Can you hear me now?

June 4, 2019
In an age when news comes at us 24/7, the AOA’s media advocacy must be proactive, reactive, plucky and nimble to grab and keep hold of the public’s attention and influence public policy. In the past year, the AOA’s media advocacy was all of the above.
Advocacy wins

Excerpted from page 28 of the April/May 2019 edition of AOA Focus.

Envision the satellite media tour by the AOA for Contact Lens Health Week in August 2018: The "tour" actually takes place in Atlanta in an o­ffice space turned makeshift studio that is small, spare and soundproof. The expert, AOA President Samuel D. Pierce, O.D., sits patiently in a chair with a small microphone clipped to his suit. He will be here for five hours, knocking out interview after interview. Twenty-one in all. Some interviews are live, some taped for television, radio, print and online.

Dr. Pierce confidently delivers two of the AOA's main messages: Buying nonprescriptive, decorative contact lenses from illegal vendors is bad for your eye health and seeking prescriptions in the safe, clinical setting of an optometrist's o­ffice will protect your eyes.

"Any time you acquire contact lenses without a prescription, including noncorrective, decorative lenses, you put your eyes at risk," Dr. Pierce says, talking to a TV news host in St. Louis.

Then the real tour de force starts.

Those 21 interviews are shared and heard in multiple media markets across the country, igniting conversations among the public about eye care and vision health.

"Logistically, it makes more sense and has the same effect to do 21 live interviews from a single remote location at a fraction of the expenses and time it would take to travel to every location for an in-person interview," Dr. Pierce says. "The AOA continues to work very diligently to deliver the message to all Americans of the importance of seeing doctors of optometry for essential eye care, and a media blitz like this is just one of many means of delivering our messages," he adds.

Good year

There is an old marketing adage that it takes a message being repeated seven times before a prospect really takes an action in response. In 2018, the public heard the AOA's message a whole lot.

Among its media advocacy successes:

  • The AOA secured 2.6 billion media impressions via more than 3,700 earned media placements.
  • In addition, a syndicated article or advertorial (geared toward consumers/patients) on the downsides of vision apps was picked up by numerous local print and online news outlets, generating 146 million impressions from 2,214 placements.
  • The Aug. 17 media blitz with Dr. Pierce's interviews led to more than 1,700 airings to a potential audience of more than 40 million people.

The AOA's positions were echoed in such media staples as Yahoo! News, CNN, BuzzFeed, Politico, USA Today, National Public Radio (NPR) and "CBS This Morning."

"The AOA is the nation's authority on vision and ocular health and is the premier source of information for consumers and patients," Dr. Pierce says. "The satellite media tour in August was an excellent opportunity for the AOA to deliver the important message of the dangers of wearing illegally obtained contact lenses, in tandem with a representative of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which further stresses the importance of the messaging."

AOA's non-stop advocacy

Midway through 2019, the AOA's media advocacy is off to a good start.

Through the AOA's participation in the national Think About Your Eyes campaign, the public can follow the summer vacation of a YouTube family. Their summer road trip promotes the importance of healthy vision in enjoying life's adventures over a trip through the western U.S. As the trip progressed, the Daily Bumps will share eye-health-related content such as the importance of UV protection, emphasis on playing outside to prevent myopia, and vision safety while driving. Think About Your Eyes will work with local optometrists to highlight the campaign's messaging and promote back-to-school eye exams to local media.

Other media advocacy highlights:

  • Think About Your Eyes is now on Hulu streaming service and YouTube video, expanding the public awareness campaign to new audiences. Ads will appear on these platforms through 2019.
  • AOA President Samuel D. Pierce, O.D., writing for Morning Consult, highlighted doctors of optometry as uniquely positioned to address the looming public health crisis of eye diseases and vision loss, but only if barriers are removed to practicing full scope eye care.
  • The AOA warned against the risks of using online apps for vision tests and prescriptions for an investigative segment on the proliferation of dangerous counterfeit contact lenses on " The Doctors." The segment included an interview with former AOA President David A. Cockrell, O.D.
  • Dr. Pierce was also quoted in Business Insider on the hazards of online eye exams; Healio/Primary Care Optometry News on AOA's request that the Federal Trade Commission investigate 1-800 Contacts for the marketing of its online vision test, ExpressExam; and on DoctorRadio about the increasing prevalence of myopia and use of digital devices.

Myopia was also the topic of conversation among nine online parenting influencers engaged to drive public awareness of the refractive error.  Further, Dr. Pierce was interviewed about minimizing digital eye strain by the video news service Cheddar and separately by, its content aimed at millennial women.

In good company

Partnerships can buoy the AOA's messaging, especially among targeted audiences.

Last summer, for instance, the AOA collaborated with the Association of Camp Nursing (ACN) to compile a list of essential summer safety tips for camp nurses and parents whose youngsters were heading off for a nature experience and community building.

"We're pleased to team up with the AOA," said Tracey Gaslin, Ph.D., APRN, executive director of the Kentucky-based ACN, whose 600 members include camp nurses, camp directors, camp leaders and others who have an interest in quality camp health services. "The goal of camp is to provide kids with a fun environment for them to grow socially, emotionally and mentally. Camp nurses want to do everything they can to make sure no child is put at risk for injury, so they can enjoy the camp experience."

Dr. Pierce's media blitz was done in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Contact Lens Health Week in August. Beyond that, the AOA participated in a Facebook panel discussion..

In concert with the AOA, Think About Your Eyes launched the "School's Out" campaign last summer featuring Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali and a champion boxer in her own right. The partnership sought to encourage parents to take their children to get annual, comprehensive eye examinations.

Think About Your Eyes is a national public awareness campaign of the vision industry including the AOA, 45 state associations and the Armed Forces Optometric Society. The campaign includes TV, radio, online display ads and paid search. Two weeks after a kickoff satellite media tour with Ali and the AOA Leadership Development Committee, the summer campaign generated over 4 million impressions across 25 media interviews nationwide due to Ali's personal story and appeal to parents.

In 2018, Think About Your Eyes drove 3.95 million eye exams, making it the campaign's biggest year yet.

"For years, optometry has known that we needed a campaign to advance eye health and vision care in America. Think About Your Eyes is the uniquely positioned campaign that does just that—it is increasing awareness and driving action," says Barbara L. Horn, O.D., AOA president-elect.

Jacqueline Bowen, O.D., AOA Trustee and AOA Board of Trustees liaison to Think About Your Eyes, says, "Think About Your Eyes is a truly unmatched campaign when you look across the health care industry. It does what others simply aspire to—brings together the resources of partners across the industry to communicate optometry's clear, singular and meaningful message: the importance of an in-person, comprehensive eye exam. Think About Your Eyes is truly driving public awareness and getting people to act. It is important, as doctors of optometry, for us to advance that message by supporting Think About Your Eyes partners and continuing to educate our patients when they do come in for their exams."

The AOA also worked with 11 like-minded social media "influencers" who help spark conversations in the public square—folks who get much of their information on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media channels. Those influencers—for instance, parenting bloggers—generated 439,000 impressions.

Holding the industry accountable

The AOA takes to heart its responsibility to advocate for the profession and eye health. That means reaching out and educating the public, the news media, policymakers and doctors of optometry—using AOA communication resources—about misleading claims that prevent consumers from receiving proper eye and vision care.

For instance, in 2018, the AOA sent a letter to social media giant Facebook about Opternative's (now known as Visibly) misleading advertising. In a letter addressed to its CEO Mark Zuckerberg on June 15, the AOA apprised Facebook of the potential public health and safety impact that results from Opternative's continued advertisement—under its own brand and marketed by 1-800 Contacts—despite a 2017 enforcement action from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declaring Opternative in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The AOA, which had ­led a complaint against Opternative earlier, requested Facebook take action and investigate.

"Given the serious nature of the FDA warning against Opternative, we wanted to ensure that you are aware that your platform is being used to advertise a company that has marketed its app-based vision test without clearance or approval required by the government, in violation of federal law," read the letter from Christopher J. Quinn, O.D., AOA president at the time.

The AOA, which has long warned the public about the risks of online eye tests, also turned up the heat on Hubble Contacts. In an article published in December 2017, the business news website, Quartz, detailed a reporter's attempt to circumvent Hubble's direct-to-consumer contact lens online ordering process. Contact lenses are considered medical devices by the FDA and legally require a prescription from an eye doctor. Yet, the Quartz writer says she obtained contacts without seeing a doctor and by faking her prescription. She wrote after receiving her Hubble order through the mail: "There's only one problem: I don't wear contacts, and I ordered these using a fake prescription from a made-up doctor."

The Quartz article independently supported the AOA's concerns about Hubble's prescription veri­fication process. In 2017, the AOA sent letters to the FDA, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice asking them to investigate the company over its process.

Building the AOA's reputation

Another bene­fit for AOA members? Call it the trust factor.

Doctors of optometry remain among the public's most trusted medical professionals. The AOA's 2018 American Eye-Q survey found:

  • 94% of Americans responding to the survey say they trust doctors of optometry for accurate and reliable information about eye health. When asked which information source they trust the most, over half (52%) select doctors of optometry-signi­ficantly more than others.  
  • 46% of respondents would turn to doctors of optometry ­first if they were experiencing trouble with their eyes.
    It wasn't always that way, notes Andrea P. Thau, O.D., past president of the AOA, whose 2016 interview on "Good Morning America" generated considerable buzz in the media and provided a platform for the AOA's longstanding concerns about online eye tests.

"We don't do it for the glamour or to see an individual doctor's name in print," says Dr. Thau, who champions regular, comprehensive eye examinations by doctors of optometry, as well as pediatric eye care. "We do it to brand the AOA as a trusted source for both the public and the media.

"It is essential that the public be educated about ways to protect, preserve, enhance and rehabilitate their vision," she says. "Vision is not something to be taken for granted. Next to life itself, it is one of our greatest gifts. Doctors of optometry have an important public health mission."

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