Social Marketing Conference celebrates 25th anniversary

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For more than two decades, the USF College of Public Health’s Social Marketing Conference has drawn attendees from around the globe with the common interest of using strategic marketing principles to make the world a better place.

The COPH’s Florida Prevention Research Center (FPRC) has managed the conference, held every two years, since 1991.

Attendees of the 2018 health training academy gather for a group photo. (Photo by Angela Makris)

More than 200 attendees representing more than 30 states and 10 countries gathered at this year’s event held June 27-30 in Clearwater, Fla.

COPH meeting planner Bobbi Rose was the primary organizer assisted by the USF continuing education group. Dr. Rowena Merritt, director of Millbank Social Marketing, LTD of London served as the conference chair, with support from an external planning committee of global social marketing leaders, FPRC faculty, and members of the Social Marketing Association of North America (SMANA) and the International Social Marketing Association (iSMA).

Dr. Claudia Parvanta, professor of community and family health and director of the FPRC, said this conference stands out in bringing the “latest and greatest” in social marketing to the public health workforce at a very reasonable cost. Parvanta co-hosted the conference and instructed in the advanced training academy, the first time this was offered.

“People are saying that this has been the best conference in years, partly because we offered more choices for training, including one focused entirely on environmental issues—led by Steve Menzies of New Zealand—and because there was a real diversity of speakers, more contributed posters and presentations, and lots of new energy!” she said. “I also heard later that those who could not attend in person felt connected through our active Twitter feed—another new feature this year.”

Attendees included practitioners from public health departments, military representatives, students, and working professionals from all sectors.

Dr. Mahmooda Khaliq Pasha, COPH alumna, assistant professor of community and family health, and FPRC faculty has been involved with the Social Marketing Conference since its inception. She commented that the event has evolved throughout the years along with social marketing.

“It is the longest running conference in the social marketing field,” Khaliq Pasha said. “We have a basic process for how you do social marketing, but that process changes as we adopt new technologies, new media, and take on new challenges.”

Another conference first, keynote speakers—Timo Dietrich, Judd Harner, Ashani Johnson, Jeff Jordan and Sharyn Rundle-Thiele—followed their plenary sessions with small break-out groups to allow participants to brainstorm with them. These “hatch labs” were complemented by more traditional small sessions and mini workshops.

Keynote speakers, Akeem Ali and Christine Domegan, also presented at the conference.

“It had that collaborative feel to it, where it didn’t feel like speakers were talking at you, it had an engaging environment where you were working together toward a common goal and people felt that they were able to interact with high level social marketers,” Khaliq Pasha said.

Conference attendees and staff catch up during networking and poster sessions. (Photo by Angela Makris)

“The Social Marketing Conference has always been the practitioner’s conference, and the diversity of participants’ disciplines was so great this year—we had people from public health and clinical medicine as usual. But we also had a large number working on environmental issues, social care, marine protection and animal conservation, international aid, and engineering,” said conference chair Dr. Rowena Merritt. “To me this demonstrated the applicability of the social marketing tools and techniques to a whole range of ‘wicked’ problems.”

Dr. Rowena Merritt interacts with training academy participants. (Photo by Angela Makris)

Susan Kirby, associate editor for Social Marketing Quarterly and president of Kirby Marketing Solutions, said she attended this year for the networking opportunities.

“It was exceptional for a domestic social marketing conference,” she said. “This conference used to be known as a “beginner’s” conference, but this year was certainly quite different from that. I think it got me more up to speed on new modes of communication, partnering, and commercial/cause marketing.”

This year’s event garnered the largest number of poster submissions in conference history. (Photo by Angela Makris)

“The USF Social Marketing Conference is a mecca for alumni of USF’s social marketing graduate programs. I always look forward to this conference as a chance to reconnect with former classmates and instructors. USF plays a vital role in providing continuity for our profession through the USF Social Marketing Conference,” said Dr. Brian Biroscak, COPH alumnus and current SMANA vice president.

Awardees at this year’s event included:

The Phillip Kotler Social Marketing Distinguished Service Award
Sharyn Rundle-Thiele, PhD
Director of social marketing, Griffith University in Australia
Editor-in-chief, Journal of Social Marketing

The National Social Marketing Centre’s Award for Excellence in Social Marketing
Tony Zech, MBA, RD/RDN
Public health nutritionist/SNAP-ED coordinator at Department of Health Services in Madison, Wis.
Partnership for a Healthier America’s FNV initiative

Millbank’s Social Marketing Award for Innovation in the Environmental Field
Kelley Dennings, MPH, PMP
Director of social marketing, Action Research in Oceanside, Calif.
“Using Social Marketing to Change Winter Holiday Gift Giving Behavior and Improve Well-Being”

SMANA Outstanding Agency Award for Commitment to Elimination of Social Disparities
Oklahoma Nutrition Information and Education (ONIE) Project!

Taproot New Professional Award
Yana Manyuk, MA
Social marketing specialist, Sight and Life in Switzerland

The conference benefitted from commercial sponsorship (for attendee scholarships, the Twitter wall, tote bags, awards, refreshments, advertising and promotion), and the active participation of speakers and attendees, from AB InBev Foundation, Hager Sharp, the National Social Marketing Centre (UK), Porter Novelli, Rescue Agency, and Taproot in addition to iSMA, SMANA and Millbank, as well as COPH.

The next Social Marketing Conference will be held in 2020. Details will be posted on the Social Marketing Conference website.


Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health