Three Practical Steps to Increasing Awareness

PeteyTheProstateAt the just-concluded UsTOO 25th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago, I gave a short talk on marketing tactics that can help increase awareness about prostate cancer at the grass roots with the goal of transforming indifference into awareness and then into advocacy.

In the last post we said that we want to identify and enthuse “fire in the belly” boomers, who will want to make a positive difference, and ultimately become prostate cancer advocates.  How can we do this?

At our core, we boomers are seeking honest personal relationships, be they face-to-face or in cyberspace. And it’s honest relationships that are the essential ingredient for awareness that leads to advocacy. There are three principles that are essential in developing relationships that build awareness:

2. Creativity.
3. Connection.

Step 1: Visibility: All successful advertising is built on the principle of repetitive visibility. Just as breast cancer awareness grew out of the grass roots, so too with prostate cancer awareness. First, we need to find men who are willing to “go public” with the fact that they have been diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer. Remaining silent and “getting on with life,” pretending that cancer never happened doesn’t help other men.

Visibility is more than just standing in solidarity in big crowds. That’s useful, but it doesn’t build those relationships that boomers are seeking. That’s where personal, one-on-one visibility comes in. It can be simple things such as wearing a blue wristband or a blue ribbon lapel pin. Or it may be crazy things like getting a tattoo on your wrist like I did. It says  “prostate cancer survivor,” only it’s written Elvish from Lord of the Rings —but which has generated lots of conversations with cashiers, desk clerks, and waitpersons. And of course there’s Movemeber in November, and its highly visible mustaches. It’s a fast growing movement with more than 4 million highly visible participants in 2014 since it started in 2003 with just 30 Australian ‘mo’s.’

Step 2: Creativity: There are all kinds of things happening in the prostate cancer community that are far more creative than just turning things blue.

Fun is an essential quality of creativity. Pints for Prostates, whose motto is “reaching men through the universal language of beer,” is a perfect boomer vehicle. It’s founded on the idea of having fun in a social setting rather than listening to medical lectures about men’s genitourinary issues. Even while it’s not discussed directly over beer, there’s no question that the core message gets through.

Up in Canada just before Father’s Day, it’s “wear plaid for dad” when lots well-dressed men and women suddenly appear in public and all over Facebook wearing plaid shirts, skirts, ties, and even some plaid kilts. Again, it’s creative visibility without having to talk directly about about cancer–or even wearing blue.

Then there are very sweet and creative inspirations like Linda Hoetger’s “Petey the Prostate Crusader,” a walnut-based figure (to remind us that a prostate is about the size of a walnut), who appears up above and in different guises all over the Internet, and wherever Linda happens to be. Linda and Petey are a visible testament that prostate cancer—more than any other—is a couple’s disease. Linda is an inspiring example of how one person can take something small, but highly creative, and build so much momentum that last year she persuaded the Ohio state legislature to formally proclaim September as prostate cancer awareness month—something it had never done before. In 2015, her goal is to get every mayor of every town in Ohio to proclaim September as prostate cancer awareness month—and with 156 proclamations so far, she’s well on her way.

Step 3: Connections: In the end, every successful awareness campaign is based on personal stories not grand abstractions. Connections arise out of simple things such as telling your story to groups like Rotary or churches. At the end of your talk, wait for the men and women who come up afterwards to tell you their own stories about their encounters with prostate cancer.

There’s 20th century print media. Press releases and articles in local newspapers, church and hospital newsletters, magazines targeted at cancer patients. These media are always hungry for personal stories.

Then, there is the fast-growing world of 21st century media, which is redefining the meaning of “local.” The Internet allows local marketing to have global impact. Social media like Facebook, Twitter and blogs offer unprecedented awareness-building opportunities. If people can post what they had for dinner on Facebook, then we can certainly post about prostate cancer activities, share Petey, or anything else that will help raise awareness.

Also, there are already many prostate cancer Facebook groups out there, ranging from one for women only, to private men’s-only groups, which are effectively on-line support groups where anything can be posted—not always about prostate cancer—without fear of offending anyone. The Facebook group I belong to has 191 members ranging from guys without cancer but who joined because they want to raise awareness to those on active surveillance to stage 4, spread across the US, Canada, and the UK. Even though I’ve met only a few of them face-to-face, we all consider ourselves to be brothers. We’re connected.

However, once you commit to building a Facebook page or writing a blog, you have to keep feeding it: new posts, new tweets, new everything on a committed, ongoing basis.

Visibility, creativity, connections. We’ve only scratched the surface here. But don’t forget: we boomers—even we boomer men—are far more relational than our greatest generation parents, so virtually any effort we can make to build connections with other human beings through our stories—in person, on print, and online—raises awareness, creates passion, and ultimately, generates contributions—right here at the grass roots where our individual efforts do really make a difference.



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