Public Relations

August 17, 2009

He makes his living as a cardiothoracic surgeon, but Dr. William Cooper, medical director of cardiovascular surgery at WellStar Kennestone hospital in Marietta, GA, is on a mission-to put himself out of business. He'd like nothing better than to have the ability to eliminate, or at the very least greatly reduce, the need for patients to see him.

"When you get to me, you really don't want to buy what I'm selling," the heart surgeon told an audience of 90 congressional staffers, supplement industry executives, and others during a Congressional Dietary Supplement Caucus briefing luncheon. The event, called The Habits of Highly Healthy People: Personalizing Healthcare Reform, took place on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in early June.

As the nation waits for Congress to turn its attention toward fixing a healthcare system that many believe is broken, Cooper has a simple but important message about healthcare reform: "Healthcare reform will happen in this country when you and I change our habits to be healthier."

Cooper is passionate about prevention, about people taking personal responsibility for healthcare reform. As a daily dietary supplement consumer of fiber, omega-3 fish oils, and a multivitamin, he recommends that people start by making changes in their own lives. He'd like to see them engage in the kinds of healthy habits that focus on wellness, rather than sick care; specifically, healthy eating, taking dietary supplements responsibly, and being physically active.

Cooper is a spokesman for the Council for Responsible Nutrition's (CRN; Washington, DC) growing public relations campaign, named Life...supplemented. Launched in September 2007, the consumer-wellness educational initiative is designed to teach people about the role of dietary supplements in a healthy lifestyle. It also teaches them how to make simple lifestyle changes to achieve good health.

For example, as the campaign embarks on its third year this summer, it will focus on motivating Americans to become what the program calls AlphaWells, instead of WannabeWells. (AlphaWells and WannabeWells are creative terms coined by CRT/Tanaka, the public relations agency that developed the Life...supplemented campaign for CRN.)

According to CRN, AlphaWells are individuals who are extremely proactive and meticulous about their overall health and well-being. WannabeWells are individuals who have good intentions for maintaining their health. They want to be well, but despite their efforts to live a healthy lifestyle, they don't always follow through.

The Web site, www.lifesupplemented.org, is the campaign's centerpiece. More than 25,000 people have completed the Web site's interactive wellness-assessment scorecard, called My Wellness Scorecard. The scorecard prompts visitors to answer 36 questions about the healthy-or not so healthy-lifestyle choices they are making, including choices regarding their diet, use of dietary supplements, and physical activity.

The My Wellness Scorecard then assigns each individual a label: AlphaWell, Well, WannabeWell, or OhWell. It also provides visitors with tips about how to improve their health. For instance, if a woman is not getting enough calcium in her diet through food alone, the scorecard may suggest that she consider taking a calcium supplement.

According to CRN, the campaign was designed to help people take notice of their wellness regimens and to discover ways to improve their habits. It also educates people about the role that supplements can play in filling nutritional gaps and lifestyle needs.

While one side of the Life...supplemented campaign focuses on consumers, the other turns its eye toward the wellness of the dietary supplement industry itself. The campaign first got off the ground following a series of negative articles and television stories that angered many dietary supplement companies about the way that the supplement industry was being portrayed. Judy Blatman, senior vice president of communications for CRN, whose duties include overseeing execution of the Life...supplemented campaign, says, "Companies came to CRN and said, 'We need to do something.' We responded with a proactive, responsible public relations effort that truly defines the important role that dietary supplements play in a culture of wellness. What I love about this effort is that it enables us to go beyond just being reactive in the press and with consumers, so that we're not just playing someone else's game. We're taking proactive steps to define the industry and the value our products offer consumers."

To finance the campaign, 35 companies ranging in type from dietary supplement manufacturers and ingredient suppliers to retailers, contributed funding in the campaign's first two years alone. Five steering committee companies-BASF Corp. (Florham Park, NJ), Bayer Corp. (Morristown, NJ), DSM Nutritional Products Inc. (Parsippany, NJ), NBTY Inc. (Ronkonkoma, NY), and Pharmavite LLC (Northridge, CA)-directed the campaign strategy. As the campaign approaches its third anniversary, fund-raising is nearing the $3 million mark.

Jim Flaherty, senior vice president of advertising at NBTY, wasn't initially convinced that the Life...supplemented campaign would work. However, he is now one of its biggest supporters. He urges other companies, both CRN and non-CRN members, to get on board. "It's not always easy for public relations campaigns to demonstrate results, but this is a campaign where the results are real, tangible, and definitely building. There's so much momentum with Life...supplemented right now. It's exciting to see the directions the campaign is going in. We need more companies to step up to the plate to contribute whatever they can."

One of the campaign components that has generated the most interest is the Life...supplemented Healthcare Professionals Impact Study. The study surveyed general physicians, nurses, and specialty physicians on their usage of and attitudes toward dietary supplements. Next, the study will survey nurse practitioners, pharmacists, registered dietitians, and perhaps even dentists.

"We know that consumers rely on doctors and other healthcare professionals to advise them when it comes to good health, so it's encouraging to see that so many of [these doctors and healthcare professionals] are taking vitamins and other supplements," says Douglas Jones, corporate communications manager, Pharmavite. "Life...supplemented is an initiative that encourages consumers to do something good for themselves. At the same time, it is a mandate for the industry to do something good for itself. I'm proud to be in the wellness business. It's imperative that we, as the supplement industry, educate consumers on how they can be proactive and smart about their healthcare decisions. This campaign provides the opportunity for industry to do just that."

Even with the nation facing a tough economy, Steve Mister, president and CEO of CRN, is optimistic about the power of the Life...supplemented efforts. He takes every opportunity to talk about the campaign's vitality, whether he's meeting with companies individually or presenting at industry trade shows. He points to more than 2300 media stories about the campaign and more than 900 million media impressions from broadcast, print, and online outlets combined, since the campaign launched. "In such a short time, Life...supplemented has made a strong impact on the health of the supplement industry, as well as consumers. The capacity to broaden the campaign exists as more companies recognize that we, as both industry and consumers, need to be proactive and make an investment in our health and wellness now, rather than down the road."