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What the Doctor Ordered: Raising the National and International Profile of the Joslin Diabetes Center

The Challenge

The country is in the midst of a major diabetes epidemic. An estimated 18.2 million Americans have diabetes mellitus, with more than 800,000 new cases diagnosed each year. In fact, 5.2 million do not even know they have the disease, and millions more are at risk for diabetes.

The major media is very aware of the epidemic, regularly covering diabetes, obesity and related health issues. Some of the most important improvements in diabetes care – including treatments for diabetes in pregnancy, the development of laser surgery to treat diabetic eye disease, and the identification of markers for "pre-diabetes" – were developed at the Boston-based Joslin Diabetes Center. Yet the institute was not included in most of the major coverage, despite its significant record since being founded more than a century ago.

The Joslin Diabetes Center is the only institute in the world whose mission is both to find a cure for diabetes and to improve the lives of people with diabetes. The institute conducts cutting edge basic and clinical research, develops patient care programs for children and adults. It also produces programs and publications that improve the care of diabetes worldwide.

Although Joslin Diabetes Center is well regarded inside the diabetes community, it is relatively unknown outside that community. Joslin's small communications department does an excellent job of working with incoming media calls, but the organization wanted to raise its national and international presence – and break through the clutter of other diabetes researchers with higher profiles. Our suggestion: Joslin should conduct its first-ever national media tour.

Strategic Execution At Work

Because diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke and birth defects, we researched the reporters most closely writing about diabetes at the top national media to determine the story angles most often covered and the issues most often addressed.

Because we did not have major news to announce, the strategy we developed and executed centered on introducing Joslin's president, C. Ronald Kahn, M.D., to the media, offering him up as an objective expert who can discuss different topics, depending on each reporter's interests, including:

  • The impact of diabetes on society and the economy.
  • Milestones reached to date and milestones diabetes researchers and clinicians have yet to reach.
  • The state of U.S. vs. global research.
  • The policy debate between the White House and the World Health Organization (WHO) on proper diets.
  • Predictions of what's likely to happen in the field of diabetes research.
  • The importance of stem cell research.

Because of Dr. Kahn's complex schedule, we planned to conduct only two media tours in 2004.

The Results

The first media tour, conducted Jan. 2004, was so successful, we scheduled a second tour just six weeks later in March 2004. We secured interviews with our top targets, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Business Week, Time Magazine, Newsweek, Parade, and CBS Evening News. Dr. Kahn has now committed to at least one more tour this year.

The media tours were successful for not only introducing Joslin to top national media but also in securing articles and scheduling on-site visits of the institution – two key goals of the project.

As a benchmark, prior to the tour, Joslin had been mention in only 12 The Wall Street Journal articles, over dating back 20 years to 1984. Within weeks of the initial media tour, the first print results appeared, including a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal (followed by two additional Journal articles over the next few months). Additionally, Joslin experts were quoted in a Time cover story and in a Business Week commentary. Best of all, the articles also got picked up in these publication's international editions, helping us achieve another key goal; The Journal article also was picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle. The Time cover story reached more than 5.2 million readers worldwide; the Business Week commentary reached a potential audience of 5.7 million readers worldwide.

Coverage included:

  • San Francisco Chronicle: "Researchers' goal: Stopping diabetes before kids get it" (March 1, 2004)
  • The Wall Street Journal: "Researchers' Goal: Stopping Diabetes Before Kids Get It: Doctors Target Children Most at Risk for Diseases; Role of a Common Virus; A Constant Vigil for Parents" Front-page feature article. (March 1, 2004)
  • Time Magazine Asia: "The Fires Within; Inflammation is the body's first defense against infection, but when it goes awry, it can lead to heart attacks, colon cancer, Alzheimer's and a host of other diseases" Cover story. (March 1, 2004)
  • Time Magazine: "The Fires Within; Inflammation is the body's first defense against infection, but when it goes awry, it can lead to heart attacks, colon cancer, Alzheimer's and a host of other diseases" Cover story. (Feb. 23, 2004)
  • Time Magazine Pacific: "The Fires Within; Inflammation is the body's first defense against infection, but when it goes awry, it can lead to heart attacks, colon cancer, Alzheimer's and a host of other diseases" Cover story. (Feb. 23, 2004)
  • Business Week: "Let Them Eat Cake – If They Want To. The U.S. take on obesity: 'Personal responsibility'" All global editions. (Feb. 23, 2004)

"Birnbach's contacts at the Wall Street Journal were invaluable in getting us that crucial first meeting. What a difference it's made to our presence in the Journal since then, and our ability to get our message to more of the diabetes community."
Rachel J. Whitehouse
Director of Communications, Joslin Diabetes Center

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