Pharmaton Natural Health Products (a Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals Inc. company) distributes dietary supplements.  In a marketplace inundated with sub-standard, inexpensive supplements with little or no clinical substantiation, Pharmaton brands are unique in that they are backed by rigorous clinical proof.  However, most reporters and consumers do not recognize the difference between supplements.  After five years of growth, the US supplements market is saturated and declining, making Pharmaton’s challenge of selling its premium-priced products even more daunting.  VENASTAT is a proprietary horse chestnut seed extract that maintains leg health – tired, swollen, achy legs commonly interfere with social and professional productivity among women 45+.  However, most women view it as a fact of life, not a health condition that can be helped.  With limited marketing funds, the brand team turned to public relations as their primary sales tool in 2000.  

Creativity and focus were the keys to the consumer media campaign’s successful outcomes – increased brand awareness, consumer database and sales.  CPR Worldwide created an entertaining campaign that inherently sold the product and its unique benefits to empower women to take action: VENASTAT Stand Up for Leg Health.  The campaign featured:  an appealing (yet affordable) stand up comedienne that embodied the target audience and provided witty, inspirational testimonial; a top medical expert for scientific validation; a compelling non-profit sponsor (Wider Opportunities for Women, WOW) that equips women to get back on their own two feet in the workplace; new national statistics on the surprising prevalence and consequences of leg health problems; and attention-grabbing media materials.  The campaign focused on broadcast news (video news release/satellite media tour), the single most effective way to reach the target audience quickly, with secondary outreach to websites and long-lead outlets (Stand Up press kit and media luncheon).  With sales increasing two-fold following the broadcast campaign, audience reach of 11,000,000 (with 100% of airings including branded messages) and a notable spike in calls to the VENASTAT 800 number, the client labeled the campaign the brand’s first big marketing success.


Supplements market declining in the US; VENASTAT sales below goal

Quick and vast reach to target audience (women 45+) must inspire product trial

Media skeptical about herbals; predisposed to negative, ‘sensational’ news stories

Credible medical and non-profit angles can spark confidence, positive stories

Supplements news is ‘all the same’

Innovative and ‘entertaining’ media approach can appeal to new set of reporters

VENASTAT has no natural news hooks (e.g., no new data, programs or special events)

Creating a timely news angle – via new data and engaging spokespersons – is imperative

Branded supplements media coverage is rare

VENASTAT brand must be intrinsic to story


According to the National Council on the Aging (10/99), the number one type of media women ages 45 through 64 use for news and information about health issues is television (38%)

Conducted by CPR Worldwide, a 12-month in-depth retrospective media analysis of the supplements industry (approximately 600 stories), including Pharmaton brands and competitors such as Quanterra, Centrum, One-A-Day and SunDown/Rexall, found:

Broadcast coverage was thin (only 20 significant stories in 1999), and ‘sensational,’ focusing on the dangers of herbal supplements

Branded coverage was most often linked to business news of publicly traded competitors (close to 50%).  Pharmaton is a private company

Positive branded stories, though far fewer than negative ones, resulted primarily from new clinical data (4%) or personal stories/endorsements (3%)

Overall confusion about the reliability of dietary supplements: “I feel sorry for the typical consumer.  How is he or she to know what is best, what products are reliable and safe?  Even when a label says the product has been standardized, the consumer has no way to know if it actually meets that standard,” Dr. Varro Tyler, professor emeritus of pharmacognosy at Purdue University, New York Times, 2/9/99

A CPR-led series of working sessions with Pharmaton and the promotion agency determined the following Communications Objectives:

Generate positive, branded VENASTAT news coverage reaching the largest group of women 45+ in the shortest period of time

Communicate evidence that VENASTAT really provides tangible, clinically proven benefits for a pervasive yet under-managed health problem – tired, achy, swollen legs


Create an engaging, timely and branded news hook

VENASTAT Stand Up for Leg Health national omnibus survey of 842 women 45 to 64 years of age, sponsored by Wider Opportunities for Women (WOW) and VENASTAT.  Key findings:

Seven out of ten women age 45 to 64 suffer from leg health problems

Leg health problems impair work performance and earnings

Leg health problems harm social life and self-image

Tell VENASTAT story via engaging spokespeople who will inspire action

Julie Barr: stand up comedienne in her mid-40s who spends long hours on her feet and has suffered from leg health problems; VENASTAT user and proponent

Luis Navarro, MD: worldwide authority on leg health, director of Vein Treatment Center in New York City; recommends specific horse chestnut seed extract previously evaluated in the premier medical journal Lancet (i.e., VENASTAT)

Cynthia Marano, WOW: recipient of VENASTAT grant enabling more women to get a leg up in the workplace; non-profit cause elevates intrigue of story for journalists/producers

Provide entertaining, visual media tools to distinguish VENASTAT from health news clutter

VENASTAT Stand Up for Leg Health logo/design developed and used throughout all elements

VNR and b-roll featuring Barr’s leg health jokes and VENASTAT testimonial, as well as other spokespeople, survey findings/graphics, leg vein graphics, and newsworthy product shots

Satellite media tour featuring Barr and Navarro – media trained as comic/scientific pair

Comedic/educational luncheon for long-lead women reporters, including “A Brief Visit with Dr. Navarro” (video of an actual leg health screening in the doctor’s office)

Press kit with attractive, humorous and educational materials; mat release


Sales volume doubled from July (time of event) to September, and was then maintained through December.  Sales impact was solely attributed to VENASTAT Stand Up for Leg Health campaign

Calls to VENASTAT 800 number peaked the week of the VNR distribution, expanding database

Broadcast airings (nearly 90) in top markets (e.g., New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco) and via a national UNI feed resulted in more than 11,000,000 impressions

100% of VNR airings, as well as live and taped interviews with Barr and Navarro, included VENASTAT branded messages

Mat release pick up in 34 newspapers through October 2000, with a total circulation of 3,468,191

Feature story in BI News (company’s internal newsletter); three features in Prime Times; 1,300 major websites reached via; Woman’s Own, Redbook, Family Circle and Woman’s Day are in the pipeline for Spring 2001 – when legs are on the radar screen again
Dr. Navarro has agreed to continue serving as a media spokesperson at no cost; Julie Barr has offered her services in 2001