Graduate student Kelley Dennings leads national social marketing association

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Kelley Dennings is making history as the founding president of the Social Marketing Association of North America (SMANA), a membership-based organization spanning the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

Dennings, a graduate student in the USF College of Public Health online public health practice program, said SMANA officially launched in June 2016 at the USF Social Marketing Conference.

Kelley Dennings

Kelley Dennings. (Photo courtesy of Dennings)

Previously working at a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., Dennings said she was on the hunt for more interaction with other social marketers in the area, so she reached out to the International Social Marketing Association to establish a networking event.

Those events became quarterly meetings, helping to thrust Dennings into the role of founding president of the newly formed SMANA, a role she will hold for at least a year.

“The international group was hoping for a midlevel association they could start, so I was asked to help build the North American group,” she said.

Dennings worked with colleagues throughout 2015 and early 2016 to outline the structure and overall goal of SMANA.

“We work to connect practitioners, academics and students within North America to each other to build a stronger legacy and community of practice and disseminate best practices in social marketing,” she said. “We want to advocate for the advancement of social marketing and facilitate opportunities for organizations and stakeholders to learn from each other, and provide assurance that social marketing efforts are scientifically rigorous and informed by practice.”

SMANA now has more than 100 members representing 19 states and Canada, according to Dennings, and is open to students for a discounted price.

Dennings said that with the help of three interns, who are current and past students at the USF COPH, SMANA has been able to establish a website, fundraise, and build a strategic plan and vision for the future.

“Imagine starting a new business, that’s essentially what we’re doing,” she said.

Social marketing uses marketing principles to influence a health behavior or change in the public through promotion of products, programs or interventions, according to the CDC.

Dennings said that she has always had an interest in promoting change and her new role will allow her to do so.

“I really wanted to make a difference in the world and [this role] provides a very concrete framework to be able to do that, one in which I feel I’m better at than, say, lobbying or other ways I could be making change in the world,” she said.

Dennings, an alumna of NC State with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, said her interest in public health grew even more after obtaining a social marketing certificate in 2014 from USF.

For the social marketing project she conducted with Keep America Beautiful, Dennings and colleagues worked to provide recycling bins and held a recycling competition. (Photo courtesy of Kelley Dennings)

She’s worked on campaigns for Keep America Beautiful to promote recycling in school systems, and she is currently living in Washington, DC, working for a social marketing agency called Action Research, focusing on community-based social marketing.

Dennings said she hopes to continue pushing for social marketing efforts in the future.

“My dream job would be to work at the intersection of health, environment and social change,” she said. “With the goal of population based prevention programs, social marketing lends itself to that because in the end we really need more people to stop smoking, eating more healthy, exercise more; it really comes down to an individual choice and I think social marketing can support those choices.”

To learn more about SMANA or to join, visit


Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health