Oklahoma’s 988 Campaign: Promoting The Use Of Mental Health Help By Applying Basic PR Principles

Last year, a national campaign was launched for 988, a helpline that provides a live, local person to talk with, 24/7, over the phone – and if need be, a mobile crisis team to dispatch to your location — during times of personal crisis.

Jones Public Relations, partnering with Insight Creative and their client, Oklahoma’s Department Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services, presented their PRSA’s Silver Anvil award-winning 2-year campaign promoting mental health services at PRSA ICON 2023. Jones helped change the narrative from the existing stigma around mental health in Oklahoma and raised awareness about the newly-established 988 helpline.  See:  Jones PR Wins 3 National Awards for Mental Health Campaign | Business & Energy | city-sentinel.com

The firm shifted the national campaign’s focus on a “suicide hotline” to focus on a “mental health life line” for the 1 in 5 people who are reported to need help. They used messages that research showed would appeal to a variety of Oklahoma audiences.  Here are the basic PR principles used to design the campaign:


  • 4.1% of adults in OK had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year.  Research showed the 55-year-old white male was a high-risk group. 
  • There is behavioral evidence that 300 Oklahomans are admitted for urgent care or crisis mental health services each year.
  • Jones PR conducted online focus groups with 200 people across the state over a 3-day period, testing key messages and logos and getting real-time feedback.  Graphics targeted both urban and rural audiences with “textures that mean something to Oklahomans”.

KEEP MESSAGES SIMPLE: Instead of using the message, “Suicide Is Never The Answer”, Jones PR used simple sound bites like “Life Can Be A Lot. Help Doesn’t Have to Be”; “Talk Is Good Medicine” “Be Kind To Your Mind” and “You Are Loved More Than Your Likes.”

COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH:  A campaign graphic talks about Oklahoma’s “comprehensive crisis response” beyond the 988-helpline, including urging follow-up appointments, the use of mobile crisis teams and technology that connects law enforcement with a licensed behavioral health practitioner who can assess and connect the person in crisis to additional resources. https://oklahoma.gov/odmhsas/treatment/comprehensive-crisis-response.html

CREATIVE OUTREACH AND USE OF TARGETED MESSAGES:  Jones PR targeted a variety of priority audiences in the campaign:

  • Teens: Jones PR used the triggering event of World Mental Health Day in October to launch this message: “1 in 10 Teens Suffer from Depression At Any Given Time.  Take 10 on 10/10”. 
  • Middle-schoolers: A different PSA was created for pre-teens. They were asked to draw “what mental health means to them”.
  • Middle-aged Men:  Partnering with influencers, Jones PR created buzz that there would be a famous Oklahoman starring in the 988 commercial at Superbowl (OK native Kristen Chenoweth).  Spots with football player Dillon Gabriel were effective with this audience.

A SPOTIFY PLAYLIST was developed, working with state partners, with calming noises like “white rain”.

Campaign messages were DISSEMINATED VIA UNIQUE PLACES like gas station pumps, coasters in bars and flyers on top of pizza boxes.  The swag was useful (not coffee coasters which they considered “expensive trash” and included stress relievers like stress balls and fidget spinners.


Outputs (resulting from Jones PR efforts):

  • Press releases that earned 300 stories

Outtakes (short-term behaviors resulting from PR efforts):

  • Instagram followers grew to 6.1K
  • FB followers grew to 5.1K

Outcomes (longer-term behaviors):

  • Increased in number of calls to the Oklahoma Call Center since the Superbowl ad (doubled)
  • Development of impactful partnerships (e.g. law enforcement; state park rangers etc.)

For more information, visit https://988oklahoma.com/.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is Senior Counsel and Partner at Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral PR and management consulting firm based in the Seacoast of NH and manages the NH Coalition for Suicide Prevention project for the Brain Injury Association of NH (www.zerosuicidesnh.org).

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