Through an ongoing commitment to social marketing in health, we have been looking for ways that newer technologies could work for us in delivering messages to target groups.
A couple of years ago, there was limited use of texting in health. But we seized an ideal time to try it as the equipment costs had plummeted, as had the price of text bundles if bought in sufficient quantities.
We wanted to use texting to communicate with people who we didn't already reach by the other means we had in play, such as posters, bus campaigns, radio and community work. A key group for us was, and remains, men. They are notoriously shy about connecting with health services and slow to respond to symptoms of ill health. So we settled on developing an existing relationship with Walsall Football Club as a platform.
Walsall FC have a smallish following by league standards - 5,000-7,000 home gates - but have enjoyed a lively recent history. They are also the focus of other activities, conferences, social events, a huge social club and above all a Sunday market, which regularly attracts a crowd of 18,000.
The service we created is Txt 64446. Text the word "health" to the number and we will enrol you as a member and send you free regular health messages, advice and updates.
To advertise Txt 64446, we entered into a commercial relationship with the club, sponsoring the main stand. This includes the right to sign-write the stand inside and out. Inside the ground we have a set of text language health messages the full length of the pitch and outside the stand we have three very large boards giving the Txt 64446 message. We estimate that this signage gives us 1,300,000 hits per year, or about 6p per person who sees the message.
The initial response was positive, with the exception of one reporter who produced a pile of defibrillators which he claimed we could have bought instead. We attracted members quickly and within a few months built up to the current level of around 500.
The service has run for two years now and we have maintained interest and our recipient base through regular messages, often with a topical theme, for instance, signposting smoking cessation services around the New Year. We also run regular competitions where recipients have to read all the messages over a seven-day period to solve the quiz.
We have built the relationship with the club beyond the texting service. We have health promotion input or intervention at each game and we work closely with the club on applications it makes for funding community and fitness schemes.
We also used the club in launching our membership organisation MyNHSWalsall and recruited our first 200 members there.
In Walsall the football club enjoy an important civic position. Our work with them has improved the civic profile of health.
We regularly communicate with citizens we would have been unlikely to reach and have established a platform for working with a hard-to-reach community.