In a world where fart jokes and belching contests get a big laugh, no one wants to talk seriously about digestive disease – not even the sufferers themselves.  But imagine dealing with issues like diarrhea, flatulence or vomiting on a daily basis and you a have a pretty good picture of what it’s like to be one of the 70 million Americans afflicted with a digestive disease.  Research shows that many sufferers are too embarrassed to consult a physician, so many serious conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or even colon cancer go left untreated.
In an effort to give consumers the “guts” to start asking questions about their digestive disorders and to learn how to treat them, Manning Selvage & Lee/Chicago partnered with the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) to create San Diego’s Got Guts!, a first-of-its-kind consumer outreach program, built off of the platform of an annual professional meeting.  Timed to coincide with the AGA’s 2000 meeting in San Diego, the program was designed to give local sufferers access to the world’s leading gastroenterologists through a series of free public forums on specific digestive health topics.
San Diego’s Got Guts! is worthy of a SABRE award because it was innovative in concept, strategic in execution and successful in results.  It broke through the clutter, reached specific individuals who needed to hear a message . . . and gave them the guts to take action.
The concept:  Every medical profession has an annual meeting where physicians in the specialty come together to learn about the latest clinical studies and scientific advances.  The idea behind San Diego’s Got Guts! was to give the local community hosting the AGA’s annual meeting a chance to learn from the world’s leading gastroenterologists. 
The challenge:  How do you use $50,000 to reach digestive disease sufferers in San Diego and convince them to give up their Saturday morning to sit in a hotel meeting room to meet with a doctor they don’t even know and talk about their guts in front of others?  MS&L’s challenge was to be efficient, creative and convincing.
The opportunity:  The AGA did not believe that advertising alone would generate sufficient attendance for the event.  MS&L provided the AGA with a PR strategy that could not only help generate awareness, but would drive attendance, as well.
MS&L’s goals were to:
  • Create relevant reasons for San Diego media to talk about digestive disease
  • Raise awareness of the gastroenterologist’s role in treating digestive diseases
  • Secure at least 100 attendees at San Diego’s Got Guts! 
MS&L’s strategies for achieving these goals were to:
  • Create a brand name for the event that would compel consumers to action
  • Generate and leverage local data on digestive health to heighten media interest and position the event as a solution to a local problem
  • Develop a deep partnership with a single media outlet to break through the clutter with repetition of messages
  • Supplement media relations with carefully researched direct-to-consumer outreach to key targets
  • Create an RSVP mechanism to generate commitment to attend
MS&L relied on research as a basis for developing the right message that would reach the right audience and trigger these individuals to take action. 
Local Research
MS&L commissioned a local survey to determine the prevalence of digestive disorders among San Diego residents as well as knowledge about treatments.  The survey revealed several compelling facts including that only ten percent of San Diego residents who suffered digestive problems had discussed their condition with a physician.  The survey helped build the case that digestive disorders were not only a national problem, but also were negatively affecting the quality of life for San Diego residents. 
Radio Promotion/DJ Deliveries
In order to get the “guts discussion” going, MS&L focused on radio as a primary vehicle for generating publicity prior to and during the event.  We partnered with a radio station geared to our target demographic to develop programs prior to and during the event.  Daily contests the week before the event gave listeners a chance to win “Good to Your Gut” lunches at “gut-friendly” restaurants in the area.  A nationally known gastroenterologist recorded a compelling PSA that ran 40 times in the two weeks prior to the event.  The radio station also set-up a live remote the day of the event at a shopping mall next to the event to drive attendance to and generate conversation about San Diego’s Got Guts! 
In addition to the lead radio station, MS&L was successful in persuading other radio stations to promote the event.  We engaged a local nutritionist to help develop quirky fun facts about the digestive system and deliver them in person to DJs of morning drive-time shows along with a  “gut-friendly” breakfast.  This resulted in at least three spontaneous mentions. 
Direct-to-Consumer outreach
To supplement media relations, we conducted research to find groups of consumers that were more prone to having digestive health issues and identified related local community organizations.  For example, sedentary elderly people are more prone to suffer from digestive aliments so we called activities directors at retirement communities and asked them to display posters.  We also learned that college students experience several lifestyle triggers that initiate or aggravate digestive conditions so we displayed flyers at local university health centers, fitness centers and student unions.  We also distributed flyers to local pharmacies, libraries and health clubs. 
In order to gauge our progress and to help secure mental commitment from potential participants, we set-up a local reservation line where people could pre-register for the event and receive a detailed schedule and reminder via mail.  The phone line proved successful not only as a planning tool, but as a measurement tool for how the attendees heard about the event.
Boy, did San Diego have guts!  The PR program exceeded all expectations with nearly 300 people attending the San Diego’s Got Guts! event -- triple the target goal set by the AGA.  According to evaluations filled out by attendees, all 300 people heard about the event through some PR triggered broadcast or placement, even though an ad supplement ran in both the San Diego Union-Tribune and local copies of USA Today.  The evaluations also indicated that participants found the content of the forums extremely valuable and appreciated meeting other people in their community who suffered from the same condition they did.  
Beyond attendance, the AGA reaped additional benefits they hadn’t anticipated.  During the event ten attendees, none of which had ever seen a gastroenterologist before, asked for the name and phone number of a local gastroenterologist.  In addition, the AGA secured several subscriptions to its consumer magazine, Digestive Health & Nutrition.  The AGA was so pleased with the outcome of the event, it has asked MS&L to develop a similar program, Atlanta’s Got Guts, for the 2001 annual meeting in Atlanta.  Stay tuned to find out which city will claim the title of “Gutsiest City in America.”