Category Archives: In the News

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.



HIX News Roundup: Reaching the public in a busy news cycle

Today, as expected, there is a flurry of activity in the health care communications world about the opening of health insurance marketplaces across the country. Nearly one million people logged on to before 7:00a.m. this morning, and many news reports have focused on delays, glitches and long waiting periods.

President Obama recently finished addressing the nation from the Rose Garden in an attempt to cut through a busy news cycle clogged with news of the government shutdown. Like the President’s attempts to reach out directly to the American people by telling personal stories of those affected by the Affordable Care Act, advocacy groups on the ground continue their efforts to educate the public about the insurance exchanges.

Here is a roundup of news reports from the past two days about communications campaigns in various states:

The Providence Journal reports that state officials have unveiled a new campaign to generate interest in, and customers for, the state’s new health care insurance marketplace. The campaign invokes iconic Rhode Island images such as the Independent Man, Roger Williams and Slater Mill’s role in starting the American Industrial Revolution.

CNBC reports on the massive, billion-dollar effort to persuade millions of Americans to buy insurance on the new health exchanges and the challenges faced by the thousands of volunteers, government agencies, churches, unions, pharmacies, and professional organizations that are working to educate the public about the exchanges.

Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, reports on the Young Invincibles and its nationwide awareness and education campaign about the available options for health insurance for college students and young adults.

The Associated Press reports that in Pennsylvania, advocacy organizations, health care professionals and not-for-profit agencies are focusing communications efforts on health exchange education campaigns that include going door-to-door canvassing in high poverty areas, setting up offices in community health centers and holding question-and-answer sessions at public libraries and elsewhere.

The Associated Press reports that people who don’t have health care through their employers can apply online, via a call center, in person or by mail. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have released a video to help walk people through applying.

The Washington Post reports on the advertising campaigns aimed at educating the public that have been underway for months and how the number of Google searches for “Obamacare” and “health care” may be losing ground to searches for “Shutdown.”



Health care’s historic address


The nation’s capital put party lines aside on Monday as both sides of the aisle came together for President Obama’s second inauguration. While many will talk about Beyoncé lip synching the national anthem, the First Lady’s new bangs and the A-list inaugural balls, it’s the President’s memorable inaugural address that left the most impact.

In less than 20 minutes, President Obama highlighted health care issues several times. He spoke of a generation of Americans dealing with health care that is too costly and praised a spirit that refuses to give up “fighting the good fight” to bring further light to this concern during his final four years in office. While the nation still grapples with the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) aka “Obamacare”, the President revealed that he will continue to put new health care issues front and center on his agenda.

The address pointed to two specific health care priorities we can expect to see in his second term:

Research in science and technology:  

“We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.”

Entitlement programs, specifically Medicare and Medicaid: 

“We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

It was clear that President Obama believes there is still significant work ahead of us. We will, of course, be discussing many of ACA’s milestones in due time (Here’s a timeline of what is coming regarding the implementation of ACA.) We are keen to see what new policy changes are coming down the pike on entitlement reform and science and technology and we look forward to hearing more details of his plan spelled out at the State of the Union address on February 12th.

So as the pomp and circumstance on this historic day fades, the President appears ready to roll up his sleeves. He summed it up the best with these words:  “For everywhere we look there is work to be done.”



We’ve been thrilled with the positive responses we’ve received from our friends and colleagues, our industry and advocacy partners, and the media after rolling out THE FRESHMAN HEALTHBOOK last week. Read more about the FRESHMAN HEALTHBOOK and the work we’re doing in the following articles:

PR Week – TogoRun fills in the blanks on Congress’ freshman class      

PR Week announces the debut of the HEALTHBOOK, spotlighting two of our “ones to watch”  – Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Brad Wenstrup. The article also details our overall launch of, highlighting our mission to translate health care policy happenings into actionable advocacy advice.

Eye on FDA – Election Impact – The New Class

Mark Senak of our sister agency Fleishman-Hillard covers the FRESHMAN HEALTHBOOK, identifying  it as great resource to assess how the new Congress is poised to act on health care issues. Mark comments on the diversity of the new freshman class, and insightfully points out that “despite that increased diversity, it is also reported in the media that the prospects for this Congress be able to overcome some of the partisan obstacles of the past is not likely.”

Bulldog Reporter – TogoRun Releases The Freshman Healthbook, a New Advocacy Resource

Bulldog Reporter details the launch of the HEALTHBOOK and, calling out our “ones to watch” feature and our intent to improve health care policy advocacy while building brand reputation.

Point of View – Freshman Orientation: A Healthcare Look at the New Congress

Sister Agency Fleishman-Hillard helps us spread the word about the FRESHMAN HEALTHBOOK on its signature blog, Point of View.

We look forward to sharing additional coverage and insights with you as the FRESHMAN HEALTHBOOK continues to reach wider audiences.