Planning the National Conference on Health Communications, Marketing and Media is no small task. We talked with Alicia Samuels, director of communications for the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, who has served on the planning committee for the past two years. She gave us a behind-the-scenes look at what’s involved in planning the NCHCMM, the meaning behind this year’s theme and more.
Can you describe your role in planning this conference?
I had two primary roles this year. One, I served on the general planning committee, which entails participating in regular conference calls with the other members, reviewing and ranking abstracts (oral, poster) and determining the conference theme.
Secondly, I co-chaired the “To Bridge Divides” committee. This is one of four key conference content areas, and includes programming on communication and marketing strategies to enhance outreach to underserved populations and reduce health disparities. My committee co-chair, Ayanna Robinson, and I compiled the input from our team to determine the final program for the track.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Listening for Change.” What does it mean to be listening for change?
There are really two meanings here. One is that in order to be effective in any kind of communications, we need to be listening to, and working with, our intended audiences in every step of the process. Messages only resonate when they take into account and address user preferences. By following this rule-of-thumb, we can increase the likelihood our efforts will result in change — whether measured by positive changes in awareness, behavior or policy.
The second meaning, which I hope is obvious to attendees, is the importance of listening to each other. By sharing ideas and best practices, we each go home with new knowledge and skills to ultimately create change.
How can small, local non-profits with limited capacity apply some of the lessons learned here?
Some of the best abstracts I’ve seen presented at this meeting over the years came from folks working on extremely limited PR budgets who mastered the fundamentals and prioritized effectively. I’ve also seen terrific examples of how non-profits have partnered with larger organizations and for-profit companies to develop superb campaigns.
What has changed the most in health communications over the past five years?
Well, certainly the rise of social media and technology to reach both journalists and consumers. I also think we’ve gotten smarter about evaluation, meaning the importance of measuring and demonstrating our impact.
My own hope is that moving forward, we better recognize the importance of communicating directly to policy-makers, and similarly, of using communications to mobilize our audiences into advocates. Certainly health education and awareness campaigns have been vitally important at increasing knowledge, such as the importance of eating healthfully, regular exercise and getting screened for diseases. The reality is, however, there are enormous policy barriers for many people to achieving positive changes in their health behaviors.
What lasting impressions do you hope participants take away when they go back home?
I hope they enjoy and learn enough to want to return next year!
The conference concludes today. Follow the meeting hashtag at #hcmmconf to participate in the conversation.