Public Health England launches first national campaign for cervical screening

Push comes as screening rate hits 20-year low.

Public Health England is today launching "Cervical screening saves lives", its first ever national campaign for the procedure, which aims to turn around a long-term decline in women getting screened.

Created by M&C Saatchi, the ad campaign features various female relationships, including mothers and daughters, sisters, partners and friends, with one of the pair thanking the other for reminding them to go to their cervical screening.

It was created by Jordan Morris and Danny Jones, and directed by Joao Retorta through Bullion. The media agencies on the campaign were Wavemaker and Manning Gottlieb OMD.

The campaign will incorporate TV, video on demand, social media, digital, washroom posters and partnerships with Boots and Slimming World. There will also be a media partnership with Bauer Media involving magazine brands Grazia, Heat and Closer.

PR activity, led by Freuds, will involve healthcare professionals and celebs including Mel C, Faye Tozer, Christine Lampard, Sunetra Sarker and Anita Rani.

Speaking to Campaign, Sheila Mitchell, director of marketing at PHE, said there had been a "steady deterioration" in the proportion of women getting screened, with the exception of an upwards "blip" following the death of Jade Goody from cervical cancer, at the age of 27, in March 2009.

Mitchell said there were "several rational reasons and some more emotive" ones that accounted for the decline, which is particularly evident among women aged 25 to 34, the youngest group eligible for screening. Rates are also lower for women in BAME groups.

The reasons included that invites to attend screening are "still done as a letter in the post" that "you can just stuff somewhere and forget", Mitchell said, while for some women the issue is embarrassing, or they feel like they have not got time.

But she said the "bigger issue is there’s really been no active work in the past couple of years". Combined with cervical cancer having a relatively low incidence, this means "people don’t seem to see there’s much of a risk".

In comparison, she said, "there’s been such a steady weight of activity around breast cancer – it’s absolutely been kept at the forefront of women’s perceptions".

While Jade Goody’s illness drove home the importance of screening for many women at the time, some of the current target audience were too young in 2009 for it to have had the same impact, Mitchell added.

The campaign avoids the use of the word cancer, which Mitchell said can be a "major problem" because just the presence of the word can deter people from engaging.

The focus on the importance of solidarity between female friends and family in the campaign reflected that "you’ve got to pull every lever you can think of pulling" in encouraging people to look after their health, she said. "Getting people to cajole each other is one of those effective methods."

But it was also important to retain "some jeopardy" in the messaging, she added, which is why the campaign flags up the fact that on average, two women in the UK die every day from cervical cancer.

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