The capstone project can be one of the most stressful and rewarding experiences of the entire MPH graduate program. It’s an opportunity to take all of the knowledge learned over the program and apply it to a passion project. It’s a semester (or even more) of a to-do list that seems to never end but it’s all worth it when you get to show off that hard work to your faculty and classmates. My capstone experience was the perfect end to my MPH program because it not only integrated my coursework but gave me real world experience that will contribute to a social marketing campaign here in Chicago.
As an MPH-MBA student, I am interested in knowledge translation. I want to use research so that it actually reaches everyday people and I believe you can do that through commercial marketing techniques. “Selling” healthy behavior can use the same tools as selling a product for profit. Therefore, for my capstone project, I wanted to explore that integration of disciplines. What that actually meant, was a mystery.
On one of my rides on the CTA I noticed a black and white ad with two people embracing with “contract heat” painted on them. Through further research, I learned that this wasPrEP4Love, a social marketing campaign aimed at improving awareness of PrEP throughout Chicago but particularly among those who are most vulnerable to HIV. It was developed through work groups and focus groups, utilizing extensive community based participatory research (CBPR), to create the ads displayed around the city.
I was not sure exactly how I could contribute to this initiative, but I contacted them anyway. To my surprise, I had a meeting set up with one of the lead organizations within a few days. I learned that they were looking to explore a Latinx specific version of the campaign. In Chicago, Latinxs accounted for 21.2% of new HIV infections in 2016. Health marketing efforts amongst this population are unique because they have to take into account the significant variations in culture within the population; differences in experiences between U.S. born versus foreign born Latinxs; and considerations in terms of language in ads. Therefore, my project would be to conduct exploratory research on key takeaways for messaging and design to guide the creation of a Latinx specific sexual health campaign.
I worked closely with a working group of representatives from Chicago organizations that work with the Latinx population and/or PrEP services. I collaborated with them for two semesters to create discussion guides, conduct stakeholder interviews, design surveys to collect quantitative data and conduct an analysis of these data to present key takeaways for health messaging and campaign design for this population.
This experience very much integrated the public health and marketing worlds. I was able to see how those both function in practice and it was much more challenging than expected. Unlike commercial marketing, this campaign is trying to influence behavior for a sensitive area of health amongst a very diverse and complex group. Therefore, integrating CBPR is extremely important in this process, as it provides those on the ground perspectives that are missing when just trying to apply techniques learned in a classroom. Though trying to integrate multiple perspectives and experiences into one product can be challenging, it will be worth it in the end when an amazing campaign is created that educates and empowers its intended audiences.
Chicago Department of Public Health. (2017). HIV/STI Surveillance Report. https://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/depts/cdph/HIV_STI/HIV_STISurveillanceReport2016_12012017.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.) Cultural Insights: Communicating with Hispanics/Latinos. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthcommunication/pdf/audience/audienceinsight_culturalinsights.pdf
Chicago PrEP Working Group. (2018). About Prep4Love. Prep4Love. Retrieved from http://prep4love.com/about.html