These are exciting times for the field of health communications. In the last decade alone, our generation has witnessed massive impact from campaigns like the UK National Health Services’ Blood Art-ery (to solicit blood donations) and the ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge (to fund research projects on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis).
On the heels of cultural phenomena like these, you might have dabbled with the idea of starting your own disease awareness campaign. It’s a noble pursuit and something we hope you succeed at given how dire the health situation is around the globe. But the reality is that disease awareness campaigns can also be costly, labor-intensive, and time-consuming. If you head into one without having done the prep work, there’s no guarantee that the campaign will get the mileage you want for it. It will risk becoming irrelevant to the general public, a waste of time and money, or (in the worst case) both.
Luckily, we’ve compiled some sagely advice from seasoned health communications professionals and health industry thought leaders. Here’s our slate of 9 tips to kickstart an effective disease awareness campaign—the kind whose cause will take on a life of its own.
- Hew out the campaign’s vision and key performance indicators (KPIs). Health communications agency McCann Health Nordicenjoins for you to declare, from the get-go, what the campaign aims to achieve. Is the outcome to fulfill an unmet need in the cause (such as medicine and research)? Is it to pool together resources for a facility (such as a new center)? Is it to call for volunteers or skilled labor to contribute to a recurring task (such as a blood drive)? Or is it to share best practices to the general public (such as becoming familiar with the symptoms of a disease)? In other words, decide what exact outcome you want for the campaign, and set corresponding KPIs or milestones (amount of money to be raised, number of volunteers recruited) as concrete indicators of its success.
- Determine the campaign’s budget and timetable. The next question you should answer is: what kind of campaign are you capable of pulling off? What time or money constraints are you bound by? Your organizational budget and calendar of events should help you narrow it down to what kind of campaign is actually feasible. You could choose to invest in a one-day major event or a social-media based campaign. Just acknowledge the limits you’re working with and don’t bleed yourselves dry.
- Make decisions on the campaign’s branding. After the parameters are set in stone, you can go on to brand the campaign itself. This constitutes choosing key slogans, colors, artwork, and photography. You should also be discussing ways to advertise the campaign on the ground and making plans to acquire promo materials like customized silicone wristbands. During breast cancer awareness month, for example, it’s common to see people wearing pink breast cancer bracelets to help spread awareness.
- Determine the campaign’s target market. Next, zero in on the people you want to involve in your campaign. What are the demographics of your stakeholders? Are they primarily students, health professionals, or those afflicted by the respective disease? Are you seeking to engage people who are already aware of the issue, or people who are learning about it for the first time? Answer these questions and refocus the campaign accordingly. Actively targeting a sector may be more effective than thinking merely of the “general public”—and thus coming up with a safe but generic campaign.
- Create the core messages of your campaign. Get your resident wordsmiths in charge of crafting unique, straightforward, and compelling messages for the campaign. Core messages should convey knowledge, authenticity, and sincerity on the part of the organizer to make a difference. You should also see that the messages don’t sound generic, unclear, or too close to those of previous campaigns. An effective short form for these messages is the hashtag, which will help consolidate all mentions of the campaign.
- Solicit partnerships for the campaign. Your campaign could stand to be twice as effective if you had a partner on board. You’ll be surprised at how many institutions may be willing to help you—or, how many institutions already share your advocacy and may want to co-brand the campaign. Tap contacts from hospitals, health centers, NGOs, schools, local centers, and the like. Pitch the idea that you have a common interest that they could stand to benefit from the campaign, and that in turn, you could tie up with them in the future. Once someone has said yes, ask if you can cross-promote your campaign with them; this is so that you can tap into their home audience and media reach.
- Get the media involved. If local media practitioners aren’t getting in touch with you yet about your future plans, make the first move. Look for broadsheet, digital publication, and broadcast journalists who are part of their company’s health and wellness beats and ask to talk to them. Send them a press kit to make their coverage easier and send your institution’s own press releases to media outfits leading up to the campaign’s major event/s.
- Follow-up with stakeholders after the campaign proper. Once you’ve released your campaign material or held key events, keep tools like registration lists handy. Contact the people who were vocal about the advocacy or seemed to enjoy the event. Ask them about what they’ve taken away from the experience, how you could stand to improve in the future—maybe even ask them if they’re willing to give a testimonial, attend another event, or become an ambassador to the cause. This will show your stakeholders that your cause is human-centered and that their individual participation in the cause is valuable to you.
- Keep the spirit of the campaign alive. The campaign proper will come to an end once you’ve fulfilled the goals that you sought for it, but that doesn’t mean that the spirit of the campaign should die. We recommend keeping up a social media presence, sending personalized updates about progress to your partners, and consulting regularly with the campaign’s beneficiaries. You may have cleared away the deliverables for the campaign, but hopefully, you’ll be an advocate of the cause forever.
It takes commitment, precise planning, and a lot of courage to bring attention to worthy but invisible causes. There’s a lot of work needed to reach your goals for your campaign, but you’ll be sure to minimize hassles when launching the campaign if you keep these tips in mind.