The National Eye Institute (NEI) is central not only to Americans’ eye health—its discoveries are applied to preventing and treating vision loss around the world. Since its establishment in 1968, NEI has led the field in sight-saving research. NEI has uncovered treatments for amblyopia (also known as ‘lazy eye’), identified steps to prevent glaucoma, and established treatments for diabetic retinopathy. In 1988, NEI’s scope expanded to include public and professional education programs, and with it came the need for health communications support.
At Hager Sharp, we provided that support for more than five years. Highlights of our work included strategic planning, partnership outreach, digital engagement, and message and materials development for Healthy Vision Month—helping Americans understand the importance of healthy vision and how to ensure good eye health. We provided strategic support for NEI’s future vision: The Audacious Goals Initiative (AGI), including developing materials to encourage scientists around the country to align their research with NEI’s goals. In support of NEI’s 50th Anniversary in 2018, we developed a series of videos highlighting NEI-supported milestones in eye health.
We also supported NEI’s education program for children by developing an engaging and educational website, NEI for Kids.
In the five years Hager Sharp supported NEI’s mission, we reached millions of Americans with eye health messaging during Healthy Vision Month, refreshed the Healthy Vision Month brand, launched a website and regularly updated another, and produced 23 videos, among other resources and outreach activities.
Each year of Hager Sharp’s contract with NEI began with a strategic planning meeting to determine the communications priorities for the year. We then outlined timelines, budgets and strategies for each priority.
For example, when we started the planning for the NEI for Kids website, we knew it needed to appeal to children, yet overall promotional strategies had to be geared toward educators and influencers. So, we developed a strategy based on insights from focus groups with children, in-depth interviews with teachers and health care providers, and an environmental scan. We determined that:
When we mapped out the site we made sure to strike a balance between appealing to children in our target age range while incorporating the elements important to influencers. For example, to explain how the visual system works—a request from teachers—instead of a text-heavy web page, NEI opted to develop a short video featuring a plain-language voiceover and on-screen animations.
We also developed a promotion plan to reach influencers, which we did by cultivating partnerships with influencer organizations such as teaching and medical associations. Outreach to partners included developing and sharing a toolkit, as well as direct contact through phone calls and emails.
We produced a variety of health communication materials in support of multiple initiatives including:
The National Eye Institute’s children’s program aims to increase children’s knowledge of eye health while inspiring interest in vision and science. As part of its education program for children, NEI tasked Hager Sharp to develop an engaging and educational website for children, NEI for Kids, to make learning about vision and eye health and safety fun and interesting, and to get children excited about vision as a science. The goal was to develop an interactive, engaging, and educational website that key influencers—teachers, school health professionals, coaches, parents, and others who regularly interact with children—would want to share with upper-elementary and middle school children.
Guided by a strategy to create a website for children, but promote it among influencers, Hager Sharp took a two-pronged planning approach. The first step was the website: development, pretest, adjust, build. The second step was to develop a promotion plan to reach influencers. This would ensure that the site would actually make it into the hands of children. So, we did by cultivating partnerships with influencer organizations such as teaching and medical associations.
Partnerships were a key component of HVM, helping NEI spread the word about dilated eye exams and overall eye health and safety by sharing information through their networks, engaging in social media, creating blog posts, and more. Hager Sharp’s goal was to engage organizations from a variety of sectors—not just those focused in the eye care arena. We created a comprehensive list of possible partners with ideas for how they could get involved, then reached out accordingly. Over the years, we engaged partners like AARP, All About Vision, CVS (CVS reached out to NEI directly), LA Fitness, Public Library Association, Cigna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, American Academy of Ophthalmology, American Academy of Optometry, BrightFocus Foundation, Prevent Blindness, and more.
Hager Sharp elevated NEI’s thought leadership profile through radio media tours, developing and placing matte articles, and pitching and securing media interviews for NEI spokespersons and leaders. We also developed new and engaging content for NEI’s social media channels, including Twitter (NEI and the National Eye Health Education Program), Facebook, and Pinterest.
Formative Research: In January 2016, NEI engaged nine children ages 9 to 12 to participate in website pretesting to ensure that the website design, topics, and layout resonated with them before the launch. NEI developed a series of information-seeking activities for participants to complete. The insights helped NEI determine that the site is informative, relevant, easy-to-use, and appealing to children. When asked what the participants liked about the website, they said things like “animation makes it more fun and exciting to see and read the information.” When asked if they visit health or science websites in their free time, the majority of participants responded that they never or sometimes do. However, when asked if they would visit NEI’s site if a teacher suggested it, the majority responded they definitely would or probably would. Participants also reported that NEI for Kids was different from most websites they visited in school—in a good way.