Obamacare and the power of PR

With a big, down-to-the-wire publicity push, the federal health care program met its goal of 7 million enrollees by March 31. Here’s how.


The Affordable Care Act is, without a doubt, one of the most controversial government programs enacted in recent memory. Despite a rocky (and some say disastrous) rollout, the program met its initial goal of enrolling 7 million Americans in the program by the deadline of March 31. Because each state’s government had the choice of whether to participate in several components of the plan—including marketing and promotion—there were marked differences as to how much residents heard about the program and its sign-up deadline. A few states, such as Kentucky and Arkansas, were vocal about the program and spent state resources to promote it. Many opposing the law, such as Florida, went as far as prohibiting health care workers from encouraging sign-ups on state property. Despite the controversy surrounding the ACA and its implementation (plus some technical snafus that arose due largely to a surge in volume on the last enrollment day), some practical public relations strategies and tactics during the last two weeks of enrollment helped boost the final numbers past the goal of 7 million enrollees. 1. Audience targeting. This strategy makes sense because the ACA really only affects about 20 percent of the population. Specific audiences included low-income Americans, young people, and the uninsured. Targeting was necessary to devote resources to marketing channels that would most likely reach those audiences. 2. Traditional PR. The Obama administration cranked up its powerful PR apparatus in the final weeks before the deadline to use every opportunity to talk about the ACA. From news releases to the weekly radio address, the entire administration talked about little else in an attempt to flood the 24-hour news cycle with information. 3. Constituent outreach. Community activists who deal with target audiences were equipped with the knowledge they needed to help guide people through the enrollment process, and the Obama administration hosted conference calls to keep people informed of the latest details. 4. Surrogacy. Many celebrities lent their names to the campaign, including Oprah Winfrey, Ashley Judd, and John Legend. They participated in media interviews, bylined op-eds in major newspapers, and created YouTube videos. 5. Principal involvement. Obama has made promoting the health care law a priority, stepping outside his comfort zone—even doing interviews in very unconventional media such as the online comedy show “Between Two Ferns,” hosted by Zach Galifianakis. This goes back to the strategy of audience targeting.

It will be a while before history decides whether the ACA is a panacea or a failure. For now, chalk one up for health care reform—and the power of PR. A version of this story first appeared on the author’s blog, Public Relations Princess. (Image via)

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