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Beyond the Bling: Protecting Michigan's health insurance

Aug 25, 2017

Sometimes we need to take a step back from the go, go, go and find inspiration through reflection.

Early last year, we had the privilege of working with the Michigan League for Public Policy on a truly awesome initiative to help the state's most vulnerable residents keep their health insurance. And, with the current national attack on health care, we're reminded of just how important it is to protect those communities. In this installment of Beyond the Bling, we're humbly taking a look at our 2017 CMPRSA PACE Pinnacle Award-winning public affairs campaign through a case study.


CLIENT: Michigan League for Public Policy

CAMPAIGN: Protecting the Healthy Michigan Plan


Despite mounting evidence that Michigan’s Medicaid program – the Healthy Michigan Plan – not only works but works exceptionally well, Michigan League for Public Policy knew its work was not done in building a positive public narrative around the plan. To inoculate the program against the ever-present possibility of legislative budget cuts, Piper & Gold Public Relations developed and executed statewide outreach to increase key legislative support through earned media placements about plan success in districts with important legislative targets. And it worked. As of February 2017, about 646,000 low-income residents participate in the unchanged Healthy Michigan Plan.

Strategy and planning

The why: To protect health insurance coverage for thousands of low-income Michigan residents.

In 2013, bi-partisan leaders in Michigan’s Legislature worked together to expand insurance coverage in Michigan through the Healthy Michigan Plan.

Despite successes and a positive narrative, the program faced a real risk entering the State budget cycle. We knew we were up against some significant hurdles: Michigan’s consistent budget cuts, a negative legislative and stakeholder sentiment toward the Affordable Care Act, a conflicted Republican Governor and legislature. In the midst of all of this? The Flint water crisis. Health care access was at the forefront of the minds of the public. To say the messaging was complicated is an understatement.

P&G was up for the challenge.

We partnered with the Michigan League for Public Policy through a grant from Community Catalyst to navigate this uncharted territory and bring attention to the well-evidenced positive impacts of the plan for individuals, businesses, the health care system and, ultimately, our state. With a goal of keeping the program in tact by increasing key legislative support of the Healthy Michigan Plan, P&G developed messaging and strategy for placing strategic and purposeful earned media about the success of the plan in districts with important legislative targets.

We strategically selected our audience for maximum impact based on legislators who had a “no” voting history or didn’t vote regarding the Healthy Michigan Plan.

Though this was a uniquely bi-partisan issue, our team identified the following target districts because their legislators voted no on a bill supporting the plan or didn’t vote at all: Oakland County (Metro Detroit), Jackson, Saginaw, Howell, Kalamazoo, Kent County (Grand Rapids), Midland, Holland, St. Joseph, Grand Traverse and Marquette -- a broad geographic swath of Michigan ranging from major metropolitan hubs to rural Northern Michigan. Lansing was also a target, focusing coverage on when the legislature was in session and likely to be exposed to the region’s news media. Once districts were identified, research was done to understand key issues or interests of legislators representing those districts to further appeal to their sensibilities.

The secondary audience was health care and health insurance advocates, health care workers, small business owners and the ubiquitous ‘general public’ to build comprehensive positive perception of and support for the Healthy Michigan plan among those legislators represent.

Media relations

The why: To reach legislators where they are with personally resonating messaging about the success of the Healthy Michigan Plan.

Media relations was the main driver of our goal to increase key legislative support of the Healthy Michigan Plan. We needed to share the success of the plan in those prioritized districts in a meaningful way.

Four strategies led this effort:

  • Increase media presence by securing editorial board meetings and easy-to-understand op-eds authored by local spokespeople in daily newspapers in regions with the largest markets/population centers. Focus on markets covering multiple legislators.
  • Increase media presence by submitting easy-to-understand op-eds and guest columns by local spokespeople in daily or weekly newspapers in rural regions with small and medium size markets/population centers.
  • Increase media presence by pitching individual stories to television and print/electronic media featuring “hometown voices” and the experiences of consumers, focusing on the markets with the least amount of cumulative editorial, op-ed and guest column coverage.
  • Share media coverage with policymakers/staff to increase the chances of increasing key legislative support.

Our key to strategic success was identifying champions of the plan to personalize and humanize the program, but sticking to highly resonant messages with the primarily Republican legislative targets: jobs, economic impact, saving Michigan money, saving businesses and the health care system money and a proven track record of success in Michigan. Taking the strategy one layer deeper, individual champions were identified for each region to specifically appeal to the legislative target. Was the legislator a male small business owner, or a woman with a health care background? Great detail and care went into cultivating relationships with statewide partners and known advocates of the Healthy Michigan Plan. Based on our understanding of the targets, champions included the Small Business Association of Michigan, a small business owner, a physician and president of the Michigan State Medical Society, the president of the Michigan Osteopathic Association, local chambers of commerce and business organizations, and plan participants. A great effort was made to ensure spokespeople were racially and gender diverse and reflective of the geographic communities they were representing.

Once champions were confirmed, P&G identified and pitched media for editorial board meetings and op-ed submissions, provided champions with key messages and talking points, and drafted and coordinated final customized op-ed submissions in an effort to place at least one op-ed in a local newspaper in every targeted district. Localized op-eds incorporated key messages paired with localized data and personal anecdotes from the authors. We worked diligently with each individual author to ensure the final products were authentic to the author’s voice, while also being resonant for each target legislator.

The impact

The client’s goal to ensure legislative support of the Healthy Michigan Plan through placing earned media about the success of Healthy Michigan in districts with important legislative districts was a definitive success. The plan survived the 2016 budget cycle and as of today more than 650,000 low-income residents participate in the unchanged Healthy Michigan Plan.

A few cherries on top of that enormous success...

We secured coverage in all targeted districts, placing op-eds in 12 different outlets, including Crain’s Detroit Business. Headlines ranged from “Small business needs genuine relief from health insurance premiums” to “Healthy Michigan Plan is good for Metro Detroit residents” and spanned the state.

Placements and reach included:

  • Jackson Citizen Patriot (75,251).
  • Oakland Press (65,934).
  • Morning Sun (48,463).
  • Macomb Daily (11,329).
  • Herald Palladium (23,243).
  • Grand Rapids Business Journal (statewide reach and 5,000+ Facebook likes).
  • Crain’s Detroit Business (statewide; net reach of 302,709).
  • Midland Daily News (16,439).
  • Michigan Business Network podcast, Facebook, Twitter.
  • Lansing State Journal (70,725).

Additionally, customized packets were made to share media coverage with policymakers and their staff and were distributed by MLPP’s policy analyst, who also received recommendations for relationship-building follow ups based on our media and partner outreach efforts.

And, kind words from clients are always appreciated. 

“It was a pleasure working with you and I'm very proud of how this project turned out!”

“This is great. Nice add to the successful outcomes list.”  

Tags: health insurance, healthy michigan plan, media relations, legislature, case study, beyond the bling, awards