Bausch & Lomb’s PureVision contact lens had been approved for 7-day wear in the U.S. since 1999, but the introduction of the lens for 30-day continuous wear, pending FDA approval in Fall 2001, would have to overcome multiple hurdles: eye care practitioners who were wary of 30-day lens safety; a less than stellar corporate reputation among eye care professionals; and the FDA’s earlier approval of a competing lens from CIBA. Buck & Pulleyn and its WORLDCOM Public Relations Group partners were challenged with changing perceptions and driving sales.
Buck & Pulleyn reviewed existing research sources over one month, including best practices from the 1999 7-day PureVision and other medical device launches, reports on European 30-day lens dispensing habits, and practitioner and consumer preference data from numerous B&L-funded studies. It then interviewed ODs and researchers on staff at B&L, as well as independent practitioners to investigate potential concerns over continuous wear lenses.
In addition, the agency team met with B&L’s direct marketing agency and reviewed the trade and consumer advertising plans. Past FDA filings and approvals were analyzed, and CIBA’s campaign for its Night & Day lenses in Europe was scrutinized. Finally, members of the Buck & Pulleyn/WORLDCOM team read the 300-page definitive text on the contact lens material: “Silicone Hydrogels: The Rebirth of Continuous Wear Contact Lenses.”
U.S. practitioners were wary of 30-day wear lenses because of unsuccessful patient experiences in the mid-1980s, and were unfamiliar with the 30-day benefits exhibited by the new breed of silicone hydrogels (e.g., PureVision). But PureVision was considered a very reliable daily wear and 7-day wear lens among U.S. practitioners.
PureVision 30-day wear was widely accepted overseas, but only a few U.S. practitioner evangelists existed.
Few U.S. consumers were aware of the potential of – or near-term availability of – continuous wear lenses.
Practitioners’ opinions of Bausch & Lomb were improving year-over-year, although pockets of discontent from poor B&L relationships during the past two decades could still cloud decision-making.
CIBA would most likely mirror its European Night & Day launch strategy, which involved a heavy consumer media relations and advertising push. It would likely receive FDA approval two to six weeks in advance of PureVision, but would be plagued by significant distribution troubles in the U.S.
 The PR program had several objectives:
· Establish awareness of PureVision as a continuous wear lens among practitioners and current contact lens patients during the two months following FDA approval.
· Develop understanding among practitioners that PureVision represents a new breed of silicone hydrogel lenses that significantly differ from lenses using conventional hydrogel materials.
· Stimulate practitioner trial of PureVision lenses during the first six months following FDA approval.
· Drive inquiries by potential PureVision wearers to practitioners during Winter 2001/2002.
To counter CIBA’s likely strategy of launching with a national consumer media relations blitz, PureVision would launch from a local level in U.S. cities exhibiting the highest rates of contact lens wear. To reach the practitioner audience, recognition by and tacit endorsement of PureVision by the eye care and healthcare trade media would be of vital importance.
To successfully implement the localized strategy in 22 markets, Buck & Pulleyn brought 16 other WORLDCOM Public Relations Group partner firms into the program (and two non-WORLDCOM firms), with each responsible for local media relations and event coordination based upon Buck & Pulleyn-generated guidelines/ templates. Daily interaction was managed via a custom extranet Web site for file sharing and review, an all-hands meeting with participating partners during the 2001 WORLDCOM Americas’ Region meeting, and conference calls via the Web-based RainDance system (allowing management of 20+ phone lines).
Buck & Pulleyn worked with over 25 print and online trade publications in the month following FDA approval not only to obtain coverage of PureVision’s availability, but also to seed features around the silicone hydrogel category and PureVision’s place with the spectrum of contact lens products.
Buck & Pulleyn/WORLDCOM hosted educational dinners for top eye care practitioners, held in 16 cities over the span of eight days. 630 total attendees were exposed to brief presentations on PureVision clinical trials and how their practices and patients could benefit from the lens. Presentations were delivered by B&L executives (in five cities via a live, satellite-based video simulcast) and well-known national and regional third-party experts to add further credibility.
Buck & Pulleyn retained Michael Brown, a well-known adventure filmmaker (e.g., Visions of Everest) and avid PureVision wearer, to speak to the attributes of the lens in extreme and everyday conditions. This included being available for consumer media interviews, speaking with practitioners at the American Academy of Optometry annual meeting in December 2001, and being profiled in press kit materials.
Partners in 19 cities worked with print, television, and radio reporters (health, lifestyle, and business beats) during a two-week blitz following the FDA approval, localizing the PureVision messages and using in-market, media trained practitioners who could speak to the benefits of the lens.
Buck & Pulleyn and NYC-based WORLDCOM partner Marina Maher Communications split national media relations duties, which only occurred during the week following FDA approval. In addition to pitching print and online territories, the agencies distributed a video news release centered on adventurer Michael Brown, as well as a companion audio news release.
The time between B&L approval for the practitioner dinners and the first event was less than one month (with December holidays in the middle). B&L underwent multiple personnel and budget shifts during Fall 2001 because of corporate restructuring, causing constant program adaptation to maintain the launch goals.  
February 2002 M/A/R/C research shows 98 percent practitioner awareness (90 percent in 2001). The launch generated more than 75 million consumer media impressions to date, and over 300,000 practitioner impressions (hitting 10 of 10 “must read” trade publications). 630 practitioners attended the educational dinners. B&L sales reps report considerably higher levels of practitioner awareness as judged during sales calls.
Practitioner willingness to consider prescribing lenses for overnight wear jumped from 53 percent in July ’01 to 60 percent in February ’02 (deemed extremely significant by B&L). 100 percent of trade media discussed PureVision’s differences from traditional lenses.
January/February 02 sales tracked 44 percent higher than Jan/Feb 01 (which was well above plan).  Hundreds of practitioners have requested trial PureVision fit sets since the launch. B&L reported in February that practitioners were increasingly dispensing PureVision to “regular” patients, not just patients with special needs (a traditional sign of new lens adoption hitting the mainstream among practitioners).
Within days of the launch, practitioners across the U.S. were reporting to sales reps that patients were calling to inquire about PureVision, or bringing news clipping with them to appointments (which continues to occur as patients arrive for regularly scheduled appointments). B&L indicates that this has not occurred in the recent past with other launches.