Public health marketing to shift to an ‘always on’ approach

Public Health England (PHE) is to move away from its annual big campaign bursts around events such as New Year to focus more on “always on” activity that will mean it can help people whenever they look to make healthier changes to their lifestyles.

Disney teamed up with Public Health England for its Change4Life campaign as part of its renewed push on healthy living

Speaking to Marketing Week, PHE’s marketing director Sheila Mitchell said the organisation is restructuring its team and recruiting more people that can create relevant content throughout the year. It is also looking to create bespoke digital tools to help people become healthier by, for example, moderating their alcohol intake or doing more physical activity.

The move follows a pilot last year during which it launched a number of initiatives including its “Couch to 5K app”, which encouraged people to go from doing no running to being able to run 5 kilometres in nine weeks. That app generated more than 250,000 downloads and proved the demand for tools that people can use whenever they feel the need, rather than being pushed through a big above the line campaign.

While PHE won’t move totally away from big brand campaigns, it is reallocating its budget (which has remained stable despite government cuts) to ensure it is reaching people at the right time.

“People can wake up any day and want to quit [smoking]. We have to look at how we are there with products and services, tools and the right content in the right place.”

Sheila Mitchell, marketing director, PHE

Social media is also critical to that strategy, with sites such as Facebook and Twitter providing a source of constant information to the public, as well as the opportunity for people to provide advice and support to each other.

“Facebook is a great support channel, you get lots of people helping each other. It is a facilitator for users to exchange tips and cajole each other along. Dry January was fantastic for people helping each other. But if people want to cut back on booze in January they don’t have to sign up for a big programme, they can just come and get help,” she said.

Mining data

PHE hopes to keep connected with people and promote its new “always on” tools and content by making better use of its data. It now has 5 million customers on its database but is only just starting to mine that, with help from its agency Ogilvy One.

The work involved profiling respondents and using that information in a “smarter way” to offer different products and cross-sell. It also wants to offer more personalised communications.

To do that PHE has added an eCRM strand to its marketing team. It has also expanded its intermediaries and partnerships team, putting marketers in each one of PHE’s nine regional centres to ensure greater marketing consistency but also so that PHE can learn from what might have worked at a more local level.

A new focus on adult health

Historically, Mitchell admits PHE has put its investment into areas such as childhood obesity and the big health issues such as cancer, smoking cessation. However she feels it has missed out on reaching the 40-60 age group.

With that in mind, PHE will launch a new brand focused on adult health that will launch with a marketing campaign in January. It will focus on preventing health issues by advising people to adopt a healthy diet, get their blood pressure checked or limit stress.

“This core age group has not had the investment we would have liked. With the publishing of the NHS five year review and prevention so critical, we need to talk to this age group, tell them what they should be doing that it isn’t too late and that they can make changes now.

“We have never packaged behaviours up and tried to capture people’s attention and engage with them.

PHE has also only put its “toe in the water” in engaging with people aged 11-13 and how it can “instil a confidence to say no” to, for example, taking up smoking or drinking. It has a programme, called “Rise Above”, which is digitally based but has only been quietly running.

PHE is now looking to work with more partners on this having just signed a deal with MTV and wants to up investment and effort in this area. It is also looking at how it can develop its relationship with tech partners in terms of getting its message out.

“We want to build resilience in them to say no to certain things. The foundation of the theory is that if we can get kids to talk among themselves but with an informed person in the mix we can build knowledge and resilience,” she said.

Mitchell said it has seen huge success with campaigns such as “Clear On Cancer”, “Change4Life” and “Dementia Friends”, all of which have “captured the popular imagination”. She said Change4Life in particular has driven behaviour change, pointing to a reduction in sales of carbonated drinks.