March of Dimes & Goodwill Communications
Inform the Public About the Problem of Premature Babies

By Bill Goodwill

With more than 500,000 premature infants born each year in our country – or one out of 8 new births - this major medical problem is having a serious impact upon our health care delivery system. It adversely affects the parents of the newborn, employers who often shoulder much of the cost, and on society as a whole.

With a cost differential of nearly $40,000 per birth between full term babies and those born prematurely, the cost to society is just over $26 billion annually.

The March of Dimes has been a leader in the fight to address premature births by launching a multiyear, multimillion-dollar national campaign to help the nation reduce the rate of premature births from 12.1 percent to the national Healthy People 2010 objective of no more than 7.6 percent.

Specifically they have been:

  • Funding vital research into ways to prevent and treat premature birth
  • Educating women about risk reduction and the signs of preterm labor
  • Assisting health professionals in evaluating patient risks
  • Expanding access to health care

Why Radio?

Radio was the perfect medium for to use in this campaign for several reasons:

  • There were very specific audiences we wanted to reach and radio lends itself to precise message targeting.
  • The campaign Was launched during the spring months just prior to vacations, when so many people would be traveling in their cars, at the beach and on the run. Radio goes with them.
  • African-American parents – one of our key audiences – have particularly high radio listening levels.
  • It was much less expensive than TV to produce and distribute.

Personal Messages

"To make our radio spots resonate with busy audiences, we had personal stories from moms, dads, African-American and Hispanic parents," says Suzanne Young, the MOD radio producer and project manager. Each of the PSAs told poignant stories about how premature births affected their families and the help they received from March of Dimes. To provide radio stations with optimum scheduling flexibility, PSAs were also produced in three different lengths - :60/:30 and :15s.

Promotion/Chapter Liaison

"Engaging both our chapters and allied organizations was an important objective for the campaign," Ms Young went on to say. As a 'chapter-centric' organization, March of Dimes always tries to engage its chapters in national programs because they are out there in the communities where the real work gets done."

To engage MOD chapters, we created a custom website with various features. The site:

  • Provided them with an EmailGram with facts on the premature birth issue they could use as talking points in their outreach efforts, or email to the media.
  • Included distribution lists showing the radio stations which received PSAs for follow-up activity.
  • Listed links to various allied organizations which could help spread the word.
  • Included an article with tips about how to make local outreach calls.

"In a few words, we provided our chapters with all the tools they needed to get engaged in the national campaign and bring about change at the local level – a key to any successful national education effort," Ms. Young said.

Clear Channel Co-Branding

Another important promotional element that led to the success of the campaign was co-branding by Clear Channel Communications, one of the largest radio chains in the country. With over 1,000 local radio stations under their umbrella, they agreed to be a campaign partner. We added their logo to radio PSA collateral materials and created a bifucated distribution strategy. Radio packages going to Clear Channel stations had their logo and this provided a strong endorsement of our message. All other stations got packaging without the Clear Channel logo. Additionally, CDs were made which were distributed at the NAB Radio Show.


Since we had very specific audiences for this campaign, the stations which reached African-Americans, Hispanics and parents in general were targeted, along with those stations that were the most frequent PSA users from previous campaigns. We took special steps to make sure the PSAs could be played on any type of equipment as well. While .MP3 files work for most stations, there are still some smaller market stations which use CD-audio to record PSAs onto broadcast carts, and then play those cartridge tapes on the air. To permit them to use the PSAs, we provided “Enhanced CDs,” containing the CD-Audio tracks, along with CD-ROM/MP3 files, which are in a user-friendly format.


Obviously it is important to know what has worked and where more efforts are needed for any PSA campaign. In the case of the Prematurity radio campaign, we retained a monitoring service to track radio PSA usage on 2,700 radio stations in major markets around the country. This monitoring, when added to our bounce-back cards, provided significantly greater usage feedback than we normally could obtain.

Using a custom graphics software package created by, several applications were created to provide MOD with meaningful campaign metrics. These included an interactive map such as the one shown above. When the user places their cursor over a particular state, key metrics about usage in that state are displayed. From the national perspective, this kind of reporting quickly shows where usage was above or below the norm for every state – a tool much more intuitive than static evaluation reports. In terms of follow-up, local chapters could see very easily where more outreach work was needed. Each month throughout the reporting cycle, this data is automatically refreshed.

MOD online reports also included key trends graphs so they could see where PSAs were getting exposure by market size. This in turn shows how well PSAs are reaching population centers.

Another graph showed usage by the various radio program formats to see how well we reached our primary target audiences.

We also created a benchmark graph comparing the MOD campaign to others that we have distributed. As shown by the graph below, the MOD radio PSA generated more exposure than any other campaign we have distributed, surpassing the next most successful effort by 21%.

What Made the Campaign a Success?

  • The Clear Channel endorsement
  • A bifurcated distribution strategy to engage Clear Channel stations
  • A custom-website to involve MOD chapters
  • A state distribution map so chapters could see where the PSAs were sent
  • An interactive evaluation map to show were PSAs were getting various levels of usage
  • A widget to permit website visitors to listen to PSAs
  • A mailgram with links to the site, the widget, and links to other allied sites
  • A promotional effort to get others to communicate our message to their
  • stakeholders including the 50 state broadcast associations
  • An article posted to the custom website with tips on how local chapters can conduct effective local media outreach

The Take Away

There are several lessons to be learned from this campaign.

  • First, in this social-media-only-works world, radio is still a viable medium to reach busy professionals on the go. You won’t – or certainly shouldn’t – see many drivers stuck in rush hour visiting Facebook.
  • Secondly, when they are well produced and relevant, radio stations will use your messages because it helps them build audience loyalty.
  • Next, when you combine an important issue with creative promotional tactics and a solid distribution plan, good things will happen.
  • Finally, by engaging your communications partners from campaign inception through evaluation, they become agents of change.

For a complete case history on the campaign, go to:

About the author: Bill Goodwill is CEO of Goodwill Communications, a Virginia-based firm specializing in PSA distribution and evaluation. He has nearly 40 years experience in advertising/PR and marketing. His firm has distributed over 700 national campaigns for 160 federal agencies and non-profit organizations..