Member Spotlights

Innovations in Marketing to Teens and Advocating for Change
venus/Family Planning Services, Des Moines, IA and Family Planning Health Services, Wausau, WI

By Lauren Levenstein and Illysa Schrager

In an age of new technologies, internet capabilities, and the prevalence of social media, family planning health centers and systems are developing new ways through which they communicate and market to different populations. This Member Spotlight provides examples of how health centers have effectively honed their communications and marketing to teens and for the purpose of advocacy and education. These changes are intended to generate new revenue, spread public awareness about sexual and reproductive health, and preserve the policies that enable them to serve their communities.

Marketing to Teens: venus/Family Planning Services, Des Moines, IA

venus/Family Planning Services, a Title X sub-recipient agency in Des Moines, IA, has been developing its marketing to teens. In 2012, venus planned and hosted its first teen-centered event called “Teen Talk” to educate local teens about pressing social issues and spread the word about the health center’s services. In an effort to reach adolescents and combat negative stereotyping, the event included discussions about binge drinking, bullying, synthetic drugs, sexting, STIs/HIV, oral sex and oral cancer, and dating violence. To incentivize teens to attend the event, venus served free pizza and offered prizes, including an Xbox 360, a summer pass to a local theme park, and a flat screen television. A local women’s football team was also on hand to sign autographs. venus’ outreach team secured many of the prizes at little or no cost through donations by local businesses. The venus staff found that it was a good opportunity to make local connections, spread awareness about the center, and help dispel myths about family planning services.venus advertised the prizes, pizza, and autographs on its event fliers, also plugging its Facebook presence with the logo and an invitation for the public to “like” them. The fliers also featured a “QR” code which allows anyone with a smartphone to scan the code and be automatically linked to the health center’s website. QR codes are available for free online and many of venus’ marketing materials, especially the ones targeting teens, include a QR code for easy access to its site. 

Including the logo and QR codes in its marketing materials also signals that venus is technologically savvy and in touch with a younger population. venus’ outreach team distributed these fliers to local entities that cater to the teen and young adult populations including area schools, skating rinks, and bowling alleys. Thirtyeight teens attended the event which was held in venus’ health center, with nearly equal number of males and females attending.

venus is currently planning its 2013 “Teen Talk” and will expand its capacity and reach from the inaugural event. The next “Teen Talk” will be held at a nearby university and include a keynote speaker, secured in part through a grant from venus’ parent agency. In addition to relevant discussion topics, teens will have the option to tour the university and visit with representatives from different local agencies and organizations that were offered the opportunity to table at the event for a nominal fee of $50. While venus is already offsetting much of the event’s expenses through donated prizes, volunteers, and discounted space rental, the $50 vendor fee will help cover costs. Partnering with other agencies to host an event is a smart way to help cut costs, especially for small or cash-strapped health centers.

Program Manger Julie Baker believes an expansion in the number of presentations health center educators have given at middle and high schools is an important strategy for venus. The organization’s outreach team has built a rapport with school professionals in the area who trust them to provide factually accurate information about sexual and reproductive health to teens. venus has also tried to make its health center teen-friendly, displaying posters and handing out cards and materials that talk about healthy relationships. When you walk into venus’ main health center, a series of colorful t-shirts are on display and available for purchase for a $10 donation. The fun shirts include one that states “Fight like a girl” and honors cervical and breast cancer awareness. Another one, supporting the LGBT community, is tie-dyed and promotes STI testing.

venus also markets its “Teen Talk” event and health center services to teens and twentysomethings through ads on a local radio station that attracts the targeted demographic. While venus is able to pay for these ad on a regular basis, many radio stations will donate advertising slots for special non-profit events and public service announcements. A local radio station, for example, may allow air time for a family planning health center to promote HIV testing on World AIDS Day in December or Pap smears during Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in January. These special advertising slots can provide health centers the opportunity to reach teens and promote their services at little to no cost.

venus has seen an increase in its teen patient population, which administrators attribute to its connection with local schools, word-of-mouth referrals, radio advertising geared to teens, and its “Teen Talk” event. The health center has especially seen an increase in male patients ages 16 to 25. venus’ approach to connecting with young adults is drawing more Title X and insured patients alike, while providing public education and dispelling stigmas around family planning. By using social media, creating a teen-friendly health center, and hosting an annual teen-centered event that involves the community, venus administrators are meeting teens where they live, generating new opportunities for income, and advancing access to family planning.

Advocacy and Education: Family Planning Health Services, Wausau, WI

Family Planning Health Services, Inc. (FPHS), a private, nonprofit based in central Wisconsin, not only provides sexual and reproductive health care services, but places great emphasis on big-picture advocacy efforts to communicate the family planning message within and well beyond its community. FPHS is unique from many family planning agencies in that it has a public affairs/public relations team within its network of 10 health centers. Its administrators advocate for reproductive justice, and also ensure that people in communities across the country have the resources they need to plan and provide for families.

Currently, FPHS’ advocacy efforts focus extensively on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the new opportunities now available under the law, such as collaborating to become a partner in an Accountable Care Organization (ACO) and using telehealth and video technology to enable, extend, and empower a multi-agency network. The care coordination and information exchange requirements of meaningful use have led FPHS to think a lot about the interactions of different kinds of networks that define their business. Systems including social networks, care networks, information exchange, and payment networks can often collide rather than coordinate, which can harm patient care. To address colliding systems and to promote more care coordination, the organization formed the Women’s Health Network of Wisconsin which is implementing a virtual medical “neighborhood” that is open, inclusive, collaborative, and centered on the patient. The network is using new technologies enabling telehealth communications and interagency personal health information exchange.

Through additional partnerships within Wisconsin, FPHS is able to reach broader audiences with its advocacy efforts. FPHS and other maternal and child health advocates worked with state legislators and the federal government to develop and implement Wisconsin’s Medicaid Family Planning Waiver and then worked to make family planning expansions an optional part of states’ federal Medicaid agreements. In November of 2010, Wisconsin was the first state to win federal approval of a Medicaid state plan amendment.

The organization is also engaged in a collaborative partnership called Subsequent Pregnancy and Contraceptive Education (SPACE) with WIC agencies and programs to provide low-income women with the supplies and education they need to plan and space their pregnancies more effectively immediately post-partum. In addition, FPHS is able to provide services to patients in need of emergency contraception (EC) through agreements with other women’s advocacy agencies and community service providers. The program is called EZ-EC and includes a website and statewide EC hotline.When it comes to communicating with the media, FPHS staff produces news releases to announce events or celebrate accomplishments of their health centers. They promote the ACA through several avenues such as hosting local providers in panel discussions and then posting the audio online. If they are not able to have a speaker with a live audience, FPHS leaders and communications staff often conduct interviews and place the recording online via podcasts, using fairly simple recording and sound editing technology. They started recording and publishing podcasts because it is an easy way to get national leaders and speakers to reach their broad audiences. FPHS also hosts public events, such as a recent forum at a local university featuring Frances Kissling, former President of Catholics for a Free Choice, and an attorney at the Hercules Company, which sued the federal government to prevent implementation of women’s health preventive benefits. The provision includes no co-pay or deductibles for birth control for women with private-pay insurance. The forum provided a public outlet for local live and even broader web-based discussion about a controversial and timely topic.

Some of FPHS’ greatest advocacy efforts are executed through its website BelowtheWaist.org. The site was created in addition to the agency’s primary website. It is an online community for individuals and organizations interested in protecting and promoting reproductive health care and reproductive justice. FPHS offers numerous opportunities for social networking, commenting, sharing ideas, and learning about others interested in these issues. 

The website, which is supported within FPHS’ 501(c)3 structure, provides users and visitors the opportunity to meet advocates, activists, leaders, practitioners, educators, and others throughout the nation who share interest and care about the future of reproductive freedom and health. To add to the conversation, BelowtheWaist.org produces bi-weekly podcasts that feature reproductive health news and opinion, as well as interviews and discussions with individuals around the nation on timely topics.

FPHS believes that community health leaders have shared goals as well as shared challenges, and that the use of communications technology will better serve communities across the nation. With a constant effort to strengthen its networking and connections, FPHS continues to grow its advocacy efforts to ensure that women and men in Wisconsin and beyond have access to the family planning services and resources they need.

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