Cable Net Stays Focused on Breast Cancer Battle

Apr 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

While Lifetime has been scoring victories in its 10-year fight against breast cancer, the network’s top executives know the war is far from won.
Their mission: to offer the most current and comprehensive information about that disease-primarily on the lifetimetv.com Web site-and to educate women about the tools available to them, from getting annual mammograms and breast exams to checking their own breasts regularly.
To advocate for women’s issues, Lifetime partners with more than 200 nonprofit organizations and government agencies, including 50 involved in the breast cancer awareness drive, according to Meredith Wagner, executive VP of public affairs and corporate communications.
So far, the network drive has had a profound effect on many women. “I have no doubt that Lifetime’s activism about early detection saved lives,” Cynthia Rubin, former president of the Young Survival Coalition, wrote in a letter to Lifetime.
Ms. Wagner also quoted a letter sent by Dr. Marisa Weiss, founding president of breastcancer.org, another of the network’s advocacy partners. “We are thrilled to have your support for the development of new innovative programs that will provide up-to-date, complete and reliable medical information about breast cancer to many thousands of women,” Dr. Weiss wrote.
Other Lifetime partners are the Anastacia Fund (founded by Latina pop singer and cancer survivor Anastacia), Breast Cancer Action, the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations, the National Breast Cancer Coalition and Nueva Vida.
Lifetime is now in its sixth year of using its resources to build support for federal legislation to end “drive-through mastectomies,” the medical practice of forcing women out of hospitals hours after breast-cancer surgery. The network has gathered nearly 8 million petition signatures urging Congress to end this practice, Ms. Wagner said, up from 5 million last year.
“That legislation has become a bit of a political football,” Ms. Wagner said. “It keeps getting included in other bills. We feel it’s certain we can get it done.”
Lifetime’s effort to combat breast cancer is a perennial cable fixture in October, which has been designated National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Nominated for an Emmy in 2001, the Lifetime initiative actually stood out long before that as one of cable’s most successful affiliate campaigns.
With more than 1,000 cable systems signed up each autumn, the initiative has “almost complete coverage,” Ms. Wagner said. “The cable industry really got behind it.”
MSOs such as Comcast Corp. have singled out the campaign as a strong performer for their systems and advertisers, including hospitals, doctors and auto dealers. Ad avails include taggable cross-channel spots that are sold to local accounts.
The campaign has focused on helping to educate Hispanic women in particular on the importance of early examination and detection, Ms. Wagner said. Executives at Time Warner Cable’s Los Angeles division said they’ve had significant success in combining Lifetime’s campaign with their own Hispanic Heritage Month efforts and a Hispanic digital-tier offer in September and October. The MSO, which also sponsored a related health fair in the market, themed its overall campaign, “Enjoy a healthy life in everything you do.”
Breast cancer has long been “a topic that is taboo among Hispanics,” said David Robertson of the L.A. division’s ad agency, Robertson Marketing. The breast cancer mortality rate is high among Latinas, he said, and is attributable to Latinas traditionally not taking preventive measures. Time Warner Cable is trying to address that with Lifetime’s help.
Each year the network tries to devise new wrinkles for its several “tentpole” issue campaigns to keep them fresh in viewers’ minds. Four years ago Lifetime added “Women Rock” as a live concert to close its October campaign, Ms. Wagner said. Trips to that Los Angeles event are offered as prizes in a tie-in sweepstakes.
Last year the network added an online “Celebrity Talking Dictionary,” for which 40 celebrities, including such stars as Courteney Cox and Celine Dion, defined 500 medical terms related to breast cancer. Ms. Wagner said still more stars will contribute definitions this fall.
“Most elements don’t go away; we just add on,” she said.