In the U.S., 23,000 babies are lost to stillbirth each year, and yet, the country has not significantly invested in preventing these tragedies at a national level. Count the Kicks was developed in Iowa to address this issue by supporting pregnant individuals with tracking their fetal movement in the third trimester and encouraging them to speak up when they notice an issue. With research showing the use of the fetal movement strategy has helped to reduce stillbirths in Iowa by 32 percent and with 17 additional states adopting the Count the Kicks tool, Healthy Birth Day, Inc. is now urging federal lawmakers to fund and support stillbirth prevention across the U.S.
Executive Director Emily Price focused her HealthConnect Fellowship on making the case with leaders for greater national support. Getting the right message to elected officials has been critical to the organization’s most recent success of having congressional legislation introduced in both federal chambers.
Here are some of the strategic communications choices Price and her team made while they developed promotional documents in consultation with communications and marketing firm, Topos Partnership:
In a workshop with Topos, a valuable lesson clicked with Price:
“Decision makers need to hear that they, as someone making a decision, someone in power, can actually solve the issue.”
Count the Kicks has a decade of research showing it is effective. While communications materials highlight the issue of stillbirth briefly, the focus quickly shifts to the solution that can address the issue. Price acknowledges that there’s not always an easy solution for each systems-change effort, but advocates can elevate successes that have worked to address an issue and help explain how those successes were accomplished, so leaders see what’s possible.
“The biggest message we want to get across is we can save babies now,” says Price.
A one-pager highlights at the top that “America loses 23,000 babies to stillbirth every year” and “racial disparities persist.” Then, the document features photos of real babies who would have died if not for the Count the Kicks intervention, making an emotional connection to the number.
Healthy Birth Day has taken steps to track data on the use of the Count the Kicks tool and to evaluate its impact, including capturing stories from moms whose babies were saved. The fact that Iowa has seen a 32% reduction in stillbirth rates while states without the Count the Kicks tool have remained stagnant in their stillbirth rates has made the strongest case that it’s an evidence-based solution to address stillbirth.
Instead of saying that the intervention saw a 32% reduction in Iowa’s stillbirth rate, Price was encouraged to say that the Count the Kicks tool is saving 1 in 3 at-risk babies. Price’s team also shared with each state that didn’t have the tool how many babies they could potentially save if they implemented the strategy. These tactics made the 32% number more tangible for leaders to understand.
Communications materials state that Count the Kicks was named a best practice by the Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs; more than 2.2 million pieces of educational materials have been distributed to health care settings; more than 190,000 expectant parents have downloaded the app; and the tool has launched in 17 states. All of this helps inspire other states, health care providers, and leaders to embrace use of the tool. The right testimonials, including one from a Harvard University researcher and a state health department leader, also have helped build trust with leaders regarding use of the tool.
The intentional use of the phrase “turnkey operation” was meant to catch readers’ attention with the understanding that the solution is easy to implement and operate, making it more enticing for leaders to consider implementing in their organizations.
Coming up with the right message takes time and a lot of revisions – at least a month in Price’s team’s experience. Price encourages advocates to break down the message and then break it down even further to simplify. Developing a 27-9-3 statement (27 words, 9 seconds, 3 key points) has also helped her make her point quickly and succinctly when meeting with leaders. Her statement was even integrated into the congressional legislation she helped write.
“The power of communicating well is the difference between staying where you are and having congressional legislation or whatever your endgame is,” Price said. “It’s really refining what you’re trying to say and keep doing it.”