For the past two years, New York State prevention officials have challenged community-level providers to implement prevention strategies that create widespread change by targeting the broader environment rather than just the individual. As part of this effort, they encouraged providers to work closely with the media to both increase public awareness of prevention efforts as well as promote behavior change.
New York’s providers embraced the challenge, but soon discovered that they needed help. “People get excited about the idea of using the media to advance their prevention initiatives. But, in reality, most of them had limited experience doing so,” explains Dr. Sarah Dakin, statewide director of the Prevention Resource Centers for the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. “Providers were telling us they needed more in-depth guidance in knowing which communications approaches were most effective.”
To help address the needs of its workforce, the state turned to SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies’ (CAPT) Northeast Resource Team. The result: A two-part webinar series New York Health Communications and Media Strategies. The series was delivered to prevention providers from across New York late last summer and again (due to popular demand) this fall.
The purpose of the webinar series was two-fold: to help providers (1) understand the menu of communications approaches available to them to reduce substance abuse, and (2) use these approaches to develop a coordinated media strategy that will help them meet their specific prevention goals.
To achieve these goals, the first session, entitled Foundations of Media and Communications, introduced the broad category of “health communications,” focusing on seven approaches designed to change knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors in individuals or in the community as a whole. The second session, entitled Using Media and Communications Strategies to Complement Policy and Enforcement, focused on four media-focused environmental strategies—public relations/public education, media literacy, social marketing, and media advocacy— and the community-level risk or protective factors each targets.
Linda Barovier, coordinator of the CAPT’s Northeast Resource Team explains, “Some health communications are designed to build awareness. Others create readiness for change. And still others support actual behavior change in the community. The trick is to create an overall, coordinated media strategy that incorporates a variety of approaches that all connect and build on one another.”
The webinar also provided a model for what a comprehensive media strategy might look like in practice. “Many of New York’s communities are currently in the process of trying to pass social host legislation – ordinances that make it a fineable offense for adults to knowingly permit underage drinking on their property. So we offered concrete examples of how a coordinated media strategy to promote social host legislation might appear,” Barovier says.
For example, communities might first launch a public relations/public education campaign to inform or persuade the public about the effectiveness of social host laws in reducing underage drinking. Then they might use social marketing to influence teenagers’ perceptions and attitudes about alcohol use. Finally, they could develop a media advocacy campaign to enlist stakeholders, lawmakers, reporters, and others in the community to support the ordinance. “Communities just need to be deliberate about the choices they make, and think about how these various strategies can complement and support one another,” Barovier says.
New York’s local providers were enthusiastic about the webinars. “During the sessions, you could tell by the conversations people were having that they were engaged,” according to Rochelle Cardillo, Addictions Program Specialist 2 for the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. “The information presented really nailed it for people. It helped them understand the different types of media strategies, how to use them together, and why it’s important to use them together.”
For more information, contact:
Linda Barovier , Coordinator, SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies, Northeast Resource Team
Dr. Sarah Dakin, Statewide Director, Prevention Resource Center, New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services