Engagement and Deliverance at the CDC, Part 1

I can’t attend humongous conferences like the American Public Health Association monstrosity; although there are an incredible number of sessions, only a small percentage actually apply directly to my own interests. Last week at the CDC’s 2nd National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media, I had the opposite problem. So many sessions were scheduled, and nearly every one was spot-on as to the topics I want to learn about, that it was hard to choose which ones to attend. (Disclosure: I was on the conference planning committee, but can’t really claim credit for how the actual end product turned out. And I unfortunately did not try hard enough to change the theme — “Engage and Deliver” — which Adam Ant sang over and over in my head throughout the conference.)

I had to miss the last day of the conference, but still filled an entire notepad with my notes from each session. Aside from the plenary sessions, the panels were comprised primarily of research-based presentations. Despite some inevitably dry deliveries, I’m glad our field has evolved to the point where we have so much research to share. Here are some of the key points I thought were worth highlighting:


  • James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, talked about how, under the right conditions, a group’s decisions can be smarter than those of the smartest person in the group. He used examples like Google’s pagerank algorithm, racetrack betting and Best Buy’s yearly gift card sales. His point is that if you can devise a way to aggregate individual predictions simultaneously, and to do this within a diverse group of people with different perspectives and ways of approaching problems, the random errors will cancel each other out and you will end up with the closest approximation to the correct answer.

    Key lessons: 1) When assembling a team to solve a problem, bring in people with many different viewpoints and skills. 2) Encourage disagreement. 3) Limit the amount of back-and-forth dithering, which leads to worse decisionmaking.

New Frontiers in Message Design Theory

  • Karen King, University of Georgia – If you have multiple messages to convey within a campaign, you can bundle up to four together without losing recall. It does not make a difference whether you specify the category that unifies the messages. I found this interesting as I have always thought to be most effective you should limit the number of messages you try to cram into a single communication piece. They were testing this with brochures, but I think other media would have a different maximum number.
  • Michael Rovito, Temple University – For the issue of testicular cancer, he used perceptual mapping to identify four different types of “control identities” related to locus of control (whether people believed control was external or internal) and constructs of whether control is realistic or unrealistic. The four types were: 1) The Fates – unrealistic external; 2) The Herd – realistic external; 3) The Optimals – realistic internal; and 4) The Manipulators – unrealistic internal. Clearly, different types of people need different kinds of messages tailored to their beliefs.
  • Bill Smith, Academy for Educational Development – Bill described a research/decision making technique called “deliberative polling,” which was created by James Fishkin and offers another way to think about involving citizens in policy discussions when there is no clear-cut right answer. A randomly selected sample of 800-1500 people, who are first polled by phone, are brought together over two days. During this time they read background documents on the issue, have experts explaining the different options, ask questions of the experts, and break into small groups to discuss and debate what they’ve learned. This technique can be a good way of involving the public in evaluating competing alternatives and prioritizing public policy issues.

Applying Emerging Theories to Engage the Public

  • Sergey Sotnikov, CDC – By mapping out the relationships between either organizations or people within an organization, you can use network analysis to visualize the key points within the network. You can look at who is most connected overall, who are the go-betweens on specific topics, and who is more isolated. This can help you figure out the best way to spread information within a network.
  • Jennifer Heilbronner, Metropolitan Group – Jennifer spoke about building public will, and how this is a different process from social marketing. She defined it as “a communication approach that builds public support for long-term social change by integrating grassroots outreach methods with traditional mass media tools and connecting an issue to the existing, closely held values of individuals and groups.” While I think she was contrasting this process to the too common mass media-focused, short-term campaign blast many people think is social marketing, her description of public will building is much closer to the more comprehensive marketing mix-driven social marketing process to which many of us in the field adhere. You can download her group’s Public Will Framework to learn more about their process.
  • Constanze Rossmann, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat-Munchen – While I thought it was overkill to start off with a definition of “health flyer” and I loved her pronunciation of the word “anxiety” as “ANKshity” (Yes! It does look like it should be pronounced that way.), this presentation looked at two very important different elements of how we present information. First, do exemplars — a case study of one person — affect risk perceptions, attitudes and behaviors more than abstract statistics and generalizations about the population? In her testing of a brochure about obesity, the answer was yes — but only among people who are already involved with the issue (e.g., worried about their weight, dieting, etc.). Second, what is the effect of fear appeals in graphic images? She tested three different images related to obesity, each of which was either low, moderate or high fear inducing. Interestingly, she found that when it came to building knowledge, the low and high images were more effective. To affect risk perception, attitudes and behaviors, the moderately fear inducing image was more effective. I wonder why that difference – do different types of people react to the images in different ways?

That was Day 1 – I’ll sum up the second day in a subsequent post.

In the meantime, you can learn more by checking out the Ning group for the conference that was started by Dana Sheets as a place to share notes. If you’re on Facebook, look at the Health Communication, Marketing and Media group that is a central place to exchange ideas related to the conference. Read Craig Lefebvre’s summary of a discussion that took place at the conference about the development of a professional network. And if you went to the conference and want to put in your two cents about what you thought, someone at the CDC Chatter message board wants to know if it was “as extravagant and pointless as we all expected it to be.” Um, no, Senator Coburn. An embarrassment of riches, perhaps, but extravagant and pointless, not in any way.

UPDATE: Read Part 2 here

Remembering Tony Schwartz

I just learned from Dick Morris that political and social media pioneer Tony Schwartz died this weekend. While he is perhaps best known for a TV commercial that ran only once but changed the course of an election (the Daisy ad) and his media work for other political candidates, he is also owed a debt of gratitude for his influence on social marketing as well.

Among the more than 20,000 spots Tony recorded in his lifetime were the first anti-smoking commercials. A 1961 ad featuring children dressing up in their parents’ clothing in front of a mirror (“Children learn by imitating their parents. Do you smoke cigarettes?”) was credited by the American Cancer Society with driving the tobacco industry’s ads off television and radio. He was an active anti-tobacco advocate and addressed many social issues as well.

I was lucky to have met Tony several times as a student at the Harvard School of Public Health. He co-taught a course on developing media communications that I took, and for which I later became the teaching assistant. Because he was agoraphobic, Tony did not often leave his home in New York City. He taught the class via teleconference, and we actually flew up to New York to meet with him a couple of times in his 56th Street apartment/studio (yes, it’s nice to go to a school with resources like that!).

In his cramped studio surrounded by massive shelves of tapes and videos, we had the opportunity to learn from the master. At the end of the quarter we had our own PSA radio spots recorded by a professional announcer there.

From Tony, I learned the importance of tapping into emotions, using sound and images to strike a “responsive chord” with what people already knew and believed. And long before the Truth campaign came along, he was wielding the delicate scalpel (and sometimes blunt club) of shame to get people to do the right thing about everything from picking up after their dog to city budgetary issues.

His guerrilla media approach often utilized the tactic of “narrowcasting” to the extreme; he sometimes even had a target audience of one – for example, the chairman of Philip Morris or McDonalds, or the city councilman responsible for a particular crime-ridden neighborhood. In some cases, just the threat of Tony’s well-known brand of shaming via media was enough to persuade an abrupt turnaround without the ad ever running.

Though I haven’t thought about Tony Schwartz for quite a while, as I write this I am realizing how much I apply the things I learned from him in my everyday work. Thank you, Tony.

Photo: tonyschwartz.org

Be There or Be Square

The second National Conference on Health Communication, Media and Marketing, sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is coming up in August. This year I’m on the planning committee, and it looks to be an even bigger and better affair this year than last. Early bird registration is open through June 13th. Here’s all the details:

Image: National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media 2008. Engage and Deliver.

National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing, and Media 2008

The second National Conference on Health Communication, Media and Marketing sponsored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Marketing and the Office of Enterprise Communications will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 12 – 14, 2008, at the Omni Hotel in downtown Atlanta. The National Cancer Institute and the National Public Health Information Coalition are co-sponsors for this event.

Three half-day pre-conference workshops are offered, for an additional registration fee. I will be presenting a workshop on Social Media for Social Marketers. If you’ve missed my Next Generation Social Marketing Seminar, it will be similar in scope and a bargain to boot. Other workshops include Crisis and Emergency Risk Communications, and Designing Health Literate Marketing Products and Services.

If your company or organization is interested in exhibiting at or sponsoring the conference, it’s a great way to reach hundreds of health communicators and social marketers.

I’m also excited about the Ypulse National Mashup coming up in July on “Reaching Today’s Totally Wired Generation with Technology.” Anastasia Goodstein, who writes the Ypulse blog, has created an empire around youth-related information, and has put together an amazing event with the creme-de-la-creme of speakers who understand how youth use social media and technology. If you are trying to reach youth and you do not read Ypulse daily, you must start. Look at the agenda and list of speakers and you’ll see that this is the definitive youth conference to attend (July 14-15 in San Francisco).

I will be moderating a panel that is part of the Building a Youth Movement preconference on “Using Social Media to Create a Social Movement.” The panelists include Ginger Thomson, CEO of YouthNOISE; Liba Rubenstein, Manager of Public Affairs/Impact Channel for MySpace; and Tina Hoff, VP and Director of Entertainment Media Partnerships for The Kaiser Family Foundation. An amazing group of speakers! The preconference is being organized by Aria Finger, the CMO of Do Something, who was just interviewed on Ypulse.

Let me know if you’ll be at either of these events. I hope to see you there!

UPDATE: Anastasia just let me know that if you enter the code ‘NKW’ when you register for the Ypulse Mashup, you can get a 10% discount off the standard rate!

Social Marketing University Training Coming to DC

I will be offering another Social Marketing University training in Washington DC in June. This is a great introduction to using social marketing to bring about health and social change.

The training lasts 2-1/2 days, with the last half-day focusing on Next Generation Social Marketing. If you are a social marketer who already knows the basics and are interested in expanding your bag of tricks to include newer marketing methods using social media and other technologies — many of the things I write about on this blog — you can register just for the last day.

Here’s all the important information:

Social Marketing University
June 2-4, 2008
George Washington University
Washington, DC

Next Generation Social Marketing Seminar
June 4, 2008, 9:00 am – 12:30 pm
included in registration for SMU
OR register separately for seminar only

Complete information about the topics to be covered, hotel reservations, registration fees and what past participants have said can be found on the Social Marketing University information page.

If you register before May 4th, you will receive $100 off the regular price. There are also discounts for additional participants coming from the same organization (send your team to be trained!) and a student discount. Seats are limited, so reserve your spot soon; the last training in Washington DC sold out.

And, as a special bonus just for my blog readers, use this discount code to get an additional $75 off the registration cost of the full Social Marketing University tuition: BLOG.

Let me know if you have any questions, and I hope to see you there!

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Ready for the Zombie Invasion (or any other disaster)

Flickr Photo Credit: d200 dug No censorship!

One of the big frustrations disaster preparedness professionals constantly face is the difficulty of getting people to acknowledge the likelihood of an emergency event — whether its a natural disaster, pandemic flu or manmade terrorism — and to take actions to be ready if when it happens. The fact is, people don’t like to think about worst-case scenarios, and they definitely don’t like to have to spend effort and money to address something that they think is likely never to happen to them.

Public health and safety folks tend to come at the problem from a straightforward “Here are the facts. Are you prepared?” angle. Sometimes they also try to scare people into taking action. But you don’t often see disaster preparedness as a fun and social activity. Of course, the best idea I’ve seen for getting people engaged with the issue didn’t come from the professionals at all, but from a group of friends looking for fun. And talk about worst-case scenarios — it doesn’t get much worse than a full-out zombie invasion.

Zombie SquadI first found out about Zombie Squad from @rachky and @zen_jewitch on Twitter. Looking at the website, I went from an initial “Huh?” to “Wow, what a brilliant idea!” Seeing the potential for social marketers to be inspired by this unconventional approach to a conventional topic, I requested an interview with members of the Squad. A big thanks to Kyle Ladd, a member of the ZS Board of Directors and one of its founders, and Christopher Cyr, the ZS accountant, for taking the time to answer my questions.
(Zombie Squad Photo Credit: Mike Dressler)

First of all, can you explain what Zombie Squad is?

Zombie Squad is the world’s premiere non-stationary cadaver
suppression task force. Of course, as you may know, our mission is not
only to keep your neighborhood safe from the shambling hordes but also
to help guide and educate others to better prepare themselves for any
disaster. We want the public to be ready for anything from a natural
or man made disaster, like a tornado or earthquake, to a full on
zombie apocalypse.

Our organization focuses on fulfilling its mission by sharing
information and promoting education about issues concerning survival
and preparation. We also encourage our large member base to be
involved in community organizations that promote disaster awareness or
assist in recovery efforts. Our members volunteer their time, attend
and organize fundraisers, and give to their communities in a number of
ways. By using the zombie survival theme, we are able to reach a
demographic that many organizations are unable to.

How did you get the idea to start Zombie Squad? Fighting off the
undead is not an obvious market niche.

The official story involves a group of friends returning home from a
movie one night and discussing how they would survive better than any
of the characters in the film. From there the idea grew into a group
of people who thought it would be fun to gain the skills necessary to
actually survive a scenario where society has fallen. As they told
their idea to other friends, word spread and the organization began to
take shape. Early members realized the practicality and usefulness of
many of the skills they were acquiring. The zombie survival theme
provides a fun context to learn basic survival skills, with none of
the usual stigma attached to being called a “survivalist.”

What kinds of people tend to join Zombie Squad?

We have active members from all walks of life ranging from graphic
designers and tattoo artists to military officers and lawyers. Cult
fans of the zombie/horror/post-apocalyptic genre seem to be
everywhere. It always amazes me how our members consistently donate
their time, effort, and money to support their communities.

What types of organizations hire your services or trainings?

Some of the organizations ZS has worked with include larger charities
like the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity and Cancer Society but we try
to focus our efforts more towards the local communities where our
respective chapters reside. We do a lot of work putting on fund
raisers for local charities and collecting for local food and blood

How do you do your public outreach and education? What types of
activities do you use to raise awareness of disaster preparedness and
zombie survival?

Zombie Squad reaches the public via several paths. First and foremost
is our website which hosts general disaster preparation information
via our blog, well managed discussion forums and videos.

Over the last several years we’ve branched out with our traveling
“Zombie Survival” seminars that focus on general disaster preparation
with a zombie twist. These seminars draw quite a crowd who in many
cases come to see us for the zombie aspect but leave with knowledge
and interest in steps they can take to be more prepared for more
relevant disasters. We originally focused on sci-fi and horror
conventions around the country, but we’re also regularly invited to
bring our show to Boy Scout Troops, universities, disaster fairs and
even REI stores.

Last year our St. Louis Chapter put on its own disaster fair and it
was a huge success. The fair took place during the one year
anniversary of a series of storms that tore through St. Louis leaving
over 500,000 people without power, many for a week or more, on the
hottest days of the year. Another storm hit St. Louis again that
winter with similar devastation of local utilities. The goal of the
fair was to promote the importance of being prepared for similar
disasters and to bring local disaster agencies together to talk about
what they do for the community. We brought in guest speakers and
representatives who set up informational booths from a number of local
disaster response agencies such as the Red Cross, CERT, ARES, Human
Society, SCC Health Dept and others.

In addition to these educational programs our chapters host fund
raisers for various organizations, food drives, movie nights and other
events, as mentioned in the previous question.

Would you say the emphasis of your organization is more on having
fun with the zombie theme or on the disaster preparedness message?
Which part of it do you think gets people motivated to take action?

Both. Zombie Squad is occasionally described as an organization that
tricks people into learning. While many participants are drawn to our
events by their interest in the zombie and post apocalyptic
entertainment elements, they come to realize that everything we
present has real world applications.

At what point does the zombie fun end, and the serious
life-and-death discussions begin? Are there some issues at which you
draw the line at being humorous?

That’s a good question. We do have plenty of lines drawn to make sure
people don’t get the wrong impression. For instance, we clearly state
that the “zombies” we discuss are metaphors for natural and man made
disasters. They are not codewords for people of other races,
nationalities, religions, sexual orientation, or anything similar.

What are some of the advantages of addressing such a usually serious
and fear-driven topic from a new angle?

Taking the topic seriously but keeping it fun is a great way to keep
people interested. There are a number of informational campaigns that
have tried to scare the public into preparing for some big disaster,
but those fear tactics in marketing always appear unauthentic. The
average person sees through that facade. Our goal is to make sure
people respect the danger that disasters pose, but not live in fear of
them. Preparation is the key to beginning to control that fear.

What have been some of the barriers you’ve come up against in using
this unique approach to disaster preparedness, among your members, the people you are trying to reach, potential funders or others?

The obvious major barrier is the zombie survival theme itself. While
it is a great tool for reaching specific people, others tend to
automatically tune out the message. Usually this barrier is overcome
by calmly explaining that we do not actually think the dead will crawl
out of their graves any time soon (though we’re ready if they do). At
that point, people either get it, or they move on. The truth is,
there are a number of organizations out there that already cater to
those people.

Do you have any advice for other people working on health and social
causes who are trying to figure out how to make their messages
appealing and fun?

Bring in as many young people as you can. They have the best ideas
and the most motivation. The hard part is keeping their interest.
Stay on top of pop-culture trends and figure out a way to use it to
your advantage.

You can always try bribing them. One thing we find is that people
like to know that their time is appreciated when they volunteer.
There are great, inexpensive, and fun ways to reward volunteers for
their involvement that keep them happy and eager to support your

One project we’re working on now is our “Volunteer Awards Program.”
Not all of our members are able to get involved with local chapters,
so this program will allow them to still volunteer in their community
as part of Zombie Squad. Under the program, members will volunteer
for an organization with a cause they feel worthy of supporting and
keep track of their hours on a form we provide. We’re really flexible
about where they can volunteer. They just need to contact us for
approval if it’s not a charity on our list. Then at the end of the
year they tell us how many hours they volunteered and we send them a
number of incentive awards ranging from a new enamel ZS pin, patches,
stickers, shirts, and so forth, based on their level of participation.
It’s a way for us to thank our members for doing their part and it
helps us to get an idea what sort of charities our members are
interested in. We’re looking forward to how this program turns out and
our members seem really excited about participating.

Do you have any funny or unusual stories you can share that have
come out of the work you do? (Notwithstanding, of course, the fact
that the work itself is funny and unusual!)

The thing that always brings smiles to the faces of our members is the
realization of how far the organization’s message has spread. It’s a
common occurrence for Zombie Squad members nationwide to be out in
their communities wearing a ZS t-shirt and hear someone yell “Zombie
Squad” to them, or walk up and ask how they know about the
organization. When you think about the fact that this organization
started over a discussion held by a few people in a van in South St.
Louis, Missouri…it’s pretty amazing.

Is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven’t asked about?

Don’t you want to know about the robot threat?

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Social Marketing University Coming Soon!

I’m happy to announce that the next session of Social Marketing University will be coming to Washington, DC on June 2-4, 2008. I do not have all the details set yet, but please save the date if you are interested in attending. It will be a similar format to the most recent event, with two days of intensive social marketing training and a half-day Next Generation Social Marketing seminar focusing on how to use social media.

I am in the process of looking for a venue in which to hold the training. If your organization or institution is in an accessible area of Washington, DC and has a large meeting room to offer on those dates, you will receive three complimentary registrations for your staff (a $1,585 value) and lots of free publicity as the host sponsor. Other types of sponsorship opportunities are available as well if your organization wants to reach people interested in social marketing (download more information). If you are interested in hosting or sponsoring the event, let me know as soon as possible so that you will get all the publicity that’s coming to you starting with the official announcement.

If you are interested in attending, please send an email to training@social-marketing.com and you will receive an announcement as soon as registration opens. I hope you’ll be able to join me!

Photo Credit: Paul Wicks

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