iSMA News Desk

Managed by Julie Hentz and Nathaly Aya

Have an article you would like to share? Contact [email protected]

“Many Roads Lead to Rome” – An Interview with Bill Novelli

by Gael O’Sullivan

Many of us know the name Bill Novelli; he is a long-time thought leader in the social marketing field. But did you know that Bill began his illustrious career as a brand manager for Lever Brothers (now Unilever) during the Mad Men era in 1960’s New York City? While at Lever Brothers, Bill honed his marketing skills selling consumer products like soap and toothpaste. Even though this work paid the bills, Bill was seeking something more.  So he decided to ‘work both sides of the street’, and left Lever Brothers for a job with an ad agency.  Wells, Rich & Greene was a hot agency at the time, and while there Bill had the opportunity to manage the public television account.  His first step was to attend a press conference with Joan Ganz Cooney. Bill was struck by Joan’s ability to ‘sell’ education through a new program called Sesame Street.  The idea that marketing could be applied to work that makes the world a better place provided Bill with the spark he had been seeking, and he soon moved to Washington DC to help promote the Peace Corps.  

While at Peace Corps, Bill met Jack Porter, who had also attended the University of Pennsylvania and had previous advertising experience at Ogilvy and Mather.  Soon the two like-minded colleagues identified a gap in the marketplace – no one in Washington was offering marketing services beyond traditional advertising and public relations. Porter Novelli was established in 1972 during the Nixon administration, offering ‘marketing communication’ services for health and social issues to public and private sector clients.  Bill and Jack tapped academics like Phil Kotler, Alan Andreasen and Paul Bloom to broaden their knowledge and expertise.  The academics were calling the type of work Porter Novelli did ‘social marketing’, and thus a new niche market was born. 

Since their financial resources were limited, Bill and Jack sold Porter Novelli to Needham, Harper and Steers.  This created financial stability for the staff and organization, and allowed Porter Novelli to keep their brand name and pursue the kind of work that mattered to them.  In the early days major clients included the National Cancer Institute and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.   They also worked beyond public health with organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency.  Bill had an interest in international issues, and soon teamed up with Bill Smith at the Academy for Educational Development to conduct a review of the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) contract with an advertising agency.  This led to Porter Novelli joining the Futures Group and other partners on a USAID-funded global social marketing project called SOMARC (Social Marketing for Change), which partnered with pharmaceutical companies to promote contraceptive use in developing countries.

As Needham merged into Omnicom, the huge new parent was heavily focused on commercial clients, and Bill decided in 1990 to join CARE as its first Chief Operating Officer, having previously served as a CARE board member.  Five years later Bill founded the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, once again channeling his marketing prowess into an organization that combats the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics and strengthens tobacco policies and media advocacy.  Having learned how to ‘block and tackle’ at Lever and the agency world, Bill learned to pivot and apply marketing to social change initiatives.  “In my mind, marketing was not robust enough.  It’s about individual behavior change, but you also need to change the environment, using policy, media, technology and advocacy,” he said. 

Bill’s next challenge surfaced in 2001 when he took the helm as the Chief Executive Officer at AARP, a membership organization of some 40 million people aged 50 and older.  At the time, AARP was benefitting from a surge in new membership thanks to the baby boomer generation, and Bill saw the logic in using his marketing expertise to attract and retain new members.  AARP had been a Porter Novelli client previously, and Bill had always admired their mission and their work.  AARP is a social impact organization working on issues such as financial security, healthcare and independent living for older persons, and they use policy advocacy to achieve their goals.  One of AARP’s biggest accomplishments under Bill’s leadership was helping to get prescription drug coverage included in Medicare.  They were also successful in opposing President Bush’s attempts to privatize Social Security.  

In 2009, Bill reinvented himself yet again by joining Georgetown University and establishing the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI).  He has built a strong team of colleagues who receive funding from a variety of private sector entities such as the Bank of America Foundation, VF Corporation, Nestle, and the AB InBev Foundation to implement projects that address social, health and economic development needs.  GSEI is action-oriented, according to Bill, and goes beyond academics to apply social marketing principles to real-world problems.   In addition to leading GSEI, Bill still teaches courses such as Corporate Social Responsibility, Nonprofit Management, and Principled Leadership for Business and Society to MBA students.

Speaking of leadership, when asked about his reputation as a thought leader, Bill noted that you don’t have to be a CEO to be a leader.  In reflecting on his own career, how the social marketing field has evolved, and advice he would give to new social marketers just starting out, Bill shared the following insights:

  • Work for someone you respect and can learn from.  Don’t waste your time with people who will not teach you.  You should interview them.
  • Don’t be afraid to take risks.
  • Be technically sound.
  • It helps to have a partner by your side to support you (in this case, Bill’s wife Fran).
  • You might want to start in the private sector.  There is a lot to learn about shared value, corporate social responsibility and other private sector tools that can drive social good.
  • As our field has evolved, we’ve gotten smarter and better, but the problems have gotten more difficult. Everything now is fragmented and virtual, and it’s hard to build a cohesive team in the ‘gig economy’.  
  • New technology tools work for you and against you.  We all have too much information, and the irony is that people are actually now less informed and susceptible to fake news.
  • Many roads lead to Rome – there is not one path to reach your goals.  

While at AARP, Bill wrote two books, 50+ Give Meaning and Purpose to the Best Time of Your Life, and Managing the Older Worker.  He is toying with the idea of writing a new book titled Confessions of a Social Marketer, which is a play on the title of advertising legend David Ogilvy’s book, Confessions of an Advertising Man.  Let’s hope he writes this book soon so that we can all continue to learn from one of the most talented and respected social marketers in the world.

Second Quarter International Social Marketing Association Board Meeting Overview

by Julie Hentz

The iSMA Board second quarter meeting occurred June 12th and 18th.  News includes:

  • A goodbye and sincere thanks to Nedra Kline Weinreich and Kelley Dennings for their contributions to the Board’s work as they leave their posts. We welcome newly elected board members, Luca Uguzzoni, Karis Schoellmann, Diogo Verissimo who each have fascinating backgrounds that will enhance our work at iSMA. Please stay tuned for more information on our new board members in the coming weeks on the iSMA website.
  • The iSMA Business Plan and the Constitution were discussed, approved by SMANA and AASM. ESMA has some requested changes which will be addressed in July between iSMA and ESMA.
  • Voting for Board position vacancies, Vice President, Treasurer, and Webinar Manager will take place in the next few weeks with potential candidates having put forth their names.
  • Regional Association Representatives to the Board have been identified, other than the Africa Social Marketing Association, and will serve as the line of communication between iSMA Board and the Associations.
  • Outgoing Treasurer, Kelley Dennings provided a review of the iSMA financial report for 2018 to date. The state of the budget is strong from new association member funds.
  • The World Social Marketing Conference will occur in late spring 2018 in Edinburgh, Scotland. iSMA is slated to host some sessions including: 1. Differences and Similarities: Social Marketing, Behavior Change Communication, and Communication for Development; 2. The Next Generation Speaks panel, featuring four younger members of the profession; and 3. An overview of iSMA objectives and achievements within the Social Marketing community in its model as an alliance of regional associations.
  • In July, the United Nation’s High Level Political Forum will meet. The Alliance will be hosting an advocacy session during the Forum to encourage the UN and other funding agencies to include behavior change and social marketing as part of their development projects moving forward. Patrick Cook will attend and report back to iSMA on this activity.

Please contact [email protected] with any questions regarding the 2nd Quarter Board Meeting.

An Overview of the Social and Behavior Change Communication Summit

By Gael O’Sullivan

Over 1,200 delegates attended the second Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Summit in Bali, Indonesia on April 16-20 this year, almost double the attendee count over the 2016 event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They gathered to discuss “Shifting Norms, Changing Behavior and Amplifying Voice: What Works?” The Bali audience was heavily represented by bilateral and multilateral donor-related stakeholders, especially those related to USAID and UNICEF, from a wide array of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), universities, local government agencies, and independent consultants.  Notably absent were a focus on the social marketing field and a strong showing of private sector companies.  Sponsors included Sanofi, Population Services International (PSI), and EXP Social Marketing.

The Summit format included three tracks following the sub-themes of ‘What works’, ‘Making sense of now’, and ‘Voice and agenda setting’, which included a mix of plenary sessions, pre-formed panels, oral presentations, ‘comms talks’ (similar to mini TED talks), skill-building workshops, poster sessions, multimedia showcases, and an exhibit area with about 50 organizational exhibits.  There were also a number of auxiliary events such as workshops, technical meetings, and networking events. Over 1200 abstracts were received and over 300 reviewers selected the final presentations. 

Sessions dealt primarily with health topics, although the organizers continue to strive for more social and behavior change examples from other sectors such as agriculture, education, the environment, and peace/social justice. Much of the evidence-based best practices and literature in SBCC come from the health sector, given the long history of using behavioral science and social marketing principles to improve health behaviors.  

Some highlights were:

Behavioral Economics – Channing Jang of the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics gave an engaging and thought-provoking talk on the links between behavioral economics and social and behavior change communication.  He noted that behavioral economics has a ‘W.E.I.R.D.’ problem.  Behavioral economics models have been developed by ‘Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic’ nations, and in developing country contexts do not account for how variables like scarcity impact behavior and decision-making.

Social Norms – Several presenters noted the importance of distinguishing between injunctive and descriptive norms when designing behavior change strategies and interventions. Injunctive norms refer to people's beliefs about what ought to be done in a situation, and descriptive norms refer to beliefs about what is actually done by most others in one's social group.  

I moderated a panel session on ‘Social Networks and Social Norms”. A fascinating presentation amongst the four dealt with child marriage in India.  The comprehensive set of interventions used in this example included: life skills education, parent dialogues, teacher engagement, and counseling with boys and men.  Impact data showed statistically significant increases in the percentage of girls staying in school, girls marrying after the age of 18 and girls who said they felt confident they could convince their parents to delay marriage.  

Technology – Advances in technology are dramatically changing the SBCC space.  This abstract summarizes a particularly interesting presentation in a session on “Cutting Edge Research Methods”.

Digital Vaccines Based on Neuropsychology to Reduce the Risk of Lifestyle Diseases Bhargav Sri Prakash, FriendsLearn, Inc. 

"fooya!" is an mHealth intervention that is being developed as a vaccine candidate for prevention of Diabetes by FriendsLearn, which is a mission-driven technology startup. The product is an application based on Neuropscyhology and Cognitive Behavior Therapy that harnesses immersive mobile gaming technology. The intervention has been shown to achieve statistically significant outcomes in randomized controlled blinded clinical trials. A recent partnership between the co-authors and endocrinologists at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh aims to assess a specialized adaptation and extension of "fooya!". “Fooya!” has been developed to empower pediatric Type 1 diabetes patients with behavior design mechanisms that can reinforce strategies to better manage their condition. It is also used to augment standard of care protocols for treatment of newly diagnosed patients. 

Know Your Audience – Kamden Hoffman from Save the Children, Melanie Morrow from ICF, Inc. and I conducted an interactive, Skill-Building Workshop on ‘Knowing your Audience’.  The session is based on work recently published by the World Health Organization and other partners which examined the evidence for social, behavioral, and community engagement(SBCE) interventions that improve maternal and child health:;jsessionid=E60651BCF3E97E549235FA0823C31AB5?sequence=1

The session focused on: 

  • Understanding 10 implementation principles contributing to effective SBCE intervention approaches, emphasizing the first two principles related to formative research, audience analysis, and SBCE theories; 
  • Applying these principles using real world case studies; and 
  • Applying examples from the case studies to participants own work, discussing opportunities and challenges. 

Two of the ten implementation principles for SBCE included in the Evidence Map for SBCE interventions were highlighted: 1) Design programs based on formative and summative qualitative and quantitative evidence, and 2) Design programs based on a clear audience analysis, using social change or behavior change models and theories.

Declaration – At the conclusion of the Summit, Warren Feek of the Communication Initiative drafted a resolution on behalf of all the conference delegates to help guide the SBCC field going forward. Follow this link to read the draft statement and comments from the community:

Link to resources and presentations:

The University of South Florida, 25th Annual Social Marketing Conference
Written by Julie Hentz   

Registration is open for the 25th Social Marketing Conference, June 27-30th at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach, Florida. The event is a biennial gathering of professionals who use social marketing frameworks to address public health and environmental challenges. For those in the United States, the USF Social Marketing Conference provides proximity and brings recognized expertise from around the world to present on successful strategies for social and behavioral change. The event is broken into these dates/activities:

Training Academy: Wednesday & Thursday, June 27-28, 2018
Environmental Training Academy Track: Wednesday & Thursday, June 27-28, 2018
Advanced Training Academy: Thursday, June 28, 2018
Main Conference: Friday & Saturday, June 29-30, 2018

The Training academies have been well-received over the years as 2 days of intense, information-filled guidance in the social marketing approach, leaving the attendee with a firm understanding of terminology and practice.

Some of the featured speakers at this year’s conference are Dr. Akeem Ali, Director of Health, St. Helena Government, Dr. Timo Dietrich, lecturing in gamification and Digital Marketing at Griffith University in Australia, Bill Smith, EdD, PhD, President of Making Change4u, and Christine Domegan, PhD, Head of Marketing and Senior Lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Galway. These are a few among many other impressive presentations.

As always, the event takes place on the shores of the Gulf at the Sand Key Resort, a lovely spot to exchange best practices and catch up with other social marketers.

To participate and follow in the conversation:  #SMC2018
Conference overview:



Last Updated on Wednesday, May 02, 2018 01:01 PM
The Community Against Preventable Injuries (Preventable): “It’ll Never Happen to Me”

 by Ricardo D. LaGrange, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Injuries are a major public health problem in every country around the world, causing over 5 million deaths per year, or 16,000 deaths per day.[1] In British Columbia, Canada, where preventable injuries are the leading cause of death for residents between the ages of 1 and 44 and are responsible for over 2,000 deaths each year,[2] citizens are not immune to this problem. In addition to the human suffering, the treatment of preventable injuries is one of the largest burdens on the province, costing over $6 billion per year.
While accidents may seem inevitable and random, most injuries are predictable and avoidable.  In 2006, the British Columbia government made a commitment to safety and injury prevention in every aspect of provincial life by sponsoring the organization that eventually became the non-profit, The Community Against Preventable Injuries (a.k.a. Preventable).  After conducting 3 years of research and planning, this organization launched a highly effective social marketing campaign to raise awareness and transform societal attitudes towards reducing the human and financial burden of preventable injuries.   The campaign utilized a multi-year, multi-faceted approach with TV, Radio, print, social media and guerilla events that focused on the attitudes that cause serious preventable injuries in everyday settings.  Approximately 50% of the BC population (i.e., 2 million people) were reached weekly, and over 100 million media impressions were generated during a 6-month launch period that began in 2009.
Preventable was able to raise and sustain awareness of the issue and their brand by using different channels in an unexpected way.  Their efforts have made a difference in several tangible ways.  Those who have seen the campaign are significantly more likely to perceive injuries as preventable. Since launch, there has been a significant reduction in deaths by injuries among Preventable’s target audience age 25-55. Campaign monitoring shows a 4-5% positive shift in attitudes and behaviors towards preventable injuries across the entire BC population. Also, Preventable’s brand equity is strong, and is viewed by the public as caring, credible and trusted.
The iSMA Communications Team recently conducted an interview with Jennifer Smith, Senior Program Manager at Preventable, to gain more insight on the strategy and approach the organization uses to make “It’ll Never Happen to Me” such a success.

iSMA: Developing a brand strategy can be one of the most difficult, yet vital, steps in initiating a social marketing campaign.  What strategies did preventable rely upon to build a trusted injury prevention “brand’ that successfully reached the citizens of British Columbia?

Preventable: Injury is a hugely pervasive and complex issue. Thus it was absolutely essential for us to develop a clearly defined set of values that would guide our efforts towards achieving the overall mission: reducing the burden of preventable injuries in British Columbia by raising awareness, shifting attitudes and ultimately transforming behaviors. Engaging a network of public, private and not-for-profit partner organizations that share those values was the cornerstone of our strategy. It really does take a community to tackle an issue like injury!

iSMA: Exposing the public to the campaign though multiple channels and in unexpected ways helped to raise awareness to the issue and your brand.  What were some of the specific methods, messages or themes that you think resonated most with the public and why?

Preventable: The messaging is designed to trigger self-reflection and is illustrated by everyday risk scenarios that our audience can relate to instantly, such as using a ladder to put up Christmas lights, or speeding to avoid being late for work. Preventable also uses guerrilla stunts to generate media interest in the message and raise the profile of the brand. For example, Preventable dressed the statues in a beachside public park in larger-than-life PFDs, accompanied by the message, “Think drowning only happens to people who can’t swim? Seriously?” The fun element of the supersize lifejackets drew people to share the message through social media. The giant banana peel was also a big hit, with the message, “If you can see it coming, you can prevent it from happening.”

iSMA: What lead Preventable to incorporate a more nuanced strategy that avoided explicit messages about danger and how do you think this made a difference for your campaign?

Preventable: This approach followed directly from the stated preferences of our audience. During the formative phase of the campaign we heard from British Columbians, over and over, that they did not need (or want) to be told what to do to prevent injuries, that they would be repelled by content designed to shock or shame them into changing their behavior. The Preventable approach acknowledges our audience as intelligent adults who already know how to prevent injuries, but just need a reminder in the right time and place to exercise their judgment.

iSMA: Social marketing makes the distinction between having an initial impact and a lasting impact. The goal is not simply to enhance awareness or change attitudes towards an issue, it’s to motivate and empower people to take the desired behavior. “It’ll Never Happen to Me”, really seems to embrace this challenge.  How have you been able to engage the community in a way that will help sustain your efforts in the future?

Preventable: It’s true that social change takes time and sustaining momentum is a key challenge. When it comes to serious injuries, people believe “It’ll never happen to me.” The campaign taglines “Have a word with yourself” and “Seriously?” are a subtle call to action, as they challenge that assumption and prompt the audience to reconsider their intended behavior. People must feel motivated to change their behavior, and this is why Preventable believes that shifting attitudes is the essential first step in reducing serious injuries over the long term. Engaging a community of partners who are also committed to this long-term vision, and therefore willing to support the campaign and amplify the message through their own channels, has allowed Preventable to not only build the brand but to maintain our momentum year to year. The results of our efforts are clear – public surveys administered each year have seen encouraging improvement on measures of awareness, attitudes and behaviors related to serious preventable injuries.

iSMA: You’ve had tremendous success with “It’ll Never Happen to Me”.  What’s next for this campaign and Preventable?

Preventable: While we have seen encouraging trends in the campaign tracking data, as well as in injury hospitalizations and deaths, we continue to strive for further improvements. This will mean keeping the campaign platform fresh, innovative and engaging, while remaining recognizable and relatable, by continuing to engage in conversations with British Columbians about preventable injuries.

To find out more about Preventable and this social marketing campaign visit:

[1] World Health Organization. Violence, Injuries, and Disability: Biennial 2006–2007 Report. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2008

[2] Pike I, Scime G, Lafreniere K Preventable: a social marketing campaign to prevent injuries in British Columbia, Canada Injury Prevention 2012;18:A176.

<< first < Prev 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Next > last >>

Page 7 of 28