liability reform, patients’ rights and tobacco prevention and cessation.