Social marketing concentration a national first for COPH

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The USF College of Public Health has announced a social marketing concentration for its master of public health degree.  To date, no other U.S. institution has offered an MPH in social marketing.

Dr. Carol Bryant, USF Distinguished Health Professor in the Department of Community and Family Health, has championed social marketing for two decades.  The notion of a social marketing MPH concentration isn’t new, she said, but implementation took longer than some might have expected.

“For many years, I resisted the suggestion that we make it a concentration, because I’ve always seen social marketing as a planning framework or planning approach that is different from a discipline,” said Bryant, who also co-directs the Florida Prevention Research Center, a CDC-funded entity that develops and evaluates a community-based approach to social marketing.

“I’ve encouraged students who are interested in social marketing to go into health education, MCH, socio-health or something else that reflects the general topics that they’re interested in pursuing,” she said, “but what I’ve learned since we started the conference – and social marketing really started to take off – is that more and more people really want to focus on social marketing as exclusively their expertise in how to bring about social change.”

Carol Bryant, PhD

Carol Bryant, PhD

The distinction, Bryant said, is a matter of emphasis – a social marketer who knows global health, for example, versus a global health expert who knows social marketing.  As she put together the social marketing certificate in response to a growing demand for a credential, she said she began to see larger possibilities.

“As I looked at the requirements, it seemed to me that there was enough to learn in social marketing to fill out all of the coursework they need to get an MPH,” she said.  “As long as they want to focus on public health and not something like environmental protection or health education, then it does make sense for them to take all our core courses or our new modules to be public health professionals and then dig deep into the expertise they need to be good social marketers.”

That expertise would have served Bryant well in her early endeavors in health education.  A pioneer not only of social marketing in particular and public health in general, she knows first-hand the value of proper preparation.

“Health education, since I’ve been in public health, has really changed,” she explained.  “When I was deputy commissioner in Lexington, Ky., almost all the health educators I hired were so poorly trained I almost wrote the whole discipline off.  But the field has really developed to become quite sophisticated, and it’s almost a model for us as social marketers to make sure that, when you do hire somebody to be a social marketer, you know what you’re getting.  We want our graduates to know the marketing mix, a variety of social change theories, a variety of ways to pump up design in social marketing intervention, behavior change policy or system dynamics modeling.”

The four courses required for the social marketing certificate will form the core course requirement for the social marketing MPH, Bryant said.  Electives in a major area of interest will round out the coursework, and a social marketing field experience also will be required.  No new courses are planned yet, Bryant said, but she hopes that will change.

“My long-term dream would be that this takes off and generates enough funding that we not only find another fulltime faculty member to replace me when I retire, but that we’re able to add elective offerings,” she said.  “For example, behavioral economics would be a great thing if we had somebody who could teach a whole course in that.  It would be a great thing for social marketers to know more about.”

Bryant also mentioned recent collaborative work with humanitarian engineers in the College of Engineering.

“We’re working very closely with them,” she said, “and they may have us do a minor for their engineers.  That could turn into an incredible discipline, because engineers know how to make things.  Social marketers know how to help engineers design them so that people can get them and use them better.”

Bryant said she’s planning to apply for a grant that, should the funds be awarded, would meld the collective efforts of social marketing, anthropology and engineering to provide hand pumps for water and cooking stoves (“that won’t give people COPD,” she specified) for people living “off the grid.”

“We – the social marketers and Dr. Linda Whiteford, our anthropologist who’s becoming a social marketer, too – would work with the engineers to do the on-the-ground research to determine who needs these things and determine their cultural preferences. Then, the engineers would design them.

“With most of these technologies, the real important thing would be to find the people in-country, in those communities, who already sell products to sell these products, so that we don’t displace the local economy with something shipped in from the outside.  We’d actually design something, then train those distributors and creators to make it and distribute it, install it and, when necessary, fix it.”

Excited about the world of possibilities within the scope of the new concentration, Bryant can’t help but think about how far social marketing has come in a relatively short time.

“When we first started this discussion in 1990, when we started the conference, people thought, ‘Marketing?  That’s so manipulative.  We’re in public health.  We’re passionate do-gooders.  You may say it’s social, but you’re marketers.’  We’ve come a long way since, although there still are people who get nervous about the use of ‘marketing’ in our title.”

The MPH social marketing concentration will be available through a fully online curriculum or a blended online/on-campus option.  Bryant expects it to first appear in the catalog this fall, but students may submit paperwork now to switch concentrations. The first two students are expected this summer.


Story by David Brothers, College of Public Health.

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