The first and largest conference of its kind, the 23rd Social Marketing Conference convenes in Clearwater Beach on June 18 with a strong USF College of Public Health presence. An annual event through 2012, it now is held only in even-numbered years to avoid conflicting with the newer World Social Marketing Conference held in odd-numbered years.
The conference is divided into two sections, with a training component June 18 and 19, then the main conference on June 20 and 21.
Carol Bryant, PhD, MS, director of USF’s Florida Prevention Research Center, coordinates the conference and is a major presenter and trainer. A USF Health distinguished professor in the Department of Community and Family Health, she explained why this year’s conference will be extra special.
“For the first time, a lot of leaders from the Florida Department of Health are coming to our conference to train in social marketing,” she said, “because the Prevention Research Center specializes in using social marketing to teach communities social marketing to solve problems.”
The Centers for Disease Control just granted $4.35 million to fund the FPRC for another five years. The organization has continually received CDC funding since FPRC’s founding in 1998.
Another COPH faculty member, James Lindenberger, directs the Social Marketing Group, which works hand-in-hand with FPRC. He and COPH alumna and research associate Tali Schneider are members of both groups.
Bryant said that she and Lindenberger (who are married) were vacationing in Ecuador in 1991 when they first heard about social marketing on the radio, found the local woman in charge of the program, and hired her to train them.
At the time, Bryant was deputy commissioner for nutrition and health education in Lexington, Ky., where she had worked her entire career trying to promote breast-feeding, with little success until she learned social marketing.
“I knew all of ten women we had convinced with our program. I mean, it was just dismal. The rates nationally were plummeting as we tried and tried to get people to do this.”
After social marketing training, she said, everything changed.
“My god, it worked! The breast-feeding rates started to move up, and it was because we totally had missed the point. We were telling women why they should breast-feed, because it’s good for them and their babies, instead of what we learned by listening to them. We should be honoring their dreams of being really great moms. We should talk about breast-feeding as a way to bond and realize their dreams of motherhood. Boom! That did it.
“So then, USDA said, ‘Wow, you’re doing this in the south; let’s do this nationally, and they gave us a very large grant to do it.’”
Bryant and Lindenberger, both anthropologists, found that social marketing worked with any health issue they applied it to, and because of that, they’ve focused on social marketing training ever since. Within a few years, Bryant was at USF, Lindenberger at a local educational TV station, and their social marketing movement was big enough to warrant – and need – official organization, so they founded FPRC and SMG to accomplish just that.
FPRC, founded in 1998, does work on community-based prevention marketing training and modifying health behaviors; SMG (formerly the Center for Social Marketing) focuses on the social marketing angle that feeds into the FPRC’s larger framework, said Mahmooda Pasha, a doctoral student member of the SMG.
“I think of the Social Marketing Group as a sister organization of the Florida Prevention Research Center, which does the larger research,” she said.
“With our researchers, there’s almost complete overlap in personnel between the two groups,” Bryant added.
“Social marketing is the most unique component in the PRC’s planning framework – community-based prevention marketing,” she said. “We adopted ‘prevention’ to fit more neatly into the PRC network, but it is just another name for social marketing.
“The other ingredient in all our work is community control over program planning. The final ingredient has changed over time: First, we used the model to plan behavior change interventions, then we used it to select and promote policy and environmental changes, and next we will use it to understand and improve entire systems, i.e., the cancer screening and follow-up system.
“Each PRC has a specialty. All the other PRCs focus on a disease or other public health problem or on an under-served population. We are unique in specializing in a planning process that allows community coalitions to select the problem they want to solve.”
“The focus is on health equity,” Pasha said of this year’s conference. “Ten years ago, they were talking about health disparity, and now they’re talking about health equity. It’s the same aspect, but it’s like a positive twist on health disparity, which is more of a negative.”
“Looking at the positive!” Schneider said, nodding her agreement.
“It’s looking at health equity from the perspective of gender, from mental health, and from just overall health, environmental, economic,” Pasha further elaborated. “All of those can come into interest in looking at health equity as an issue.”
Pasha is leading several presentations and conducting training sessions at the conference. Among her presentations is one on journey mapping – in this context, essentially the study of health-care consumers’ needs from their perspective – and one on neonatal mortality rates as a health equity issue, a socio-economic one, in particular. That presentation is from a study she did with the World Health Organization last summer.
Members of WHO, the Pan American Health Organization, the United States Agency for International Development, Peace Corps environmental engineers, and members of the USF Center for Urban Transportation Research are among the nearly 200 expected participants at the conference, Bryant said.
In addition to Bryant, featured speakers will include social marketing pioneer Philip Kotler and Bill Smith, as well as adjunct professor Rowena Merritt, who co-chairs this year’s conference in preparation of taking the reins in 2016 after Bryant’s retirement.
The speakers are paying their own way and not being paid to speak, Bryant said.
“Then we have funds to offer scholarships to people from Africa and other places, and the United States, who can’t afford to come to this,” she said with grinning enthusiasm.
“Isn’t that neat?”
Story by David Brothers, USF College of Public Health. Photos by Eric Younhans, USF Health Communications