Create Public Awareness and Support

To maximize public awareness and support for your community AED program, you may need to develop a campaign directed both at the grassroots level and at the political decision-maker level. Your success will depend on how effective you are at bringing the media into your campaign as allies.

Developing a public awareness and support campaign entails these steps:

  • Establish an AED task force
  • Frame your issues
  • Develop a statement of need
  • Promote media coverage
  • Lobby local political leaders

Establish an AED task force

To gain broad-based community support, establish an AED public awareness and support task force comprised of key individuals in the community. These individuals should be "movers and shakers" with different talents and perspectives, representing diverse interest groups. Members could include:

  • EMS Medical Director
  • Director or coordinator from local EMS provider agency
  • Fire chief or training officer
  • Police chief or training officer
  • Corporate or industry security officer
  • Local elected official with strong political connections
  • Representatives of American Heart Association, American Red Cross, and other lead CPR training organizations
  • Representatives of civic group(s) likely to support campaign (e.g., Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, Elks)
  • Representative of senior citizens organization
  • Lay citizen, preferably with personal experience related to sudden cardiac arrest
  • Media representative (e.g., vice president of local TV station or publisher of local newspaper)

Task force members should represent important and influential groups in the community, be high-level decision-makers and demonstrate commitment to the cause. The task force should be large enough to include representation from key organizations, but small enough to be effective.

Once the task force is formed, follow these steps:

  • Elect a chairperson
  • Name the campaign-choose a simple, positive, easy-to-remember name
  • Identify the central point of contact (e.g., chairperson) and contact information (address, phone, fax, e-mail)
  • Create a logo and letterhead (optional)

Frame your issues

The task force's next job is to frame issues by developing a mission statement. The mission statement will be used internally to keep members focused, and externally to project a clear message to the community.

The mission statement includes a description of the purpose and goals. The mission of the campaign task force is to create broad-based citizen support and political will to implement an effective AED program. Specific goals will vary by community. It is up to the task force to identify exactly what it is trying to achieve. Your focus may be on the acquisition of enough AEDs to enable timely access to defibrillation throughout your community. Or, it may be that in your community there are already AEDs in place, but they need to be placed more strategically and there needs to be a stronger citizen CPR base. Perhaps training needs to be improved.

In most communities, the core goals will be to:

  • Increase public awareness of the need for early EMS access, early CPR and early defibrillation
  • Promote more widespread citizen CPR training
  • Persuade government officials to elevate the proposed community AED program to the top of their political agendas
  • Help generate funding
  • Ensure that all first responding emergency personnel are trained and equipped with AEDs

Develop a statement of need

The statement of need will be used both as part of the blueprint and as a stand-alone document. It should be designed to address the goals you have identified. In general, it should:

  • Describe the general problem of sudden cardiac arrest
  • Cite the cardiac arrest incidence and survival rates for treatable (ventricular fibrillation/ventricular tachycardia) cases of cardiac arrest in your community. (For figures, check with the EMS coordinator responsible for your community. Estimate if necessary.)
  • Describe the positive effect of AED programs in other locales
  • Explain why the proposed AED program is critical for your community

Sample statement of need

Sudden cardiac arrest is one of the leading causes of death among adults in North America. Each year, it claims the lives of a quarter of a million people in the United States alone.

Many victims would be alive today if someone had provided immediate CPR and defibrillation. In fact, the shorter the time from collapse to treatment, the better the chances of survival.

On average, each year in < community>, are stricken by sudden cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, survival rates from treatable cases of cardiac arrest in < community> average only ____ percent.

We believe we can do better than this. We believe that if more citizens in our community are trained in CPR and if we can outfit from with automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, we can drastically reduce the time from collapse to treatment and save more victims of sudden cardiac arrest.

Early CPR and defibrillation initiatives in other parts of the country have successfully reduced the time from collapse to treatment and achieved survival rates as high as 30 to 45 percent for treatable cases of cardiac arrest. In , for example, survival rates increased from ____ to ____ after the implementation of a community AED program.

We believe there is an urgent need to ensure that victims of sudden cardiac arrest in have rapid access to CPR and defibrillation. We believe that with rapid access to CPR and defibrillation, we will be able to save an average of lives each year. We believe the citizens of deserve access to this critical lifesaving treatment.

Members of the (Name) Task Force

Promote media coverage

The next step is to develop a media coverage action plan. This plan outlines specific tasks, the person responsible for each task and the target completion date. It will enable you to be proactive, setting the stage for ongoing media coverage. It also will enable you to react quickly when newsworthy events occur. The media representative on your task force should play a strategic role in developing and implementing the media coverage action plan. As you consider each step, think of yourself as the Pied Piper, leading your community to better public health. Aim to cultivate a long line of followers who can become fellow champions for the cause.

Media coverage action plan

Person(s) responsible
Target completion date
  • Identify influential community groups and individuals
  • Write and distribute appeal letters
  • Collect and collate letters of support
  • Develop a press kit
  • Identify media outlets
  • Select and prioritize specific media targets
  • Meet with contact persons at selected media targets
  • Plan specific media events

Identify influential community groups and individuals

It is important to generate grassroots community support for your AED program. The goal is not only to increase public awareness but also to create public demand for early defibrillation capabilities. This step entails identifying community groups and individuals to enlist their support. Targets can include health organizations, hospitals, medical offices, businesses, civic organizations, senior centers, libraries, churches, recreation centers, political leaders, local dignitaries and families of non-survivors.

Write and distribute appeal letters

The next task is to invite these groups and individuals to write letters supporting your AED initiative. In your invitation or appeal, include a brief cover letter, the statement of need from your campaign blueprint and a sample letter of support.

Sample appeal letter

(Date) Dear (Name): Each year in (community), (number) people die from sudden cardiac arrest. Many victims would be alive today if their hearts could have been shocked with defibrillators within minutes after collapse. We, the members of the (Name) Campaign would like to make sure that future victims of sudden cardiac arrest in (community) have timely access to this lifesaving treatment.

We are seeking letters from community leaders like you to support the (community) (Name) Campaign. Would you kindly review the enclosed statement of need and send a letter of support to (contact information) by (date). A sample letter of support is enclosed for your convenience.

Thank you in advance for helping us improve the health and safety of our families, friends and neighbors.


(Campaign chairperson)

Sample letter of support


Dear (Campaign chairperson):

On behalf of (organization), we would like to endorse the (community) (Name) Campaign. We recognize that sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in (community) and that rapid defibrillation is critical for survival. We believe that your campaign will help save many lives in our community and we pledge our support for this noble cause.


(Name of organization representative or individual)

Collect and collate letters of support

With very little effort, you should be able to generate letters of support from community leaders. Sometimes, your letters of appeal will be all that is necessary. Other times, you may need to follow up your letters with telephone calls and presentations. As you gather letters of support, collate them for later use in press kits and presentations.

Develop a press kit

Your media press kit should include these items:

  • A cover letter that introduces media contacts to the campaign mission
  • A "backgrounder" that includes a list of task force members and their affiliations and the statement of need from your campaign blueprint
  • A news release (e.g., announcing the launching of your campaign)
  • The letters of support that you have gathered
  • Position statements from national organizations that endorse the need for early defibrillation

Identify media outlets

Different types of media offer different advantages for relaying your message. Television offers wide reach and visual impact. Radio allows targeting and frequent "hits." Print allows in-depth coverage.


    Local television stations may be interested in your mission if there is a news "hook." If a newsworthy event can be tied to your mission, network news shows may televise brief reports. Cable television talk shows provide excellent opportunities for more in-depth reporting. Consider providing television stations with short videos promoting early defibrillation that can be broadcast with permission.


    You can facilitate radio coverage by preparing scripts for public service announcements (PSAs) and providing news releases that list spokespersons from your campaign who are available for interviews.

Sample radio PSAs

Live Copy A
"Call first. Call fast. Help make a life last."
For immediate release

15 seconds

The only cure for sudden cardiac arrest is immediate defibrillation. The only way to make sure a defibrillator is on the way is to call 9-1-1. If you see an adult who has collapsed and is unresponsive, don't waste any time. Call first. Call fast. Help make a life last.

Live Copy B
"Learn CPR for someone you love."
For immediate release

15 seconds

Eight out of 10 cardiac emergencies happen at home. Protect your family and friends by learning CPR. Call at today to sign up for training. Learn CPR for someone you love.

Live Copy C
"Support the Campaign"
For immediate release

15 seconds

We can save ____more lives each year in if more emergency personnel carry defibrillators. Help us help you and your loved ones. Call today to pledge your support for the Campaign.


know the publisher, the senior editor, the medical editor, the news reporters for the city desk and individual columnists. Convince them that your issue is important and the public needs to know about it. One very effective technique is for the task force to submit an editorial opinion (op-ed). Letters to the editor from task force members, community leaders and concerned citizens can also be very persuasive. Buying ad space is another effective alternative.

The Op-Ed piece
Editorial opinions (op-eds) are important. They feature you and your organization. Unlike shorter letters to the editor, op-eds say to readers, "This organization, this message is important." Don't just submit a piece. Read the op-ed page, get familiar with the editor's likes and dislikes, then contact the op-ed page editor, describing what you would like to present. Usually you will get the go-ahead. Keep the piece short and use the active voice.

Select and prioritize specific media targets

Decide which types of media will work best for you and identify specific contacts. Prioritize your list.

Meet with contact persons at selected media targets

The importance of this step cannot be overemphasized. You will generate much better media coverage if you take the time to meet personally with key media contacts. The media takes its role to inform the public and to be watchdogs of public policy very seriously. If you can convince the media that your campaign is of vital importance to the community, it can become the catalyst that sways public opinion.

By meeting with media contacts, you can also learn about their procedures, deadlines and style preferences. And, you can seek their advice on the best ways to promote different facets of your campaign. In your discussions, you may discover media contacts who have been personally affected by sudden cardiac arrest. They may become your steadfast allies.

Plan specific media events

At different times during your campaign, you will be pitching different concepts to the media. In the beginning, you will simply introduce the media to the statement of need. Afterwards, each time you try to convey a concept to the public to increase awareness and support for your initiative, you should watch for or develop a news "hook" or media event. The news media needs to know what newsworthy event has occurred that should prompt a report on your campaign.

Once you have identified the news angle, write a news release that can be distributed to media contacts. The news release should:

  • Use a strong headline
  • Focus on one topic or issue only
  • Be limited to one to two pages, double-spaced
  • Answer the 5W's (who, what, where, when and why)
  • Provide contact information

The release can be accompanied by a "backgrounder" that goes into more detail.

Keep in mind that your issue is competing with many other important issues for media attention. What is it about your message that is compelling? What local events can be tied to the educational message you are trying to convey? How can you strengthen the newsworthiness of the event with visual impact that can provide TV "view bites"? Children draw media attention-can they be involved? Are local celebrities willing to help?

If you are holding a press conference, send out a press advisory two to three days before the event. This is not a news release, but rather a brief "teaser" (never more than three paragraphs long) that tells what the conference will cover, who will be there, why it is important, and where and when it will be held. A more detailed news release can then be distributed at the conference itself.

Suggested news hooks

Concept News hook
The need for early EMS access Introduction of new 9-1-1 system
Success story involving 9-1-1 pre-arrival CPR coaching
The need for early CPR Mass CPR training event
CPR marathon
Local celebrities participate in CPR training
CPR training becomes standard course in local junior or senior high school
The need for early defibrillation Victim from nearby or similar community survives thanks to AED
Testimonies from people who have lost loved ones
Press conference showing governor signing new legislation enabling more widespread use of AEDs
Area business have AEDs...shouldn't ambulances, fire engines and police cars?
The appeal for community support Press conference to announce launching of AED initiative
Town hall meeting to introduce AED initiative
Petition signing opportunity for local citizens at city hall or the local library; give awards to first 100 signers
Awards ceremony, that is, for individuals involved in saving a life
Contest among area school children to illustrate Chain of Survival concept or come up with creative name and depiction of defibrillator
The need for funds Set up photo opportunity displaying contribution from prominent organization or individual to get fund-raising efforts underway
Hold an AED telethon

Lobby local political leaders

In many communities, municipal governments can direct public safety agencies, such as fire and police departments, to provide early defibrillation services. Generating broad-based interest in early defibrillation-through appeals for letters of support and effective media coverage-will help you enlist the support of political leaders. Elected officials and others in the community who influence the electorate will listen attentively to public cries for state-of-the-art emergency cardiac care. Once you have laid the groundwork by generating public will, you need to approach political leaders directly to develop political will.

Action plan for enlisting political support

Task Person(s) responsible Target completion date
  • Identify specific action(s) you want local political leaders to take
  • Identify and contact local political leaders
  • Develop presentation package
  • Make presentations to advocate your position

Identify specific action(s) you want local political leaders to take

A common public advocacy error is to fail to communicate exactly what you would like local political leaders to do. One of the pivotal roles of the AED task force is to identify the specific actions you want political leaders to take and then convey these clearly and succinctly. When communicating with public officials, be brief and to the point. If you are writing a letter, keep it to one page. Never address more than one issue at a time.

Identify and contact political leaders

Identify key political leaders who exert a strong presence in the community. Look for officials who have demonstrated an interest in public health issues, who have a personal experience related to sudden cardiac arrest, or who are up for reelection. Once you have identified key contacts, have designated task force members call them and explain the issues. If schedules permit, make an effort to meet personally. Introduction of the task force and its mission at the outset will help facilitate follow-up communications during the campaign.

Develop presentation package

Presentations to political leaders at governmental gatherings such as town hall and county council meetings can include:

  • Showing a promotional video that provides an overview on the need for early defibrillation
  • Demonstrating how to use an AED
  • Distributing copies of position statements from leading national organizations that support the need for early defibrillation (see Appendix B)
  • Distributing the statement of need from the campaign blueprint
  • Distributing copies of letters of support
  • Having a survivor tell his or her story

Make presentations

Schedule your presentation in advance. Ask how much time can be allotted to your presentation adjust it accordingly. In many municipal meetings, brevity and clarity are the keys to success. Follow up your presentation with a thank you note that reiterates your main presentation points.

Uncover and address potential obstacles

As you conduct the public awareness and support campaign, you may encounter obstacles. If this happens, sit down with would-be opponents and try to understand their views. Once issues have been identified, work together to achieve solutions that will benefit the community. Many obstacles can be overcome by sharing information and demonstrating goodwill. Education can turn adversaries into advocates.

Community awareness and support will enhance fund-raising efforts

The effectiveness of your public awareness and support campaign will have a direct bearing on fund-raising initiatives.


Public awareness and support are crucial to the success of community AED programs. Cultivating community consciousness and action takes effort, but a dedicated task force can spearhead a campaign that targets citizens and political leaders alike and brings the media in as strong and influential allies. Increased awareness can inspire implementation of community AED programs.