By Lindsay Marcaccio
When building an award-winning communications event, it’s best to think outside of the box
Over 50 years of combined strategic communications experience allowed a team from Outfox Communications Inc. to create an event that earned an award of merit in the category of special and experiential events for their Indigenous Harm Reduction Forum.
The unconventional event was sponsored by Rothman, Benches and Hedges Inc. (RBH) — Canada’s second largest tobacco company and the producer of IQOS, a smoke-free, reduced risk tobacco product. RBH reached out to Outfox Communications Inc. to help them engage health care researchers and practitioners in order to share scientific clinical trial data for reduced risk nicotine products (within the parameters of Canada’s tobacco policy framework).
Belinda Fox, ABC, owner of Outfox Communications Inc., Lowa Beebe, CEO at Naato’si Design and Consulting Ltd. and Catherine Naylen, a partner with Solve Consulting Inc., knew they had to think outside of the box to address the challenge. The idea of a harm reduction health forum focused on at-risk populations seemed like a logical, practical approach. The team chose Alberta as the forum’s first location.
Identifying the audience and stakeholders
Fox, Beebe and Naylen discovered Indigenous communities in Canada have up to three times the smoking rates of non-Indigenous Canadians and face a disproportionate incidence of chronic illness, mental health issues and addiction. Along with RBH, they felt bringing together Indigenous health care practitioners, researchers and community leaders to share best practices for harm reduction would be a unique way to engage the scientific community. Areas of focus were identified through consultations with communities and included tobacco and opioid harm mitigation, medical cannabis and infectious disease management.
The team acknowledged that Indigenous perspectives, and speakers with specialized cultural insights, must be included in the event in order to be a relevant resource for the intended audience. “It was imperative for us to attract Indigenous physicians and other frontline community health practitioners who could relate to the unique challenges faced by Indigenous Peoples as a result of inter-generational trauma,” explained Beebe.
In order to develop a meaningful event experience, the team consulted with members of Indigenous communities throughout the planning process. “We involved Indigenous advisors and suppliers for most aspects of the event from graphic design to programming and venue selection,” said Fox. Guest speakers at the forum included Indigenous health care practitioners, researchers, physicians, community members and a reduced risk tobacco product scientist.
The team’s goal of 100 to 150 registrants was greatly surpassed through the use of social media, earned media and targeted emails. “We attracted over 250 registrations in less than two weeks due to Lowa’s extensive community network,” commented Naylen. In the end, there were 155 attendees. The team remarked that although their research confirmed that a conference fee would be a barrier to event participation, not having a fee may have resulted in less motivation for registrants to attend.
A post-event survey revealed that forum content was relevant and helpful. One thing the team would have done differently would be to include more breakout sessions for discussion about the presented topics. Overall, attendees felt the experience was beneficial and that future, similar forums would be useful.
The forum allowed RBH to engage with a wider scientific audience and, ultimately, build relationships with frontline healthcare workers to advance tobacco harm reduction. Extensive earned media about the event amplified the reach of desired key messages.
Belinda Fox, ABC, has 25 years of global experience in stakeholder engagement and communications and specializes in finding common ground on polarizing issues. Her academic background includes a Bachelor of Arts degree, a two-year Diploma in Public Relations and professional accreditation through the International Association of Business Communications. Before launching her consulting business, Outfox Communications Inc., she built and led the socioeconomic function for a global energy company.
Lowa Beebe (NATOYI’SOKASIIM) is Blackfoot/Nez Perce from the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy & Treaty 7 in Southern Alberta. She is well recognized for her work in public relations, advocacy, media, strategy and communications. As the CEO at Naato’si Design and Consulting Ltd., she consults with the government, First Nations and corporations. Her experience includes working with First Nations in policy, custom election codes, governance, consultation, strategic planning and more.
Catherine Naylen has 15+ years of consulting experience with a focus on business transformation and a proven track record of successful change management and communication engagements. Catherine communicates complex ideas effectively and translates business requirements/strategies into activities that drive business results. Catherine holds a Master Business Administration (MBA) from the Richard Ivey School of Business, University of Western Ontario and a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration from the University of Saskatchewan.