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The Princess and the Puke

Celebrities Can Supercharge Your Health Awareness Campaign

By Kim Blake (@kimkblake)

H.G.  If you’ve been watching the news this week, you probably know that it stands for Hyperemesis Gravidarum. If you’ve ever been pregnant and struggled with it, you know that it’s morning sickness on steroids.  Non-stop nausea, dehydration, and utter misery.  Most of us can credit the Duchess of Cambridge, formerly Kate Middleton, for our knowledge of H.G.  The world has been atwitter this week, following the big announcement of a royal baby by Buckingham Palace.  The news of Kate’s unfortunate case of H.G. was revealed because it has required her to be hospitalized.

Those of us responsible for increasing awareness of various health conditions can only dream of having a celebrity like Duchess Kate emerge as a poster child.  Celebrity spokespeople play a valuable role in elevating issues such as illness and chronic disease.  Why?

It’s a tough sell.  Illness and chronic disease are topics that typically are not pretty.  However, the right spokesperson can take a somewhat taboo topic and open up the conversation among the general public.  As a spokesperson for probiotic yogurt Activia, Jamie Lee Curtis has elevated the issue of digestive distress.  Saturday Night Live even created a sketch about the commercials.  While the goal is not to poke fun at health conditions, it is important to create a dialogue that increases awareness and encourages people to seek out help.

People don’t like to think about their own mortality.  Chronic disease is scary, but the use of a familiar, well-respected personality can help.  A number of personalities have stepped forward to talk about their battles with breast cancer – from Christina Applegate to Guiliana Rancic to Sheryl Crow.  Their efforts have focused on the importance of getting screened.  Just yesterday, former Malcolm in the Middle actor Frankie Muniz announced that he suffered a mini-stroke last week at the young age of 27.  Stroke experts from local health systems are already using Muniz’s experience to talk about the signs, symptoms and the importance of treatment in the first few hours.

It’s too complicated for many people to grasp.  Healthcare is well-known for making difficult topics sound even more complicated by using extensive jargon.  A celebrity spokesperson can simplify the topic by talking about their own personal experience in language that the average person understands.  For instance, the official name of a mini-stroke is a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) and the description is just as confusing.  Using his own words, Muniz made his experience relatable to the average person, “I was really dizzy and in a lot of pain in my whole body and my head. My hands were numb. I didn’t really have good balance and I was almost dropping the bike. I never had this before. I was like ‘What’s going on?’ I felt like I was getting stabbed in the head – the worst headache you could ever think of. I couldn’t see anything.”

When seeking a celebrity spokesperson, one of the greatest challenges is getting celebrities to step forward.  After all, it can impact their careers if their health is seen as a risk.  This has been a significant challenge for health conditions such as heart disease.  While there is not a standout spokesperson for the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute’s The Heart Truth® campaign, the Red  Dress® initiative has allowed  models, actresses and musicians to come forward in support and lend their celebrity to the cause by walking the runway, whether or not they are suffering from heart disease themselves.

While we may not be lucky enough to shine Duchess Kate’s spotlight on all of our own health issues, it is a good reminder that we have the opportunity to increase relevance to the average person by identifying and engaging our own celebrity spokespeople.

About Kim Blake:

As a director in PadillaCRT's D.C. office, Kim has more than a decade of experience in strategic communications planning, branding, marketing and media relations, with an emphasis on healthcare. She has helped create award-winning campaigns for clients such as the American Physical Therapy Association and The Partnership at Drugfree.org. Kim has been a speaker at the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Annual Conference, the Public Relations Society of America’s International Conference and the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development Annual Conference.

5 Comments on “The Princess and the Puke

  1.  by  Rachael Seda

    Great post Kim! I myself didn’t know what H.G. was before this week! So indeed celebrities do help. A celebrity story is also much more likely to be covered by the news and magazines making it easier to pitch. While there are downsides to celebrities being affiliated with a campaign there are also a lot of perks if you have a respectable and willing celebrity on your side!

  2.  by  Lisa

    Enjoyed your post. While most people think celebrity endorsement is out of reach due to cost, as you note, the average health system can certainly leverage celebrity stories in the news to educate and even market their own expertise and services.

  3.  by  Kim Blake

    Rachael – so true! A celebrity is a major asset for media relations. Lisa – you are right. Most health systems cannot afford the investment in a celebrity spokesperson, but when a celebrity does come forward with a condition, it’s a great way to position local physicians as experts.

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