The Importance of Strategic Communications:
The Robert Wood Johnson Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Study
Carnevale Associates, LLC was engaged as the principal communications contractor to coordinate a multi-year $13.7 million longitudinal study of adolescent substance abuse prevention curricula for middle and high school students funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, one of the nation’s leading health care philanthropies and a major supporter of advancements in public health care.
The highly complex project which began in 2001 and closed in 2009 required the contractor to serve as the coordinator between 3 key organizations involved in the study: RWJF, the University of Akron’s principal investigator staff, and D.A.R.E. , the nationwide officer network through which the pilot prevention curricula were delivered to both “treatment” and “control” groups of students within in six cities: Newark, New Orleans, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, and Kansas City.
In addition to the research complexity of the project, which generated millions of bits of data and variables so complex that analysis required the development of new software, the study was initiated within days of the September 11, 2001 tragedy and closed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina which resulted in the loss of control and treatment school test sites and project data.
The media output demands were significant. The project opened with an ABC network news spot and a major press event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC which featured the principals of the 3 involved organizations. Radio spots and other interviews were concurrently featured at the launch of the project.
For the duration of the study, the communications contractor: 1) Monitored print and other media coverage of the study; 2) Prepared press kits for a range of audiences including, members of Congress, Law Enforcement Officers, the Education community, Prevention programmers, and the general public; and 3) Conducted media training sessions for the Akron University research staff, the D.A.R.E .officer network, and the Los Angeles-based D.A.R.E. America.
The coordination of the 3 entities was a communications challenge within the overall project itself. The prevention expert who served as the RWJF point of contractor was kept informed and approved all media product outputs, research reports, and other project materials; the scientific advisory committees of both the University of Akron as well as D.A.RE. America organizations were also kept informed of all project progress and offered significant research and media input to the contractor.
The final study reports consisted of peer review journals which demanded the translation of complex prevention science verbiage into newsworthy language palpable for numerous audiences, including researchers, teachers, law enforcement officers, state and local officials, members of Congress, the White House Drug Control Policy Office, the US Departments of Education and Justice, and various parent and civic groups throughout the nation.