Category Archives: Feature

Pink’d out: Why so much “awareness” could be harming the breast cancer cause

Breast Cancer Awareness RibbonOctober is the only month during which I like the color pink. That’s because for the past ten days and for the next 20, the girlish hue reminds me of more than Barbie dolls, glitter and an awful cocktail dress I wore to the 8th grade social.

Instead, it reminds me of the people I know, or the people I would have known, who have been affected by breast cancer.

I, like so many others, jump on the breast cancer awareness train in October.

Unfortunately, I, like so many others, jump off the train come November 1. When pink stops appearing in store windows, on social media feeds and within the pages of newspapers, most of the world stops paying attention. And honestly, I usually do too.


We are slacktivists (slacker activists, for those unfamiliar with the term). It doesn’t take much effort to sport a pink ribbon, like a Facebook page or get your daily three-mile workout in via Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure. Giving back is in style, and Breast Cancer Awareness Month makes being trendy easy.

But we cannot just blame ourselves for the intermittent advocacy. The public relations effort around breast cancer awareness has done quite the opposite of what cause marketing is intended to do. Instead of supporting a cure, the October-only pink-wearers are supporting a brand.

As Samantha Kin, associate professor of kinesiology and health at Queen’s University in Ontario and author of “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” recently stated, such campaigns are “divorced from any critique of health care policy or the politics of funding biomedical research. They reinforce a single-issue competitive model of fund-raising. And they whitewash illness: we’re made ‘aware’ of a disease yet totally removed from the challenging and often devastating realities of its sufferers.”

According to the National Cancer Institute , 234,580 men and women have been diagnosed with breast cancer and 40,030 Americans have died as a result of the disease in 2013. Only prostate cancer had a higher number of new cases, and only colon and lung cancer caused more deaths.

The cause is clearly worthy, but is all the hype accomplishing enough?

A quick Google search leads me to believe the answer is no.

From countless articles about breast cancer charity scams to condemnations of companies like KFC and Skyy Vodka that “go pink” even though their products could actually increase a person’s risk of developing the disease, the news beat is not always what public relations professionals likely intend it to be in October.

When Breast Cancer Action launched the Think Before You Pink project in 2002 to shed light on the need for transparency and accountability by companies taking part in breast cancer fundraising, someone at a communications agency surely crinkled their brow and spewed a series of profanities before quickly getting on the phone.

But the problem in 2002 is still a problem now, and it needs to be fixed.


The strategy must change. The standards for becoming a corporate sponsor must be raised. The messaging must be stronger. And we all must be forced to see beyond the brand and into the lives of those affected by the disease.

On October 1 of this year, I woke up on the right side of the bed. On my daily trip to Caribou, I was asked whether I wanted to donate a bag of Amy’s Blend to support breast cancer awareness.

Without asking who Amy was, how much the bag would cost, or where my money would go, I said yes. I made my purchase and walked out the door.

If the strategy changes, my encounter and the “October” experience of millions would go differently. Along with my purchase, I would have received a small card with information about what my funds will help do, who Amy is, and where I can go to learn more about breast cancer and further contribute to the cause.

If the strategy changes, more people would know key facts such as more than 75 percent of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.

If the strategy changes, the month will focus more heavily on education, prevention and research, and less on corporate sponsors getting money and citizens like me feeling good with one easy click, swipe or pinned ribbon.

There is good work being done during October and throughout the year to combat breast cancer (in 2011, Susan G. Komen spent $63 million of its donations on research to help eradicate the disease).

But more work must happen to shift the dialogue and alter the focus.

And the ball is in PR professionals’ court to do it.

This April, the American Public Health Association’s National Public Health Week had a theme that resonates – “Public Health is ROI: Save Lives, Save Money.”

If we do things right, maybe the National Breast Cancer Coalition will reach its goal of ending breast cancer by 2020.

And if I’m lucky, maybe wearing pink will never be the defining gesture of my support for finding a cure.



Affordable Care Act gains social steam. Covered California leads social media race.

Federal Health Insurance Marketplace Glitches Drive Overall Online Conversation During First Week of Open Enrollment.

Social media MarketingSince the opening of the federal Health Insurance Marketplace on October 1st, the DC office of TogoRun, a global boutique communications company, has been on the scene monitoring and synthesizing thousands of online community discussions surrounding the launch and implementation of the marketplace and each state-based exchange.

It’s no mystery, driving the online discussion this week has been a myriad of programming issues and the public’s inability to complete online enrollment applications. Despite these setbacks and the domination of the traditional news cycle of the government shutdown, social media has been utilized heavily by state-based exchanges, navigators and outside advocacy groups to reach the uninsured.

Key Takeaways

  • Overall sentiment for ACA, across all online communities, leans unfavorably: favorable – 41.4%; and, unfavorable – 58.5%.
  • California, with a robust year-long paid advertising campaign, has garnered the largest social media following and leads in online discussion nationally.
  • States with larger regional pockets with a high number of uninsured are trending highest.

Oct 1 – Oct 8, 2013 (Week 1)

The following analysis contextualizes the online discussion on blogs, mainstream media, Facebook and micro-media, or Twitter, relating to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act for the period of October 1 through October 8.

TogoRun analyzed the number of discussions pertaining to ACA and Obamacare from 10/1 to 10/8, and determined that there were over 651,000 mentions across all online communities. As expected, Twitter, the micro-media platform, carries the majority of all online discussions with over 58.1%, or 378,704 total mentions, with Facebook at 12.3% or (u: 80,700*), news groups at 13.1% (u: 85,431), forums at 9.1% (u: 59,495) and blogs at 7% (u: 46,057) trailing far behind.

Of the total online mentions (651,812*), there were approximately 207,512 or 31.8% % unique online conversations/verbatims where tonality could be ascribed. Of these mentions, approximately 85,941 or 41.4% were favorable and 121,571 or 58.5% were unfavorable.

Overall discussion highlights

The graphs below depict the overall conversation by major online communities such as Facebook, twitter, blogs, digital news media and forums. The colors illustrate the specific community groups.

On day 1 of the state and federal insurance exchanges opening, online conversations peaked at an aggregate count of 120,000+ mentions. Trailing off over the course of the past week, daily discussion volumes have declined to approximately 40,000 mentions with sentiment holding true to the ebb and flow of the overall volume of discussion.

Graph 1

Graph 2

Graph 3








The graph below depicts sentiment levels by day, and overall favorability ratings for the week. Due to the fact that Facebook is a walled garden, monitoring platforms are limited to searching only open group pages.

Graph 4

The graph below shows online discussion by state. It is evident that states with larger regional pockets with a high uninsured population are trending highest.

Graph 5



Over the course of the week’s discussion, top key words, or hashtags, on Twitter included the following:

Graph 8

California leads overall social media follower race. Most states garnering following organically with a median of 1,123 followers.

As part of our methodology, we manually calculated all state health exchanges social media follower counts. In a social media spectrum, follower counts help distribute messages at a low cost and enhance a social media campaign’s engagement ratio. In states that are not running their own exchange, we have derived calculations from top navigator grant recipients, or other prominent groups working to educate the public about health care reform and exchanges.

Across the 47 states that have a social media presence, the total follower count as of the end of the day October 7 tops out at 183,457 followers/likes, with a median of 1,123.

By our count, it’s apparent that California leads the social media race – making up 22.5 times the national average of social media followers.


The above charts contextualize the online discussion on social media, blogs, mainstream media, and micro-media, or Twitter, relating to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges for the period of October 1 through October 8. All volume, dispersion and sentiment measurements were determined using data extracted from Sysomos unless otherwise noted.
Online volume is a measurement of the number of relevant discussions that took place in a given time period. A discussion is defined as one comment or mention posted online. Tracking volume allows us to identify which platforms people are using to discuss ACA and/or Obamacare, and which have little permeation.
Dispersion refers to both the number of individual online communities hosting relevant conversation and the number of categories, or “demographics”. Online, people tend to congregate in communities where they share common interests or passions with other community members – such as health, wellness, finance and general interest sites. In other cases, people will gather within sites designed specifically to cater to the needs of a certain population (demographic/psychographic) segment – such as local communities. TogoRun defines these categories as “demographics” or “communities”.
Query terms used for social monitoring: “Health Insurance Exchange” OR “Health insurance marketplace” OR ACA OR “Affordable Care Act” OR HIE OR HIX OR medicaid OR medicare OR obamacare OR PPACA OR “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”
*Facebook counts for 10/4-10/8.


TogoRun releases version 2.0 of The Freshman Healthbook

Just in time for President Obama’s second-term inauguration on Monday, we have released Version 2.0 of The Freshman Healthbook , which includes some of the recently announced committee assignments of the newest members of Congress.  We mined the Senate and House announcements to determine which Freshman received assignments on the committees with the most jurisdiction over healthcare issues.

Below is a list of the most influential committees on health care issues in the House and Senate with their assignment status and the names of the Freshman members. A few committees are still awaiting final assignments and will be updated in the Healthbook when they are made available.


  • Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP)
    • Assignment status: Subcommittees still unassigned
    • Freshman members:
      • Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
      • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
      • Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT)
  • Senate Committee on Finance
    • Assignment status: Complete
    • No freshman on this committee
  • Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
    • Assignment status: Complete
    • No freshman on this committee
  • Senate Special Committee on Aging
    • Assignment status: Complete
    • Freshman members:
      • Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
      • Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
      • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
      • Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
      • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
      • Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)


  • House Committee on Energy and Commerce
    • Assignment status: Committee to be assigned on January 22
  • House Committee on Ways and Means
    • Assignment status: Committee still unassigned
  • House  Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
    • Assignment status: Complete
    • No freshman on this committee

Check out The Freshman Healthbook v.2.0 and follow us on @HCPolicyMatters to keep up with the latest.



Welcome to Health Care Policy Matters

Health Care Policy Matters is a new online resource from TogoRun dedicated to improving health care policy advocacy while building brand reputation by bridging the functions of strategic communications and public, government, and regulatory relations.


If you are operating in health care, your most important influencer for your product, issue or campaign is the government, period.

Therefore, the winning combination to building influence is interdisciplinary advocacy teams built with the critical participants from strategic communications and public, government, and regulatory relations.

Why are we so confident in that assertion? In the diverse countries in which we have executed communication programs, the common thread was the immense legislative, regulatory and legal authority the government has over health care. In the U.S. alone– one of the most market-based systems in the world– nearly 50 percent of health care is being paid for by the government. Although the government is not usually the end customer or beneficiary of the service, product or campaign, it does control access to those customers. Winning in health care means winning with the government.



The need

The idea for this website grew out of our experience working with first class marketing and communications professionals who were hungry to understand the policy realm but found the barriers too high to proactively work with the policy and government relations teams. For many of our clients, public affairs typically falls into an “important but not urgent” bucket until a negative issue deems it urgent to manage.

In parallel, we’ve worked with top notch government relations teams who wait until they need a press release or an advertisement to bring in their strategic communications team. Intuitively, they know there is much more that could be done; however, barriers such as time, budget and knowledge often stand in the way of proactively engaging their colleagues. So they continue to advocate with one hand tied behind their backs due to the lack of synergy between the larger communications brand strategy and tools.

In rare cases where we’ve see these two groups working symbiotically together, very good things happen. Trails were blazed for the benefit of patients and brand reputation was strengthened. As a strategic communications company focused entirely on health care and well-being, this inspires us. So we asked ourselves: how can we help bring about more of these trailblazing efforts?

In addition to delivering top notch counsel and service to our clients, we offer this resource — Health Care Policy Matters.

Our mission

Health Care Policy Matters’ mission is to support the development of strong interdisciplinary advocacy teams by giving them a resource that helps marketing and communications professionals more easily see the relevance of policy while helping policy-oriented professionals more easily see the relevance of communications. In essence, we want to share what is happening in these discipline areas, translate why it matters to the broader team and offer practical advice to encourage more proactive collaboration among these groups.

Along the way, we’ll share our insights on the how-to’s of issue advocacy and policy shaping.

We look forward to your comments through our blog. Or email us your thoughts, inputs and suggestions at-

Who writes this blog?

The blog and accompanying resources are written by TogoRun senior strategic counselors who have worked in a variety of disciplines– on the client and the agency side, in for-profit and non-profit organizations and at the federal, state and local levels of government. Our combined health care experience covers more than 100 years of raising awareness, influencing policy and driving change.

The thoughts and ideas in this blog and postings are strictly those of the authors and are not screened by TogoRun management. Everything posted on this blog is the personal opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of TogoRun or its clients.

To read more about the team members who contribute to this blog, visit the editorial team page.