Last week fans of “Good Morning America” were stunned when Amy Robach announced she was diagnosed with breast cancer, after having an on-air mammogram as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

How the public reacts on hearing about personal health battles by favorite personalities is the subject of a new study released in Health Communications. According to the study, it becomes a ‘teachable moment’ making people more receptive to cancer prevention and detection messages than is normally the case. Researchers found that that female celebrities talking openly about a breast cancer diagnosis would cause a spike in mammograms. Similarly, Patrick Swayze and Apple founder, Steve Jobs created huge spikes in online searches regarding pancreatic cancer. The study was funded by the University Cancer Research Fund and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What resonated with me on learning of this study is that nonprofits are always asking us whether they need to have a celebrity for their PSA. We’ve always preached that you don’t have to have a celebrity, however, if you can find one with a personal connection to your cause, then that is a slam dunk. The message then resonates both with the media gatekeepers AND the audiences.

Remember also that teachable moments don’t have to be about life-threatening illnesses. For example, we worked on a campaign about the need for life insurance featuring a celebrity whose father died young and if not for a life insurance policy, would have grown up very differently. Anyone else delivering this message would not have made the impact as this high profile celebrity.

Those of us in PR who work on important awareness campaigns featuring personalities affected, can almost feel the added power that comes from knowing the public is listening extra closely. So wherever possible, if you’re going the celebrity route, always try to find one who can speak from the heart and personal experience.