January 5, 2017

What’s Your Plan? A Lesson in Collaboration.


“You know that saying, ‘location – location – location?’ In order for community anti-drug coalitions to affect behavior change, ‘collaboration – collaboration – collaboration’ is the way to achieve success,” affirms Ray Bemis, the Roanoke Prevention Alliance (RPA) Director. 

CADCA caught up with Bemis this week, as he introduced RPA’s collaborative effort – What’s Your Plan? In 2012, the RPA, the Prevention Council of Roanoke County, the Fresh Coalition of Franklin County and the HIPE Coalition of Campbell County each received Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) State Incentive Grants to prevent alcohol-involved motor vehicle crashes among drivers aged 18-24. In fact, just a few years earlier in 2009, 35 percent of Virginia’s car accident fatalities were alcohol-related. Rather than operating in individual silos, these four coalitions created and continue to implement What’s Your Plan?, a communications campaign with the resounding message, “Make a plan before you drink, because doing so can save lives and save you money.” Indeed, that’s just what What’s your Plan? has accomplished since its inception.“You know that saying, ‘location – location – location?’ In order for community anti-drug coalitions to affect behavior change, ‘collaboration – collaboration – collaboration’ is the way to achieve success,” affirms Ray Bemis, the Roanoke Prevention Alliance (RPA) Director.

Southwest Virginia’s RPA and its partners operate in rural, suburban and urban environments. Approximately 98,000 people live in Roanoke City (the 10th largest city in the Commonwealth and serves as the commercial and cultural hub for the Roanoke Valley) with about 97,000 living in the rural areas surrounding the community. This region is “home” to Ferrum College, Hollins University, Virginia Western Community College and Smith Mountain Lake. One of its communities – Franklin County – is known as the “Moonshine Capital of the World.”

According to the coalitions’ logic models, the region had been experiencing:

  • Binge drinking and driving among 21-24 year olds
  • 21-24 year olds drinking at restaurants and then driving
  • Drinking and driving among 18-24 year olds

There was also a perceived low risk among 21-24 year olds of being caught drinking and driving, due to a lack of enforcement because of budget cuts. The coalitions set out to:

  • Increase public awareness about the rise in drinking and driving
  • Increase awareness of law enforcement once enforcement was increased with the grant funding
  • Increase awareness of options to get home safe to prevent drinking and driving

What’s Your Plan? was designed to address these goals. Collaboratively increasing law enforcement and creating a communication plan that boosted visibility of this issue through television, radio, cinema and print media met these goals.

“Working independently, each coalition had two ducats [small amount of funding], but by crafting consistent messaging and approaches across all four coalitions, we were able to amplify our media exposure. And our communities are achieving outcomes. We went from 103 alcohol-related crashes in 2012 to 87 in 2015 and 17 during the first three quarters of 2016 in Roanoke City,” said Bemis.

How They Did It

The RPA and its partners created a plan that all coalitions bought into. The coalitions agreed that they would target 18-24 year olds’ drinking and driving behaviors. They also crafted four distinct messages targeting college students, Roanoke City residents, visitors to downtown Roanoke and those living in the more rural communities. An important programmatic decision was to ensure buy-in from law enforcement and police department Public Information Officers in all four jurisdictions. The main approach was to create public service announcements (PSAs) that could be placed on the radio, television and in movie theaters.

“Six PSAs have been produced; four are currently in rotation; and we will produce one or two more this year,” said Bemis.

Also created were billboards and posters focusing on stepped up law enforcement and its impact:

  • Drive Hammered…Get Nailed! What’s Your Plan?
  • I just saved $10,000 by NOT drinking & driving. What’s Your Plan?
  • Think before you blow $10,000. What’s Your Plan?
  • Happy Hour: $12; DUI Legal Fees: $12,000. What’s Your Plan?

Lesson Learned – Contracts and Partnerships

Bemis affirms that five years of working on this issue has created “do’s and don’ts” that are worth sharing. He says:

  • Get advice from experts, preferably who are passionate about this issue.
  • Include multiple media representatives in the production discussion: Radio, television, theater, digital.
  • Only one rep from each form of media should be at the table – one TV rep, one radio rep, etc.
  • Be up front with your original media partners prior to adding new media outlets.
  • Remember that you can expand to other networks and outlets – YOU ARE PAYING.
  • Be a savvy consumer! Have an expectation that spots will be donated.
  • Before you meet with media, know what you are asking for, have some potential ideas for your message but listen to the media experts as well.
  • Let the production people do the creative.
  • Ask about editing, uploading and any costs upfront.
  • Push back until your pieces look/sound the way you want them.
  • Make it clear that your coalition owns the PSA(s) and do not pay upload fees.

“SPF funding went away in 2015, and there was so much support for this campaign that the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is now grant funding the program,” concludes Bemis. “And there is no doubt that our success is based on this regional collaborative model. We couldn’t have done it any other way.” 

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