ANALYSIS: Profile - Black community’s voice of healthy living/Wendy Campbell has certainly chosen a path less-traveled in PR: talking frankly to the black community about health problems. Steve Lilienthal takes a stroll with this public relations

Wendy Campbell recalls the day her painter took a break. ’He said he had to stop and eat because of his diabetes.’

Wendy Campbell recalls the day her painter took a break. ’He said he had to stop and eat because of his diabetes.’

Wendy Campbell recalls the day her painter took a break. ’He

said he had to stop and eat because of his diabetes.’

Ever the good PR person, Campbell seized the opportunity to offer

him some pamphlets her company prepared for the American Diabetes

Association (ADA). Later, the painter told Campbell that he had

learned things he never knew before about managing diabetes.

If Campbell has a mission as a PR practitioner, it is to better

inform multicultural populations about how to avoid or better

manage health problems.

’There are people who have had diabetes for 15 or 20 years. And

they still don’t know there are new treatments and drugs, and

things about exercise and eating.’

Statistics show that minority communities have a greater

prevalence of chronic diseases and higher reported rates of

sexually transmitted diseases.

But in most cases, raising awareness through PR could certainly

save lives and prevent unnecessary problems.

Merging interests

Enter Campbell. She founded Campbell & Co. five years ago, and

its clients now include the ADA, the Centers for Disease Control

and the American Social Health Association. And C&C just won a

contract to provide PR for DC Healthy Families, a federally

funded program that provides free health insurance for low-income

children and parents.

Her firm may be small, but she is positioning it to have greater

impact while continuing to merge her interests in research and

health education.

Campbell’s interest in communicating on health issues started in

the early 1980s while working on a television program. HIV-AIDS

awareness was just beginning to rise, and politicians who were

struggling to address its consequences frequently appeared on the

shows she worked on.

She later worked at the American Red Cross and at Porter Novelli

on social marketing accounts, some of which had an

African-American component, before starting her own company. But

Campbell’s reputation as a specialist in communicating to

hard-to-reach populations stems from a decision she made when

establishing her company.

’There were not a lot of people out there targeting

African-American communities or doing it as successfully as I

could. And I decided that that was an area I’d like to focus on,’

she recalls.

Campbell places particular emphasis on research, which

distinguishes her from most small PR firms that tend to

concentrate on media relations.

One specialty is organizing focus groups of hard-to-reach

populations such as young African-American males and the


’You have to allow more time to talk to people,’ she explains.

Citing focus groups she conducted with low-income black women in

Boston, Campbell recalls that they emphasized how infrequently

they were asked for their opinion before. That is why Campbell

insists ’the first step in getting information from what people

consider hard-to-reach populations is that you have to let them

talk first. Find out where they are and then they’ll tell you

what you want to know.’

Campbell recalls once asking a white focus-group moderator to ask

if the blacks in a racially mixed group were bothered by a white

couple’s picture on a pamphlet. The response was an emphatic

’No.’ Skeptical, Campbell started probing when people were

leaving. Then, they admitted it did matter but did not want to

say so to the moderator and other whites.

When probing sensitive issues for African-Americans such as

genetic testing and AIDS that some believe represent a conspiracy

against their race, Campbell believes it is imperative that a

moderator be of the same race.

PR pros have to be clued in to the culture they are attempting to

reach: ’You need to read the black press, listen to black radio,’

she notes.

While she may be an African-American PR pro, Campbell says her

specialties should not be considered the end-all of her company’s

expertise. She takes pride in the work she has done to reach more

general audiences. That work includes the ’Feet Can Last a

Lifetime’ campaign for the National Institute of Health.

Larger PR agencies can also benefit from her knowledge of the

black community and one of her goals is to do more work with

them. ’I have a lot of respect for the work that they do,’ she

says, ’But they can certainly use us. Their primary focus is not

multi-cultural communications.’

Bits & Pieces

She recently partnered with Porter Novelli on behalf of the

American Social Health Association to raise awareness about

sexually transmitted diseases. C&C chose to target teens in

Jackson, MS, with its limited budget.

The traditional outlets - TV, radio and wire services - were used

to raise awareness. But Campbell also issued a magazine called

Bits & Pieces, going against the conventional wisdom that black

teens don’t read much.

She counters: ’They read information that is important to them.

They just may not be reading Teen People or Seventeen


Bits & Pieces’ cover shows a leading DJ and invites readers to

’Get the Dilly on WJMI’s L’il Homie.’ Inside, the stories feature

rising young African-Americans like the DJ and fashion designer

Daymond Johns and information about STDs. The response to Bits &

Pieces was strong enough to merit a second issue; pop singer and

actress Brandy is on the cover of the back-to-school edition that

will be released this month.

If such campaigns are going to work, stresses Campbell, then the

commitment has to be there to really know what is on the mind of

the target audience and to disregard the stereotypes.

It’s not until the end of the conversation that one learns how

much Campbell’s work really means to her. She opens up to talk

about her family and how her mother and father encouraged her to

achieve. But her father died at age 64 from heart disease, her

mother and brother suffer from diabetes and a cousin died from

AIDS. ’I’m at risk too,’ she adds. Her work is more than a job -

it’s personal.

Wendy Campbell

President, Campbell & Co.


Producer, Gilmore Broadcasting


MA in Organizational Communications, Howard University


Communications specialist and Marketing assistant, American Red



Public affairs director for the ARC’s European Command


SAE, Porter Novelli


Started Campbell & Co.

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