Louie G

Radio personality Louie G helped the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Incite promote HIV testing in 2012. This and other public health innovations were discussed at the National Conference for Health Communications, Marketing, and Media last week. Photo by AIDS Healthcare Foundation

Ask yourself two questions: Are you a public health worker? And are you willing to try new things to make people healthier?

If you answered yes to both, you had plenty to glean from the Eighth National Conference on Health Communications, Marketing, and Media in Atlanta this week. For three days, speakers from all over the world shared brilliant ideas for creating a healthier America, and Public Health Newswire captured as much of the innovation as possible.

Here’s a short list of the success stories, and how creative health communication is making a difference – helping save lives and strengthen communities along the way.

“Smash safe” campaign for HIV testing

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation and Incite, a marketing and communications firm, took a practical approach to raising HIV testing rates in New York and Los Angeles. They used the word “smash” — a popular slang term for sexual intercourse — to drive a multimedia campaign, complete with hip-hop radio, social media, video and event marketing.

Notably their “Smash Safe” and “Check Your Weiner” campaigns worked with influential DJs, Power 96’s Louie G and Hot 97’s Mister Cee to promote the HIV testing and sexual health.

According to Incite founder Sarah Harris, the foundation hypothesized that the target population would be more likely “to get tested in an environment where they feel comfortable and is more likely to respond to messages from trusted entertainment sources than to directives from health care professionals.”

As a result, the campaign was able to distribute more than 12,500 condoms, give hundreds of HIV tests and identify a positive HIV case.

Getting cowboys to quit tobacco

Smokeless tobacco is a serious problem in Oklahoma; in 2012, state residents used it 56 percent more than the national average. To address the problem, the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust found out who was using the tobacco disproportionately: men in rural and low socioeconomic communities.

The group then found a powerful storyteller. James Capps, a native Oklahoman, rancher, husband, father, former smokeless user and oral cancer survivor, shared a story that turned into a targeted media blast across the state’s television stations, print publications, billboards and digital media. Capps was a schoolteacher who had to retire because of health problems, including difficulties eating and speaking.

“I dipped snuff because it was the cowboy way,” Capps said in an ad. “Then I had to cowboy up when tobacco caused my mouth cancer. Tobacco wasn’t worth it.”

During the campaign, calls to the state’s tobacco helpline increased by 265 percent. Just as importantly, according to campaign strategist Sjonna Paulson, the surprising revelation was the amount of male smokers trying to quit.

“It’s hard to get men to reach out,” Paulson said.

Talking back to TED for a more efficient government

Jennifer Pahlka gave a memorable TED talk in March 2012, in which the former White House official talked about government’s systemic failures, and how the public can sometimes solve problems better and more efficiently – thanks to technology.

Of the fellows she mentors at Code for America, which she founded to address the widening technology gap between the public and private sectors, Pahlka said, “When they’re faced with the problem of government, they don’t care as much about using their voices. They’re using their hands to write applications that make government work better, and those applications let us use our hands to make our communities better.”

In a special session, speakers asked the audience to collectively pinpoint government functions that are not working well, create ideas to fix it, then come up with incentives to spurn public action. The ideas were logged on Twitter under the hashtag #talkbacktoted.

Ideas included public breastfeeding zones, teen texting and driving alerts and a “walk together” app to allow people in any location to find walking partners.

Talk Back to TED is “like an online book club for TED Talk viewers interested in public health.” Share your ideas to improve public health on its website.