American Heart Association Gets Role With Lifetime's 'Strong Medicine'

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NEW YORK -- The American Heart Association has scored heart disease a major role in an upcoming episode of Lifetime Television’s hospital drama Strong Medicine.

The association hopes to raise awareness of heart disease as the No. 1 killer of women when the episode airs in August.
The AHA's content-integration deal is the first for any medical association.

The deal signals the American Heart Association’s first foray into branded entertainment. The organization only two years ago began using paid advertising to get its message out.

A first for a medical association

The pact also marks the first time any medical association has partnered with TV producers to integrate their organization’s message into a show, and hints at other potential deals to come with similar scripted series such as NBC’s ER or reality fare from Discovery Networks.

“We embarked on a paid ad campaign to get the message out in a proactive manner,” said David Josserand, chair of the American Heart Association’s marketing and communications coordinating committee. “But this goes beyond that in establishing the mission as part of the dialogue that exists between people in everyday life.”

The show, about a Philadelphia-based women’s clinic, airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. Now in its sixth season, the show has added Rick Schroeder to its cast, and household numbers and total viewers are up 25%. The season premiere episode attracted 2.9 million viewers.

Female character with a heart issue

The American Heart Association-sponsored episode will feature a “female character coming to grips with a heart issue,” said Judy Sawyer, senior vice president and director of national broadcast at Campbell-Ewald, the agency of record for the American Heart Association.

“We talked about the expectations and they [already] had a script pretty far along,” Ms. Sawyer said. “We reviewed it and talked to the script writers.”

In addition to the storyline, American Heart Association posters will be pinned up on the set and characters will wear the signature “red dress” pins the American Heart Association has marketed to raise awareness of women’s heart health.

ABC Unlimited

The deal was born from conversations between Campbell-Ewald, part of Interpublic Group of Cos., and ABC Unlimited, Walt Disney Co.’s cross-platform sales group.

Lifetime Television is jointly owned by Hearst and Walt Disney Co., which is also the parent of ABC.

“ABC was trying to work with the American Heart Association more at a corporate level and asked what we had that could be really different for them,” said Mike Alvarez, who heads Lifetime’s partnerships division. “Our immediate thought was this show.”

The American Heart Association will run a 15-second and 30-second spot during the show and a closing bumper that may include talent talking about the importance of heart health. There will also be a schedule on ABC Radio Networks and possibly a Web component on lifetimetv.com.

Lifetime’s public affairs department, which often lobbies for and supports women’s related issues, will also produce heart health public service announcements as part of the deal.

Women's health fact sheets

Lifetimetv.com already hosts a dropdown menu of "fact sheets" on women's health issues, one of which is cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle damage. The fact sheets are branded as part of the network's Strong Medicine site with many of the diseases and ailments lifted from the show’s plots. Any new venture between Lifetimetv.com and the American Heart Association will feature a more extensive look at heart disease, though by press time no major Web component had been finalized.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women and we haven’t really supported a heart disease cause in the past,” Mr. Alvarez said. “It may blossom into something bigger next year as a platform for us.”

Past public awareness efforts

Strong Medicine has in the past proved a significant platform for Lifetime’s public awareness and advocacy campaigns, including “Stop Violence Against Women,” “Stop Breast Cancer for Life” and “Every Woman Counts.” And it’s no stranger to tying in nonprofit associations, when they fit.

For example, in February 2004, the cable network aired an episode about how hospital budget cuts limit newborn screening tests. At the end of the program a mention referred viewers to the March of Dimes and its Web site for additional information on the importance of prenatal care.
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