Is the government about to revive its spending on communications campaigns? And might it have left it too late?
I missed the publication of the Changing Behaviour, Improving Outcomes report into “changing health-related lifestyle behaviour” (trying to change the way that some citizens are smoking, drinking and eating their way to chronic ill-health).
- The number of people joining Change4Life fell by 80%. Calls to the Change4Life information line fell by 90% and web visits by two-thirds
- Calls to the FRANK help line fell by 22% and web visits by 17%
- Visits to the Smokefree website fell by 50% and the volume of people making a quit attempt also fell, in line with the reduction in purchased media spend
More strikingly, evidence from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health concluded that:
‘…the cessation of marketing activity has resulted in declining quit attempts and subsequent loss of life from smoking-related illness.’
As such, the report recommends that some mass communication campaigns – mainly in the form of sponsorship and paid media partnerships – be resumed.
It’s hard to know whether to cheer or cry. Without wishing to say I told you so, it wasn’t hard to see that withdrawing funds from campaigns designed to change “health-related lifestyle behaviour” offered short-term saving which could increase long-term costs for the NHS (and the police and prison service).
You could say that all the figures show is that if you stop promoting a website people stop visiting it and, obviously, Change4Life won’t solve the nation’s obesity crisis by itself. But I’m going to stick my neck out and say that if fewer people are getting practical information about healthy eating, smoking or drugs, then solving those problems is less not more likely. And the stakes are pretty high.
- The Dept of Health website warns that weight problems already cost the wider economy in the region of £16 billion, and that this will rise to £50 billion per year by 2050 if left unchecked.
- The NHS Confederation has estimated that alcohol related conditions cost the NHS £2.7billion in 2006/7
- There are estimates that smoking costs the NHS up to £5billion a year
By the way, when it was launched, Change4Life was budgeted at a slender £75m over three years. Setting a sprat to catch a mackrel, as my grandmother would say.
Victim of a political culture that says that all communications is spin, the comms industry should be arguing that it offers a useful weapon in the long-term battle to control costs in public services. Though, as Alex Aiken put it in PR Week recently:
It is also worth considering whether central government communicators made a sufficiently robust case to retain the talent, campaigns and operations that had been painstakingly built up in the years of the last government. Despite the cut backs now is the time to invest in research to understand rapidly changing public perceptions and use this as the foundation on which to argue the case for a particular approach which allows the PR team to sit at the top table in the organisation.