You aren’t likely to see a celebrity spokesperson pushing the message.
Nor will it employ guilt-based tactics or a series of
“worst nightmare” scenarios.
Instead, the educational campaign conducted by the Consumer Product Safety
Commission to reduce child drownings and entrapments — a
mandate of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act
— is designed to focus on practical information, empowering
messages and personal responsibility.
Spearheaded by Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm
Communications, the campaign was slated for a “soft
launch” April 26 during the National
Drowning Prevention Symposium in Pittsburgh. Kathleen Reilly,
public affairs specialist with CPSC, was scheduled to present
Widmeyer’s research results and program goals to
Specifics of the federally funded effort were still being
fine-tuned in the weeks leading up to Reilly’s presentation.
But a March 31 meeting with representatives from nearly two-dozen
partner organizations offered a glimpse into the campaign’s
findings, objectives and strategies.
“I thought it was encouraging,” said Thomas Lachocki,
Ph.D., CEO of the National Swimming Pool Foundation in Colorado Springs,
Colo., who participated in the summit of coalition partners.
“There really is a spirit of collaboration to empower
organizations throughout our field, and I think one of the real
keys is going to be consistency in messaging around the
According to documents prepared and distributed by Widmeyer, the
nationwide campaign will touch five distinct channels: the pool and
spa industry, campaign partners (including nonprofits, safety and
advocacy groups, and public health organizations), consumers, the
media, and local and state governments. Activities are scheduled to
begin in May and continue through November.
Over the past few months, Widmeyer conducted extensive research
into various aspects of pool safety. The firm learned about the
beliefs of target audiences through in-depth interviews and focus
groups. And it sought to identify which types of messages would be
most effective, as well as how and by whom those messages should be
Among the findings:
- Consumers are enthusiastic about pools and spas, and their past
experiences and enjoyment seem to outweigh concern over drowning or
- Though awareness of VGB is high among the pool and spa
industry, the law is mostly unknown by consumers.
- A positive, empowering message is the most promising.
- “Real people” as spokespeople and news media
attention top the list of messengers and outreach opportunities to
best attract consumers.
- For CPSC’s public safety campaign, existing industry
channels may be the best ways to promote compliance.
“The research Widmeyer conducted confirmed a lot of what
we had heard anecdotally about pool owners and how they feel about
their pools,” said Bill Weber, president/CEO of the Association of Pool & Spa
Professionals in Alexandria, Va. “The key now is getting
the message of safety, as well as the importance of swimming,
across in a way that motivates positive behavior. The industry will
be a key point of distribution, and we’re working to promote
a more compelling, positive message as opposed to a negative
Indeed, it echoed another primary challenge identified in
Widmeyer’s research, and it’s a dilemma the industry
knows all too well: How to convey an urgent, serious message when
pools and spas represent fun and recreation?
What’s more, how can CPSC convince pool owners, who
already believe they’re taking appropriate precautions, to
adopt additional safety steps?
“We want to make sure that we’re pushing strategies
that will work,” said Julie Gilchrist, M.D., medical
epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta,
another coalition partner.
“There’s such positive reinforcement for bad
behavior,” she added, “and it’s hard to get
people motivated to change their environments and their lives when
they perceive that it’s been working just fine up to this
point. It’s very difficult.”
Difficult, yes, but industry leaders nonetheless remain upbeat
about the prospects for a successful campaign, especially one that
draws on so many disparate interests that, in the past, may have
presented conflicting messages.
“If it’s done well — and it looks like it is
— it’s going to motivate proper behavior, and
it’s going to be good,” Weber said.
In related news, CPSC recently released its guidelines outlining
the minimum requirements that states would have to meet before
becoming eligible for grant monies under VGB. The grant program was
put in place to encourage states to pass pool and spa barrier and
anti-entrapment laws to help prevent child drownings.