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.
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
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,’
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,’
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
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 -
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.